Estimates Of Witnesses To Phenomena At Medjugorje Range From 2.4 To 3 Million
By Michael H. Brown
Light through prayer book at Medjugorje as seer Vicka greets pilgrims
In recent years there have been many questions and in some instances much controversy over Medjugorje (the famous site of apparitions in Bosnia-Hercegovina, where the Blessed Mother has been appearing since 1981). We have not addressed the issue with any urgency because we feel Medjugorje can stand by itself -- that however much it is questioned, besmirched, or attacked, eventually, in God's time, it will sail above the attacks.
This occurred at Fatima, Lourdes, and in dozens of other historical situations. As such, it is tremendously predictable: forces always attempt to quash a revelation -- often quite convincingly, at least for a time. At Fatima secular authorities threatened the seers' very lives (something that also happened at Medjugorje); at Lourdes, St. Bernadette's experiences were almost condemned due to an influx of false visionaries (who have also plagued the Medjugorje movement).
In the end, however, at the legitimate sites, the Blessed Mother has always prevailed -- and always will. What's the bottom line on authenticity? One word: fruits. Scripture tells us that we discern through judging the fruits [Matthew 7:16] -- and when it comes to fruits, the case for Medjugorje can only be described as overwhelming. The dominant consistency among those who visit -- no matter their state of mind when they go there or even their denomination -- is a deep sense of peace that has never been encountered at this level; a profound conviction that something positive and supernatural is occurring; and tremendous devotion, life changes, and conversion afterward. This is true of at least 90 percent of those who visit (and probably more like 99 percent). If you want to speak of fruits, know also that there is no other current situation on the planet that has produced as many priestly vocations.
It is popular for newspapers to cite 30 million as the number for those who have visited (including literally dozens of cardinals, hundreds of bishops, and many thousands of priests). Really, no one has a firm figure. The number may be lower -- more like 300,000 a year, which would mean a total of at least six million since 1981. It's very difficult to figure because some pilgrims stay just for the day, some are there a week, some are local villagers, some take more than one Communion a day, and many are there on repeat trips. During October of 2002, 115,000 Communion Hosts were distributed and 3,182 priests concelebrated at the local parish -- while last August (the busiest month Medjugorje ever had) the figure was 213,000 Communion Hosts distributed and more than 4,000 visiting priests. While the number of Americans has significantly dropped -- mainly due to residual fears from the Bosnian war -- Medjugorje is flooded by Poles, Irish, and Italians and is going stronger than ever.
This brings us to a second point: phenomena. How many of those many visitors have seen something supernormal?
It's our estimate in traveling there and speaking to pilgrim leaders that about 40 to 60 percent of those visiting Medjugorje see or otherwise experience something wholly out of their previous normal experience. This may be rosaries turning gold, lights in the sky, the sun miracle, miraculous photos, healings, oily water exuding from a bronze statue behind the parish, deliverance, and dozens of other phenomena. On a number of occasions, hundreds have simultaneously witnessed phenomena (including Communists back when this was Yugoslavia and including mysterious fires and on one occasion actual letters spelling "mir" -- peace -- in the sky). On a weekly basis whole groups watch solar phenomena together.
If indeed six million have visited, that means 2.4 to 3.6 million have witnessed extremely unusual phenomena, including many doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and others who are trained observers, bear ingrained skepticism, and usually have no proclivity for "miracles." If, as reported elsewhere, 30 million have visited, the figure would be significantly higher.
That all these people would be collectively hallucinating or lying is not a viable explanation and would be unprecedented in world history (not to mention in the annals of psychology). There have also been uncounted inexplicable healings, emotional, spiritual, and physical. Thousands have seen luminous crosses form in their rooms or have encountered mysterious strangers who in retrospect appear to have been angels or have even seen their rosaries intertwined inexplicably. The miraculous accounts from Medjugorje are to such an extent that as to merit the word "uncountable."
Look at the photo above. It's one of hundreds taken at Medjugorje that seem supernormal.
Is the devil at Medjugorje?
Yes. Of course. The Blessed Mother warned of this in the early days. "Whatever be the place I appear, and where my Son comes with me, Satan also comes," she said on January 28, 1987 -- one of many admonitions about the devil and how he was trying to destroy her "plan" (especially through dissension). Does that mean there could be problems with people associated with the apparitions? Once more, of course; this has also been the case at other historic settings. Humans are human. Are there not scandals concerning some of those attached to Medjugorje? It is more accurate to say that there have been accusations, but thus far we have not seen any credible evidence. Recently there was a charge against a priest associated with Medjugorje (a charge that he had relations with women), but this was also claimed even of saints and thus far not a single accuser has come forth. Might there, however, turn out to be problems with people at Medjugorje? Of course. There are always problems when humans, by definition imperfect, are involved. This, however, does not negate the situation with which they are associated any more than scandal in the Church negates the entire faith.
We will see how things play out, and we have and will continue to carry objective reports. But we will not repeat uncorroborated and potentially slanderous allegations. Many of the problems at Medjugorje stem from a long-running battle between the Franciscans who operate the Medjugorje parish as well as many other churches in Hercegovina and the secular diocese, which would like greater control over the Franciscans. The Franciscans were in Bosnia-Hercegovina before establishment of a secular diocese and through the decades there have been constant turf battles. At first the local bishop, Pavao Zanic, was convinced that the apparitions were authentic and indeed was set to state such in a formal declaration in his favor (something that, ironically, the pastor, Father Jozo Zovko, who later became a great supporter of the apparitions, reportedly advised against, until there was more observation). However, Bishop Zanic reversed his opinion after a dispute with two Franciscans who were very close to the apparitions and after one of the seers seemed to indicate that the Blessed Mother took the side of the Franciscans.
As for the Church verdict, here there has been much distortion. The simple fact is that the Church has not yet ruled on the apparitions. In the wake of the dispute with Franciscans, Bishop Zanic attempted to condemn the apparitions -- but his declaration was rejected in Rome by a higher authority, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is in charge of ruling on such matters. Cardinal Ratzinger removed the authority from the local bishop to rule on Medjugorje, meaning the local bishop no longer has jurisdiction on the phenomena's supernaturality (although critics of Medjugorje have used the bishop's negative discernment as if it were the Church's view). For now, the matter is in the hands of a national commission composed of a Cardinal, two bishops, and an auxiliary. This has been publicly explicated [see below] by Dr. Joaquin Navarro Vals, head of the Holy See's Press Office, and the Sacred Congregation, which speaks for both Ratzinger and the Pope. Sarajevo Cardinal Vinko Puljic, who is in charge of the national commission, states that while an interim report in 1991 found no proof of supernaturality, a final verdict will not be rendered until the apparitions conclude. There is thus no prohibition of any kind against Medjugorje and never has been, except that parishes cannot form official pilgrimages until there is a ruling (while private pilgrimages are allowed). A full synopsis of the Church's stance has been authoritatively provided by the Marian Library in Dayton, Ohio (which is esteemed for its theological intellectuality, its scrutiny of alleged apparitions, and the fact that it has more than 100,000 volumes devoted to the Blessed Mother -- the largest known collection in the world [click here for synopsis]). World leaders from Mikhail Gorbachev to Ronald Reagan (whose ambassador to the European Community, Alfred Kingon, investigated) have expressed keen interest in Medjugorje, contacting or trying to contact the seers after closely reviewing the messages.
And indeed it is the messages that remain the most powerful force. In their depth, adroitness, and economy of language these messages are matched only by previous messages at places like Lourdes and Fatima. If these were the contrivances of a person -- a human -- that person would be of a spiritual genius that would nearly be as impressive in his supernaturality as the apparitions themselves. We note that since 1981 -- nearly 22 years -- the seers have remained closely united; have never diverted in what they originally described; and have not budged in the least in concealing the secrets nor proclaiming the messages. Are they perfect? They are human.
Our conclusion after seven trips there: from all current information it appears that Medjugorje will one day takes its place alongside Le Puy, France (a major apparition site in the early Christian centuries); Guadalupe in Mexico (which occurred in the 16th century); Lourdes, France, and Knock, Ireland (in the 1800s); and Fatima, Portugal (in the twentieth century) as a site where the Blessed Mother did not just appear, but appeared in a way that will one day place in the highest apparitional category. However, these are strange times and it could well be rough sledding before it gets there.
You will find the links below useful for doubting friends, family and clergy
[Official summary of Medjugorje from world's largest Marian library and research center]
[What the Pope has said about Medjugorje]
[Recent statements from visiting bishops]
[Statements from Cardinals]
[Most recent official Church statements on Medjugorje]
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