New Test On Medjugorje Seers Sent To Vatican As Famous Site Marks 25th Year
In the years since the apparitions began at Medjugorje on June 24, 1981, great misconceptions have arisen around the site in former Yugoslavia. The controversies continue to swirl as it reaches the quarter-century mark. What we can say without dispute is that, in terms both of media coverage, which has spanned the range of Western news outlets, and in the way of pilgrims, whose numbers have now gone beyond accurate tally, no apparition has attracted the same attention at an early stage.
Indeed, while pilgrimages from countries like the U.S. and Canada have dwindled -- a downturn that began during the civil war in the 1990s -- the parish church, St. James, has been reporting record distributions of Hosts for certain months, and it is all but impossible to find accommodations this weekend, when the 25th anniversary of the first apparition is celebrated on Saturday and the first time the Blessed Mother spoke will be marked on Sunday.
Among those reportedly set to journey there: former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and mayor of Boston Ray Flynn.
Many years, the attendance at Medjugorje tops that of equally famous and older sites such as Fatima. Tens of millions of ordinary pilgrims, literally thousands of priests, and hundreds of bishops and cardinals have visited the site, which consists mainly of the church, the Hill of Apparitions, Cross Mountain (or Mount Krizevac), and the homes of the seers.
Misconceptions have focused on the official status of Medjugorje -- with some believing that it has been rejected or even condemned by the Church.
In fact, the local bishop in Mostar, Monsignor Pavao Zanic, attempted to issue a declaration against the apparitions in 1987, but sensing that the issue was larger than any single diocese, the Vatican, under the watch of Pope John Paul II -- who by dozens of accounts believed the apparitions (and read the monthly message, even mentioning his devotion to Medjugorje in handwritten notes to Polish friends) -- stripped the local diocese of its authority over the apparitions and placed the matter in the hands of a national committee of bishops, headed by the Cardinal of Sarajevo, where the issue remains today.
That Medjugorje has neither been accepted nor rejected by the official Church can be readily checked by contacting any diocesan office, or by writing the Vatican itself (in the way of its Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).
The new prefect for that Congregation, Cardinal Wiliam Levada, was known to be open to Medjugorje when he was Bishop of San Francisco, where he closely scrutinized but allowed talks by those who discussed the apparitions at Catholic parishes, seminars, and conferences.
The highest Vatican official to issue a formal letter about Medjugorje was Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was elevated to Secretary of State -- the Vatican's number two position -- on Thursday.
On March 23, 1996, as secretary of the Sacred Congregation -- which at the time was headed by Pope Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger), Cardinal Bertone wrote to a bishop inquiring about the status of Medjugorje by stating that "the Bishops of the former Yugoslavia" had thus far found no proof of the supernatural and thus that "the bishops shall issue separate appropriate liturgical-pastoral directives. Likewise by means of their Commission they shall further follow and investigate the total event in Medjugorje."
The committee has indicated that it will not make a final determination on Medjugorje until the apparitions are complete.
It is not known how Pope Benedict XVI himself feels. He has indicated both positive and negative reactions at various points during the past two decades. Rumors have spread that as prefect he once visited Medjugorje incognito, a rumor that has been dismissed by the Bishop of Mostar. From time to time, however, other Vatican officials have slipped into the village.
Cardinal Bertone had indicated that while official pilgrimages organized by parishes are not allowed, private pilgrimages by both priests and faithful are -- a position that continues to this day, despite the misconceptions.
Last week, the Vatican repeated this view to the Catholic News Service, which is owned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"You cannot say people cannot go there until it has been proven false. This has not been said, so anyone can go if they want," the Vatican's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, had told the news service in a previous statement.
The other question creating skepticism has been how apparitions could go on for so long.
And in fact, this aspect, in some ways, is unprecedented -- perhaps a sign of special times -- while in other ways mirroring historical mysticism.
Many are the saints who had thousands of visions -- on a daily basis -- and at Fatima, there are indications that the Blessed Mother appeared to seer Sister Lucia dos Santos many times after the formal apparitions in 1917 and in fact right up to the seer's death in 2005, nearly a century after the visions began.
But the frequency of apparitions at Medjugorje in a more formalized way is indeed unusual, and questions about the seers have focused on the fact that, like virtually everyone else in the village, they operate pilgrim houses, and one even directs pilgrimages there.
It is this aspect that reportedly concerned Pope Benedict. What can be said is that Medjugorje, even before it has been accepted -- or rejected -- already has taken its place among the most attended apparitions of the past 2,000 years, alongside Saragosa in Spain, Le Puy in France, Guadalupe in Mexico, Lourdes in France, and Fatima in Portugal. Both Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan were personally briefed on the events and sent summaries of the messages.
Recent scientific examinations of the seers, including brainwave scans during the apparitions, have been sent to the Vatican, according to Henrija Joyeuxa, a professor of the Medical University in Montpellier, France, who first studied them twenty years ago. The test were conducted last year.
"We recorded a large number of 'apparitions,'" the scientist told a Croatian newspaper. "We carefully analyzed them and we were looking for any signs of fraud while recording those phenomena hundreds of times. Our team made all the strict psychological tests and we completely agree that all of them are physically, mentally, individually, and socially healthy.We could even say more healthy than the average health rate in France."
Reported the newspaper: "The conclusion is so clear: what is happening in Medjugorje is serious and should be taken seriously. Those are the official results of the medical experiment started on the 25th of June of 2005 in Medjugorje on Marija Pavlovic-Lunetti and Ivan Dragicevic. Those results just confirmed that what is happening with visionaries in the moment of apparition of Virgin Mary is real." The scientists themselves said they saw no signs of manipulation and were deeply impressed by the effect that Medjugorje had on pilgrims.
But there is no way of proving what they are seeing. "Again it's proved that the apparitions are neither a dream, hallucination, nor hysteria," said the scientists. "There are no signs of delusion and therefore their brains are fully functional, although, it could not be said whom they are seeing or with whom they are communicating during the apparition."
What can be said, concluded the team, is that something highly unusual is in progress and incredibly has been in progress for now a quarter of a century, with millions of pilgrims reporting permanent changes in their lives and none of the six seers diverging in their stories.
--Correspondence with John Paul II
--Seer: 'Don't fear the secrets'
-- Bronze corpus exuding fluid
--Estimates of yearly visitors
--A mysterious message
[Our appreciation to Natasha Tosic of 206 Tours for the translation]
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