SPOKESMAN FOR CARDINAL CONFIRMS THAT MEDJUGORJE HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM COMMISSION INTO DIRECT HANDS OF VATICAN
It came as a complete surprise and we have now confirmed it. It is nearly as if the hand of John Paul II himself is in it.
Or is it simply that Benedict XVI is a bit more mystical than many perceived?
In Europe, the press has reported that the matter of Medjugorje -- the famed apparition site in Bosnia-Hercegovina that was so dear to John Paul -- has shifted directly into the hands of the Vatican.
It is true, we are now told authoritatively.
The apparitions will not be accepted or rejected by local or regional Church officials until they are directed how and when to do so by Rome, officials now report -- in one of the larger development in this case since onset of the apparitions.
"I can confirm it," states Monsignor Mato Zovkic, vicar general of the Sarajevo archdiocese.
Monsignor Zovkic, who is spokesman for the Cardinal of Sarajevo and previously indicated negatively feelings about the site, now tells Spirit Daily that "the situation is that people keep coming to Medjugorje, they feel something nice, and they are reconciled sacramentally. The Vatican seems to be very interested and so this should be respected."
Headed by Cardinal Vinko Puljić, the national commission based in Sarajevo was formed after the Vatican took away the authority of discernment from the local bishop, who usually rules on such matters. Now the national commission has also been subjected to higher Church authorities.
The vicar emphasized that the national commission no longer plans to take action until it hears direct instructions from the Vatican. "This is our viewpoint," said Zovkic, who is also a professor at the seminary in Sarajevo.
Such is a major change in its previous position, which was that the commission would make a determination after the apparitions stopped. "As things are now, yes," the commission will wait for the Vatican, he repeated.
It is no minor statement.
For years, many have been under the misconception that the claims at Medjugorje are under the authority of the bishop in Mostar -- whose diocese includes Medjugorje and who has been strongly negative, even seeking to condemn it.
The matter long ago was taken out of those hands, however, and handed to a national commission headed by Cardinal Puljić.
Now, it will go even higher -- indicating, very possibly -- that Rome believes Medjugorje exceeds not just local but also regional discernment.
The original decision to revoke the authority of Mostar was likewise taken under the direction of Pope Benedict when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Instead, the entire matter appears open to restudy.
A Bible scholar, Monsignor Zovkic said he plans to hold special meetings in Medjugorje on May 7, along with a moral theologian and a canon lawyer. The goal, he said, is to review how priests should conduct themselves during the sacraments, especially Confession -- which is unusually intense at the apparition site, with booths set up for more than a dozen languages and long lines of pilgrims seeking reconciliation.
The authority of local ecclesiastic officials has thus shifted from discernment of the apparitions to sacramental and liturgical administration.
Monsignor Zovkic -- who himself previously had expressed misgiving about the site -- said that "I am looking forward to seeing Medjugorje." He alluded to recent statements by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone -- the current secretary of state at the Vatican and as such second only to the Pope -- to the effect that the matter necessitated re-examination.
The new statements in one fell swoop erase objections by those who have long asserted that Medjugorje was rejected or condemned because local bishops in Mostar have been unfavorable. Complicated and even tortured arguments that the site had been rejected can be immediately set aside, pending word from Rome itself.
Long considered a rigid intellectual -- and feared by those who believed he would quash private revelations -- Pope Benedict XVI has thus far taken no such action and instead has hinted at the deep mystical influence of his predecessor.
In recalling John Paul II at a memorial Mass last week, in fact, he mentioned the "supernatural" nature of that pontiff ("Among many human and supernatural qualities, he had an exceptional spiritual and mystical sensibility," intoned the Pope), as did John Paul's former aide, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow, who cited numerous miraculous cures attributed to the Pope and said that "I accompanied him for almost forty years, now he is accompanying me — and whenever I have a problem I turn to him."
"John Paul's spirit felt at Vatican, ex-aide says," stated the headline last week (4/3/08).
The question was whether that spirit was also influencing the official take on Medjugorje -- which was dear to John Paul II's heart (and in danger of condemnation).
In Vecernji List, when asked if the Bishops Conference for Bosnia-Hercegovina was going to re-examine Medjugorje -- in light of statements by Cardinal Bertone that such was in order, Cardinal Puljić, as archbishop of Sarajevo, was quoted as saying:
"Our conference has not discussed this matter, because the phenomenon of Medjugorje does not come within our competence. At the moment when the Holy See takes the decision and gives a task, we shall think about what to do. This is why it is not necessary to speculate, unless concrete instructions come. After the work of the commission, the [conference] has already decided to accompany the phenomenon pastorally. This is nothing new, but the implementation of the first decision of the conference about the phenomenon Medjugorje."
It was as remarkable as it was startling because the cardinal who was in charge of the discernment was now stating that he was no longer in charge, and neither was the national conference -- unless the Vatican asked.
That was a complete turnaround from statements made at the Cardinal's chancery several years ago, when his vicar general told Spirit Daily that the matter was in the hands of the national commission -- headed by Cardinal Puljic -- and would not be decided until the apparitions conclude.
At the time, Father Zovkic had intimated that the cardinal was leaning against the apparitions, as had the Bishop of Mostar, Ratko Peric (and his predcessor, Zanic), whose authority to rule on the site was removed in 1986 by then-Cardinal Ratzinger.
Such was long thought to have been done at the behest of John Paul II.
Private letters between the late Pope John Paul II and a couple in Krakow, Poland, have confirmed in writing that the late pontiff had a positive view of Medjugorje and even a daily devotion attached to the site of apparitions in Bosnia-Hercegovina. He met at least two of the seers, including Mirjana Soldo (above, left, with whom we will visit, God-willing, during a pilgrimage in June).
The letters, dated March 30, 1991, May 28, 1992, December 8, 1992, and February 25, 1994, and addressed to Zofia and Marek ("Z. M.") Skwarniccy, make several references to Medjugorje (in Polish, "Medziugorje") by name.
"And let everything be well on the journey to Medjugorje-Rome," John Paul II had written. "I thank Zofia for everything that regards Medjugorje," the Pope apparently wrote. "I am also going there every day in prayer: I join everyone who is praying there or who derives the call to prayer from there. Today we have understood this call better."
Similar indications have been given by bishops who have said the late Pope expressed a highly favorable view in private conversation -- but did not want to offend the Mostar chancery. Many have compared Medjugorje to historic apparitions such as those at Fatima and Lourdes. It has drawn millions of pilgrims, tens of thousands of priests, and hundreds of bishops and cardinals from around the world. It is regularly quietly monitored by officials from the Vatican.
But no one knew what Cardinal Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict -- himself thought, with contradicting indications. On the one hand, it was he who rejected the document by Mostar which would have condemned Medjugorje, and the current Pope also who, in a book called The Ratzinger Report, when asked about Medjugorje, dodged a direct answer by saying that in general the multiplication of alleged apparitions seemed like a "sign of the times." On the other hand, there were reports that he too had misgivings over the conduct of certain parties in Medjugorje.
But it appears that once more Pope Benedict has stepped in to halt an unfavorable ruling. Three of the four members of the national commission -- which includes the bishop of Mostar -- seemed poised to issue a negative discernment when the time came.
Has that now been permanently changed, or only for the time being? Has the Vatican decided that Medjugorje is too large and global for the discernment of so few -- in a region where there is great ethnic and religious antagonism (including between Franciscans and secular dioceses)?
Such action -- like the 1986 removal of Mostar's authority -- would be unprecedented. However, so is the reach of Medjugorje, which continues to break records as pilgrims fill to overflowing the Franciscan church.
Several years ago a report claimed that Cardinal Puljic had publicly complained at the Synod of Bishops that Medjugorje had created division between the secular diocese and Franciscans (due to a controversy back in the 1980s with two Franciscans) and referred to "pseudo-charisms." There are only four members of the conference: Cardinal Puljic; his auxiliary bishop; the Bishop of Banja-Luka; and Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar -- who oversees the actual diocese to which Medjugorje belongs and who has been strongly opposed to Medjugorje.
Ironically, the latest issue arose right at the anniversary of John Paul II's death and at a time when Dziwisz had added, according to another newspaper, that John Paul and Benedict were "true friends" and recalled anecdotes from his decades with John Paul, describing, for example, how the pontiff used to bless the city of Rome before going to sleep.
With the latest report, it seems that the late pontiff is also blessing Medjugorje.
[Please note that we will strictly adhere to whatever the final determination is made of the apparitions]
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