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We had the opportunity, after our recent retreat, in Toronto, to speak with two retired bishops who graciously concelebrated Mass for the event. Both have been to the famous apparition site of Medjugorje, and both strongly feel that it's a legitimate apparition. "I have no doubt at all about it," said Most Reverend Michael Pearse Lacey, who has been there more than half a dozen times, and plans to return. He is from Toronto and was rector at the famed cathedral downtown. The same has been expressed by Eastern Rite Catholic bishop Roman Danylak, also of Toronto. Bishop Lacey believes it will be a while before the Church takes a stand. "They are being prudent," he said. (If and when the Vatican makes a determination, we will adhere to it strictly, as will, of course, the bishops.)

The discussion comes at an interesting time, in that the twenty-eighth anniversary of the first reputed sightings is set for June 24 and because we have received further indications that Pope Benedict XVI himself visited Medjugorje when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

As our friend, journalist Jakob Marschner, of Copenhagen, has reported, "A nun and two pilgrims say they saw the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the village in Bosnia-Hercegovina as early as four years after the apparitions began on June 24th 1981. 64-year- old Irish pilgrim Mary E. Smith says she saw the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at only half-a-meter distance during a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in 1985. Along with her at Saint James Church in Medjugorje was fellow Irish pilgrim Anita Curtis. 'Anita said, "Look, Mary, there is Cardinal Ratzinger." I looked up and immediately thought John Paul II had sent him, and that he would take his testimony to John Paul II,' says Ms. Smith, a contemplative and a frequent visitor to to the site throughout the years. 'We were sitting on the steps outside the sacristry. Cardinal Ratzinger walked right by us at half-a-meter's distance. I am sure he heard what Anita said to me. He put his head down and to the left, towards the wall of the church, as if he did not want to be recognized by the general body of pilgrims. He was dressed in civilian clothes: A white, short-sleeved shirt opened at the neck, and a light grey pair of trousers. I also recognized his snow-white hair.'" How sure was she that it was the Cardinal? "I am 100 percent sure that it was him," she told Jakob -- matching the testimony of others in Medjugorje who long have said they spotted him, a claim that is hardly outlandish in that Vatican observers from various congregations regularly visit Medjugorje, often incognito.

Whatever the final outcome of the alleged apparitions, John Paul II was quoted by more than a dozen bishops as encouraging them to visit the site, which makes the claims of Benedict having been there even less surprising. "It is good for people to go to Medjugorje and pray," the late Pope told Bishop Silvester Treinen of Boise, Idaho. "Authorize everything that concerns Medjugorje," the pontiff also told Archbishop Felipe Santiago Benitez of Paraguay when asked if Medjugorje priest Father Slavko Barbaric should be allowed to preach in South America.

Father Barbaric, who died in 2001, was photographed with Cardinal Ratzinger at a restaurant in 1991 in Linz, Austria, during a meeting of more then 300 priests who discussed their experiences of confessions in Medjugorje. Upon his return, Father Slavko told  Nasa Ognjista, a Croatian monthly (XXI, 1991), that he and Cardinal Ratzinger had a long conversation about Medjugorje and the cardinal had told him that "the Church does not want to repress anything that is bringing good spiritual fruits." One seer reportedly said Benedict visited twice.

During a Marian conference at Notre Dame in 1995, yet another bishop was quoted as saying that "John Paul II not only suffers because the message of Medjugorje has not been accepted, and for the war that surrounds that country, but he suffers even more so for the situation existing within the Church, for this division between the bishops and the crisis of acceptance of the supernatural, which he himself has said is evident at Medjugorje."

It was reported that John Paul II read the monthly messages from Medjugorje, and we noted years ago that special attention to youth was a constant, early theme at Medjugorje -- and that soon after those messages became known, John Paul II instituted (in 1986) "World Youth Day." The Pope also began referring to Mary as "Queen of Peace" (her title in Bosnia-Hercegovina) and became a strong advocate of ecumenism -- another prominent theme at the very beginning of Medjugorje, where the apparitions were thought by John Paul II to be the "completion and fulfillment of Fatima" (and where there as a plea for love between Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims).

Just last month, it was noted that Benedict, too, seems to use language strikingly similar to both recent and early messages from the alleged site.

"Prayer, fasting, and penance are a Christian's weapons against hatred," explained Pope Benedict XVI in an Ash Wednesday homily a couple years back, similar to a message from Mary that said, "Peace! Peace! Peace! Be reconciled. Only Peace. Make your peace with God and among yourselves. For that it is necessary to believe, to pray, to fast, and to go to Confession."

[resources: Medjugorje and the Church and Visions of the Children]

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