The Catholic Thing
Weighing Medjugorje Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Thursday, 06 August 2009

Father Tomislav Vlasic, the spiritual director to the six controversial visionaries at Medjugorje, has left the priesthood and been laicized by the Vatican. The charismatic Franciscan was under formal investigation for “dubious doctrine, the manipulation of consciences, suspect mysticism, and disobedience towards legitimately issued orders” (and seems to have had a sexual relationship with a nun). For the past year he was banished to an Italian monastery where he was under orders not to speak to anyone including his lawyer.

This is just the latest in the remarkable story of six young people who have claimed to see and hear the Virgin Mary some 40,000 times since 1981. Their claims have turned a tiny village in Bosnia and Herzegovina‎ into a spiritual Mecca that has attracted upwards of 30-million pilgrims over its twenty-eight years.

The visions of Medjugorje have been controversial from the start and have never been approved by the local bishop. In fact, there has been ongoing conflict between successive local bishops and the Franciscans who have cared for and promoted the visionaries and their cause. Proponents have claimed the visions have been caught up in the politics of the region, which has been torn apart over the years by vicious warfare.

I visited Medjugorje for seven days, ten years ago. I went with the view to writing a story debunking the visions and the visionaries. Because I went on a French-speaking pilgrimage out of Paris, I was mostly on my own.

Even the drive through Croatia to get there is stunning. Thousand-foot cliffs overlook the Adriatic Sea. Little fishing villages dot the coastline. Roadside shrines and crosses follow the hilltops. You come over the lip of the cliff and drive through a moon-like landscape. Gnarled and pitted rocks, scrub brush, pastures fenced not with wood but with stones that have been there for – how long? Decades? Centuries? It’s bleak but beautiful.

Medjugorje itself is a homely little place. They have those ugly Eastern European B&B’s everywhere, the kind that look like they were thrown up in an afternoon. The main drag is a short strip lined with tacky religious knick-knack shops. Not a good introduction to Medjugorje.

Outside the cathedral, built by the Franciscans, confessional huts line the main square. One feature of the Medjugorje phenomenon is that people who visit are moved to confess. People come and stand in line sometimes for hours to confess for the first time in years. Between confessions and Masses, the cathedral gets an all-day work out and is generally packed. Unusual phenomena happen. Rosaries are said to turn gold. Unexplained crosses appear in photographs.

In Medjugorje, you get announcements that one of the visionaries will make an appearance. With dozens of other pilgrims, I stood outside one of their houses – a fancy-gated one – and waited for him to appear. He spoke at the gate. I don’t remember what he said. When he spoke later in a pavilion near the cathedral, every seat was taken. He wore a tracksuit and sprinted away to his car – a Mercedes? – when he finished.

You also get announcements that the Blessed Mother will appear. There was an announcement one day that she would be on Apparition Hill at 8PM. Hundreds of people clamored up the dangerous hill. I saw old ladies climbing up boulders and into crevices. We sang songs in our various languages. Electricity went through the crowd. The seer was here, somewhere, I couldn’t see him or her. Someone translated the message. We were told to continue praying. Then we all clamored down the dangerous hill in the pitch dark.

In the end I came away a skeptic of the visions. Would the Blessed Mother really want old ladies climbing over boulders in the pitch black? Would she really announce that she is appearing at a given time, 8 p.m. Friday night like a lounge act in Vegas? Would she really appear 40,000 times?

It is hard to ignore the fact that the local Church and the Vatican have never approved these visions and messages. In fact, the Church has told people not to come.

And then there are the visionaries. None of them seem like St. Bernadette of Lourdes or St. Lucy of Fatima. This group lives behind gates in fancy houses, makes speaking tours, and drives fancy cars. Not all of them, but a few. None of them has joined a religious order, though one of them supposedly tried it out.

Though I am a skeptic of the visions, I am a believer in the place. That is the thing about Medjugorje. It is quiet and prayerful. In fact, it is the most prayerful place I have ever visited. Where ever you go there, you are drawn to prayer. It is almost involuntary. Your mind and heart are raised to God constantly, almost against your will.

What most people don’t know is that this place was a pilgrim site long before the phenomenon. People have tramped up and down Cross Hill for at least a century. Though the Blessed Mother may not be appearing there, what is happening there is prayer. Millions and millions of prayers cannot be ignored. This is the wonder of the place.

I took a lot of pictures but did not get them developed until five years later. I finally got the pictures home and leafed through them. There is the cathedral, the village, the pathways, and the pilgrims. Then came a picture of Cross Hill. The light was fading. I caught the final rays of light from the setting sun. And there in the dying of the light was a cascade of crosses. I swear they were not there when I took the picture.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washinton, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy.

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Comments (25)Add Comment
A slice of heaven
written by Lorraine, August 07, 2009
I visited the site in 1988. I had never seen nor felt such devotion 24-7 of our Lord and our Lady during my week there. It changed by life and put me on a path of following Jesus each and every day. I was given a great gift to remember my visit - when I was on Apparition Hill during the midnight apparition, I noticed that the huge cross on Cross mountain was blazingly lit. I thought, "How nice, they turn the lights on when our Lady appears." Upon inspection I found that there are no lights on it.
Angel of light
written by Iosephus, August 07, 2009
So you're claiming that a miracle has taken place involving your photograph? It seems to me that Satan could be using this place, so filled with "piety", to draw folks into disobedience to the Church. Sir, you felt "drawn" to prayer, because you were in a quiet place with lots of other folks intent on prayer. In as much as your article gives encouragement to those who will visit in spite of the Church's prohibition, you ought to be ashamed.
Very Interesting-Picture?
written by phil, August 07, 2009
Very interesting indeed. Is this picture available for us to see?
written by Bev, August 07, 2009
I also found this to be a very prayerful and peaceful place. I have been 7 times but have been unable to go for several years. I miss the prayer life and the peace that I find there.
written by Austin Ruse, August 07, 2009 wrote:

"Sir, you felt "drawn" to prayer, because you were in a quiet place with lots of other folks intent on prayer."

Ahhhhh, that's what a wrote.......
written by Watcher, August 07, 2009
I first heard of Medjugorje before the Soviet Union collapsed. The apparition predicted the collapse before it happened. No one else did. An acquaintance had her rosary links turn gold. An associate from work showed me a photograph of Cross Hill taken by his father. He had taped a series together to make a panorama and then re-photographed it. When that photo was developed, the flare of reflected flash was exactly in the shape of the BVM 10 feet in the air. What it means? He said it was a gift.
written by Nick, August 07, 2009
Just remember that even Satan can make you see wonderful things. Please still refer to the Church's official norm for the discernment of apparitions, which you can read online.
Weighing Medjugorje
written by Bill, August 07, 2009
The fact that they have never submitted to the authority of the Church is most telling. Lourdes, Fatima, all the others deemed worthy of belief were in their day.

"Watcher", the fall of the Soviet Union was predicted by many before it happened, even such wacko "prophets" as Kenneth Copeland. By 1990, it was pretty evident that it was only a matter of time.

All the words of caution here are well worth heeding. We need the Church because so many wondrous things can't be explained.
very real
written by Gordon R. MacDonald, August 07, 2009
I visited Medjugje Oct.1995, although the country was still very much at war,this little village was totally at peace. I was in the process of becoming a Catholic and approched this with a very open mind. At the end of my ten day stay I knew there was a GOD. I have come to feel the Gospels as opposed to listening to them.I hope the vissions are true, regardless I would not discourage anyone from going there.
written by Austin Ruse, August 08, 2009
I will reiterate that i am a Medj-skeptic. However, it is not true that supporters of other apparitions have simply shut up shop and gone away short approval by the Bishop or the Vatican. I was just reading today about Our Lady of All Nations in Amsterdam. Approval took 50 years to come but the folks kept it alive nonetheless. And isnt the story of Lourdes the story of persistence in the face of Ecclesial disapproval? Still, I remain a skeptic.
written by chantal, August 08, 2009
stop beeing critical please - we see by the fruits medjugorje gave and still always got black sheep every where, specially were there is graces... Rome will never aproved medugorje as long there will be seer still alive... it take time.... we have to accept that. Be grateful for the grace that God give us to have the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of Nation coming to us. when you see many nation coming together in peace... that can be only from God - amen - Chantal
written by Carol, August 08, 2009
written by Anita, August 08, 2009
I was present on apparition hill one night that an apparition was taking place. Our Lady gave me a great gift that night. I will never forget. I felt God's love in a physical sense. It enveloped my whole body, so hard to describe, but at that moment I knew I was loved beyond measure. I know that Our Lady is there, like a good mother, to bring us closer to her Son.In time all will know the TRUTH. Please pray for lost souls.
Minor corrections
written by Donna P, August 08, 2009
A friend who has lived in the area suggests that, while she (like me) concurs with the article, there are some misleading parts.

In reference to a 'fancy gated house', in this area and many areas of Bosnia, most houses were gated. Medjugorje homes are largely white stucco, tiled rooves. They look a bit like 'villas' but are not 'fancy' by local standards.

As for the Mercedes, in Bosnia, Mercedes are everywhere. They are the taxi-cabs. Using US standards is not always helpful.
written by Patricia, August 09, 2009
Post the picture of the crosses.
Carl in Middleton, NH
written by Carl Eppig, August 09, 2009
Up until the last paragraph I was ready to never give you another donation! We went in '01 and saw miracles up close and personal. As our pastor likes to say the millions of good that comes out of there can't be the work of the devil.
present the facts
written by johnb, August 10, 2009
The Church has never "told people not to come". Yes, Our Lady would announce a specific time of her appearance out of kindness to pilgrims who would want to know. With regard to old ladies climbing over boulders, didn't Our Lady of Fatima say many were falling into hell because no one was making sacrifices for them? Our Lady has no problem with sacrifices. Aren't very sick people being immersed in cold waters at Lourdes with Our Lady's approval? Think.
Lessons 4 bishops & priests
written by Diane at Te Deum Laudamus, August 10, 2009
Austin, thanks for your post on this subject. It got me thinking.....alot.

(See: the Te Deum Laudamus blog.)

You have an open invitation to Assumption Grotto where expressions of Marian and Eucharistic devotion are aligned with Church teaching. We too have good fruits. When parishes allow these expressions in all purity and fullness, people will not be looking for them elsewhere.
Worth pondering
written by Famijoly, August 10, 2009
St. James Church is not a cathedral, and Lucy of Fatima has not been canonized. Other than that, this article echoes why the Church always recommends balance when it comes to apparitions. I visited Medjurgorje in 1997 and found it, like the author, a very prayerful place. There are numerous red flags against the alleged apparitions and messages. But if nothing else, Medjurgorje is a place of spiritual warfare.
Youth show the way
written by pilgrim, August 11, 2009
Just returned from a week in Medjugorje (Youth Festival).50,000 people in attendance. Confessions ran from early morning until late at night. Never have I seen so many priests administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation in one small area, about 30 yards square. At one period over 100 priests were confessing the people, while 520 priests concelebrated Mass! Confession, the long forgotten Sacrament of the Church, is alive and well in Medjugorje.
written by Tim, August 11, 2009
Vlassic wasn't a major player in Medjugorje. Why not talk about Fr. Slavko? Why did't you pay attention to the visionaries comments? Mercedes are common cars in Europe, not fancy, not a status symbol. 40,000 apparitions are nothing. The Lord's has been present a billion times in the Eucharist. No one has offered a reasonable alternative explanation for the reported apparitions. That is because it is real. No red flags to the Vatican or it would have been banned long ago.
Shameful article
written by Brendan Bradley, August 12, 2009
I agree that Catholics should be very careful about what is said to be happening in Medjugorje but this article in places is very disrespectful towards the seers and the local people (fancy cars and houses, old ladies climbing up boulders and into crevices) not to mention an uncalled-for sarcastic conclusion. With more sensitivity and less cynicism this could have been a worthwhile contribution to the present controversy over Medjugorje. Alas!
call for prayer
written by ogunsusi vincent, August 12, 2009
wether mary appear in medjugorje or not i think it is good for people to go to a quiet place for prayers often but we need to be more careful about the people involved so that we see the true picture of the whole thing
written by dymphna, August 25, 2009
Folks, the local bishops have repeatedly condemned this apparition as a hoax. That is enough. As for the photos and gold rosaries (if your rosary is gold I challenge you to take it to a jeweler and have it appraised) those are just tricks of the devil.
written by Edward Baker, November 19, 2013
No authentic appaarition treats the Mother of God as an idiot making idiotic statements as this obviouly phony apparition has done. And there is no "devotion" in wanting rosaries to turn to gold or to have the sun spin.

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