Is Medjugorje a Spiritual Movement in the Church?
Date: July 26, 2005 , Originally published November 10, 2001
Author: Dirk Grothues
Category: Theology reports , Medjugorje in the Catholic Church
II. Is Medjugorje a Movement within the Church?
We have ascertained that the Medjugorje Movement is of spiritual origin. From this one can deduce that it then must also be ecclesiastical in its origin. It is indeed the Holy Spirit, through whom our human actions become spiritual, who is the soul, the innermost principle of the life of the Church. The central manifestation of life of the Church is the celebration of the sacraments. This is particularly true of Medjugorje. There the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the absolute centre of life for the community, as well as for the pilgrims. As far as confession is concerned, Medjugorje is rightly called the greatest confessional of the world. The parishioners, the visionaries, the Franciscans are baptized and faithful Catholics, they belong to the Church, they are the Church. That is why also the movement, which they have started, is a movement within the Church. Prof. Zulehner, the Viennese pastoral theologian I mentioned previously, visited Medjugorje 10 years ago, together with 40 students of theology. He summarized his impressions as follows, "For me, Medjugorje is something like a novitiate for the Church. It is a place, where basic church observances are being practiced." - But the Church has two aspects. She is the hierarchically arranged official Church, and She is the 'laos', God's people, the laity. These have their special charisms, they are animated by the Holy Spirit, "...the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes" (1 Cor 12,11). The apostle Paul says the same, "...you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph 2,20). The hierarchy of the Church is absolutely necessary (that is, the deacons, priests, bishops and the Pope, as Bishop of Rome), but also the prophets (that is, men, women but also children, who are filled with the Holy Spirit). In the Acts of the Apostles, we read, "...your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men will see visions" (2,17b). It should be the rule that persons, holding an office, and the charismatics, priests and prophets, the official Church and the Church of the people should work together peacefully. But, unfortunately, this is not always the case. Often, there is tension and conflict among them. And so, one side or the other can go wrong. The history of the Church gives us enough examples of this. If she is not speaking infallibly at the highest level of authority, the official Church can err and close itself to true prophets and prophecies. So, the official Church has, for example, burned Joan of Arc as a heretic, before she realized that she was a saint and acting on behalf of God. The history of many orders and spiritual communities in the Church shows that their spiritually motivated founders were often confronted with stern opposition and resistance from the official Church before they were finally recognized. In the interaction between the official and the charismatic Church, between persons holding an office and prophets, God has given both sides special gifts and duties. The prophets, who feel themselves called upon and motivated directly by the spirit of God, must stand to their mission and, if necessary, obey God more than the officials of the Church, when the latter forbid them to talk. This can actually be compared with the apostles before the Sanhedrin (see Acts 4, 18-20). For example, how many difficulties and hostilities did Bernadette Soubirous have to endure from representatives of the Church before her mission was finally recognized after many years of accusations. How much lack of understanding and mistrust did the children of Fatima have to endure, before the Church decided to recognize their apparitions and messages as being authentic. On the other hand, it is the duty of the official Church to examine prophets and prophecies, as to whether they come from God; since there also exist false prophets and false prophesies.
As far as the Medjugorje Movement is concerned, we are dealing precisely with this classical conflict within the Church. The visionaries know that they are in the service of God and bear witness of their spiritual experiences, their meetings with the Gospa. The official clergy of Medjugorje has examined them and has come to the conclusion: We are dealing with authentic apparitions and messages, which are brought about by the Spirit of God. So, in Medjugorje, itself, the apostolic office (the priests and clergy of the community and the prophetic charism (the visionaries) are unanimous. The opposition takes place on a higher official level: between the community of Medjugorje and the by now world-wide Medjugorje Movement, on the one hand, and the Bishop of Mostar and most of his colleagues in the Bishops' Conference, on the other hand. The conflict becomes very clear in the interview of Franjo Cardinal Kuharic, already mentioned earlier, in which he states: "The Bishops' Conference still adheres to the verdict it has made about Medjugorje before the war. Based on the three-year investigations, one came to the conclusion that no supernatural apparitions are taking place in Medjugorje."
Let us take a closer look at this remarkable statement. In the year 1996 the Bishops' Conference adheres to the decision, it had made in the statement in Zadar on April 10, 1991. At that time, this decision was based on the examinations that the Commission, which had been appointed in 1986, made during three years - that is, roughly from 1987 to 1990. So one indirectly admits that the first six years, as well as the last six years since 1991, when no examinations were made due to the war, were not taken into account. But during these twelve years the phenomenon of Medjugorje was very much alive! During the years of the war, there was an almost unbelievable resonance of active help from all over the world for the plight in Bosnia-Herzegovina from pilgrims and groups, who had been motivated by Medjugorje. In spite of the war, which spread to the outskirts of Medjugorje, the town of the apparitions was not damaged and remained an oasis of peace. Can one disregard all this? In this atmosphere of war, which was highly emotionalised with hate and animosity, words were coming out of Medjugorje like those uttered by Vicka, "We must also love the Serbs, our enemies!" Is there a purely natural explanation for all this? Those, who know a little about the numerous efforts to get to the bottom of the Medjugorje phenomenon, are - to put it mildly - surprised at how carelessly the Bishops' Conference reached its decision that no supernatural apparitions are taking place in Medjugorje. What about the fact that, according to all medical findings, the visionaries are psychically healthy and normal? What about the fact that, according scientific examinations by Prof. Joyeux, the young visionaries were in true ecstasy during their visions, which cannot be simulated or induced artificially? What about the many hundreds of healings, which - according to medical experts - cannot be explained from a medical point of view? We won't even mention the innumerable conversions and spiritual experiences, which have made faithful Christians out of unbelievers and people, who had been far away from the church.
But one does not want to accuse the Bishops' Conference of acting irresponsibly. But how can one understand the lack of thoroughness in their examinations? I, myself, only have the following explanation for this: Obviously, the Bishop of Mostar knew how to convey his personal interpretation of the Medjugorje phenomenon to most of his colleagues in such a manner that they subscribed to his assessment or refrained from making their own judgment. This could have been all the easier for them when he mixed the Medjugorje phenomenon with the "Case of Hercegovina", in which the Bishops are taking sides against the Franciscans. But, if the Medjugorje phenomenon is clear, as Bishop Zanic said in his statement about the events of Medjugorje on October 30, 1984, and once more later in a statement from February 9, 1990 (in spite of an injunction from Rome to restrain himself!) - what is then left to examine? Then one also does not need to consider the millions of pilgrims, who come to Medjugorje. Then one can dismiss their experiences, conversions and healings, saying that all this also happens elsewhere. Then one can disregard the faith of the believers, which Pope Pius XII valued so highly that he put into effect the definition of the dogma of the bodily Assumption of Our Lady into heaven only after he had consulted all the bishops of the entire Church to find out what the faithful of their respective dioceses thought about it. When the Medjugorje phenomenon will have been sufficiently explained, there will really be no need for further investigations. Then a bishop can answer a question of a journalist - as, in fact, it has happened, as follows: "I am not interested in what 12 million pilgrims believe. For me it is decisive what 20 Croatian bishops say."
When we deal here with the question as to whether Medjugorje is a movement within the Church, we have no choice but to take a closer look and further analyse the opinion of bishop Pavao Zanic; all the more as this opinion has evidently been adopted by his successor, Ratko Peric and is also being shared or nevertheless tolerated by other Croatian bishops. The bishop of Mostar is convinced that Medjugorje is not an ecclesiastical movement but a movement against the Church. Therefore, he pretends that, with his statements, he is trying to protect the Church from being harmed. In the conclusion of his statement of October 30, 1984, he writes that within him had ripened "the moral certainty that the events in Medjugorje are a case of collective hallucination"; that this matter was then being exploited cleverly by a group of Franciscans. Regarding the question of the transfer of parishes ("The Herzegovina Case") - it was their goal to prove that truth and justice were on their side and that the bishop was wrong. The main culprit he sees in Fr. Tomislav Vlasic. In his last statement of February 9, 1990, he says, "Vicka Ivankovic is the 'main visionary' of the first years and through her the creator of Medjugorje, Fr. Tomislav Vlasic, started the major part of the lie about Medjugorje." Also Marija Pavlovic is for him "only a toy in the hands of Vlasic" and finally the bishop claims, "So Fr. Vlasic has manipulated all the visionaries". But at the beginning, Bishop Zanic had also believed in the apparitions. He had stated publicly, "The children are not lying". In his statement in 1984 he admits that he, for his part, had thought, "If the scandalous "Herzegovina-Case" .... could not have been solved with human means then maybe God wanted to send us Our Lady to bring the disobedient back to obey and love the Church". But what then brought about this change of mind in him? Here the case of the two Franciscans Ivica Vego and Ivan Prusina plays an important role. Both chaplains were suspended by Bishop Zanic because of disobedience and, as a result of his pressure, they were expelled from the Order. In this matter, the Gospa supposedly said that the bishop had acted too hastily, that both were innocent. From there on, it seems, the bishop turned into a radical opponent of Medjugorje. In the statement of 1984, he writes, "The attacks of Our Lady against the bishop and the defence of the ex-Franciscans of Mostar were the strongest proofs against the authenticity of the apparitions". Thus, in short, his train of thought is: A mother of God, who criticizes a bishop, cannot be the Mother of God! To this, I want to make two comments. From the history of the Church, we know enough examples when prophets criticized high and the highest officials of the Church. For example, what the saintly prophetic women, Birgitta of Sweden and Catherine of Siena, told Pope Gregory XI. on behalf of God in order to induce him to leave Avignon and return to Rome, by far surpasses any criticism and admonition that Bishop Zanic got to hear. But one should note that these messages were handled very discretely, as personal messages by the Franciscans and the visionaries and were never published. Bishop Zanic did this himself. Probably because he thought that this was the strongest proof against the authenticity of the apparitions. Everyone can judge for himself how effective this argument is. The second comment: In the case of the two Franciscans Vega and Prusina, Rome's judgement is quite interesting: They were treated unjustly and were expelled without the necessary procedure. Doesn't this almost sound like what the Gospa supposedly had said, that the bishop had acted too hurriedly?
By condemning the Medjugorje Movement, the Bishop of Mostar believes to be protecting the Church. As far as he is concerned, the movement is an anti-Church movement. He writes, "The greatest danger is in the fact that this entire emotional excitement around Medjugorje will disintegrate sooner or later like a balloon or a soap-bubble". And this would lead to great disillusionment and the authority of the Church would be discredited. - However, until now the Medjugorje-balloon has not burst. It is getting larger and larger, the Medjugorje Movement brings spiritual fruits to the entire world and is not harming the Church, but is a blessing for it.
The question we posed at the beginning of this analysis - is Medjugorje a spiritual movement within the Church? - we can now, based on sound arguments, answer with an exclamation mark: MEDJUGORJE IS A SPIRITUAL MOVEMENT WITHIN THE CHURCH!