Is Medjugorje a Spiritual Movement in the Church?

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Content of the article
  1. I. Is Medjugorje a Spiritual Movement?
  2. II. Is Medjugorje a Movement within the Church?
  3. III. What Needs to be Done Urgently!

III. What Needs to be Done Urgently!

A classical principle of Catholic social doctrine is the principle of subsidiarity. It implies that tasks and conflicts should first be solved at the lower level. As soon as it is obvious that the lower level is unable to solve the problem, the next higher level must come to its assistance. This happened in the case of Medjugorje. When it became obvious that the Episcopal investigating commission of Mostar was not able to do its job, Rome ordered the Yugoslavian Bishops' Conference to take on this case. In the meantime, it became more than obvious that also the Bishops' Conference is not able to handle the case. One only needs to look at the revealing comment Cardinal Kuharic made in the interview in 1996 mentioned above, "the Bishops' Conference still adheres to the judgment it had made about Medjugorje before the war". This sounds as if one possibly wanted to revise this verdict. But how? How, if the investigating commission does not do serious work? Whether the commission is not able to work or whether it does not want to: in this urgent case, which concerns the entire Church, according to the principle of subsidiarity, the next and highest instance must now become active. Now the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pope are in demand. A neutral, independent commission, consisting of theologians and experts, must be formed and everything needs to be openly dealt with and examined. The commission should work according to the principle of audiatur et altera pars! Both sides must be heard and both sides must be taken seriously. The representatives and supporters of Medjugorje, as well as its opponents.

An interesting event, which already took place in 1983, shows how important the summoning of the last and highest instance of the Church is. The Slovenian Jesuit, R. Grafenauer, wanted to form his own opinion about Medjugorje. He went to visit Bishop Zanic in Mostar, remained there for three days, talked to him and listened to 20 tapes, which the Bishop had taped, among them interviews he had had with the visionaries. Thereafter, for him, the Medjugorje-case was settled. The material seemed to prove to him that the events of Medjugorje could not be authentic. But, the bishop urged him to go to Medjugorje. And, after having done so and after having met and talked with the visionaries, the community and also Father Tomislav Vlasic, the priest changed his mind completely and became convinced that the apparitions were authentic. This example shows very clearly that both sides have very strong arguments. I, myself, must admit that I would never have been interested in Medjugorje had I only known the documents of Bishop Zanic. There, statements of the Gospa are being cited, which are very questionable. There are contradictions and absurdities in the statements of the visionaries, which are not easily solved. There is, for example, the question as to whether or not Vicka Ivankovic had written a diary. Despite this and other problems, I concur with the opinion of theologians, such as Rene Laurentin and Hans Urs von Balthasar, that they are not important when being compared with the signs of authenticity. Very helpful and clarifying in this regard is the book The Truth about Medjugorje, by Fr. Ljudevit Rupcic. It is an answer to the bishop's statement from 1990. As far as specific words of the Gospa and as they were relayed by the visionaries are concerned, one should read what the responsible priests of Medjugorje have written about this; this was published in 1986 and shows high theological competence. It points out possible sources of error and cautions from bringing leading questions into the process of the apparitions. Finally, in judging the apparitions and messages, one should also consider what Karl Rahner described in his book Visions and Prophesies (Tyrolia, Innsbruck 1952). Particularly interesting are the distinctions he makes between mystical visions, which are meant for individuals, and prophetic visions, which are important for the Church and the world; for the latter, he questions the term "private revelations". Also interesting is what he says about the involvement of the psyche when the visions and auditions are being reproduced in pictures and words.

The case of Grafenauer shows that there is little chance for success when opponents and supporters of Medjugorje sit down together at a table, in order to solve the case. Every side has its arguments and has made its options. Each side is convinced to have the truth on its side. That is one more reason why the higher ecclesiastical instance should get involved in the case of Medjugorje.

In the language of Roman theology, there are three classical formulations for judging apparitions and messages: 1. Constat den non supernaturalitate 2. Constat de supernaturalitate and 3. Non constat de supernaturalitate. Admittedly, it is difficult for lay men to correctly interpret the third formula. As a matter of fact, the verdict "non constat de supernaturalitate" was reproduced in the headlines of the press, as follows: Nothing supernatural in Medjugorje! Whereby this verdict of Zadar actually leaves the case of Medjugorje open: It is not certain if the events of Medjugorje have a supernatural character. One can understand that the journalists can err like this in their hectic daily work; especially, when the press releases of the Bishop of Mostar misinterpret the statements of Zadar in such a way. However, it is surprising, that even a Cardinal can make such a mistake, as it is documented in the Viennese newspaper MEDJUGORJE in an interview from September 14, 1996. Does this possibly show a negative prejudice?

Coming back once more to the topic we are dealing with. Bishop Pavao Zanic believes that the Franciscans have mingled the "Herzegovina-case" with the Medjugorje phenomena. Father Tomislav Vlasic, on the other hand, declares that he has always tried not to burden the apparitions of Medjugorje with the "Herzegovina-case". I ask myself if it were not possible that, with Her call for conversion and reconciliation, the Queen of Peace also has the "Herzegovina-case" in mind? After Marija Pavlovic had seen the Gospa 26th of June 1981, standing beneath the cross crying and saying, "Peace, peace, you must search for peace!" - many asked themselves: What does She mean? We have peace! Yes, there was no war. But there was no peace in the Church of Hercegovina. There was and still exists today the "Herzegovina-case". And this is a heavy burden for the Church and hinders its peace efforts throughout the world more than one would believe at first glance. The Gospa did not mention this specifically. She said to Marija Pavlovic at that time, "There must be peace again in the world". But in this, the Church plays an important role! She is, according to a statement of the Second Vaticanum, "So to speak the Sacrament, the sign and instrument for the most intimate union with God, as well as the unity of all mankind". But the Church cannot be this instrument for reconciliation and peace in the hand of God when she is torn within herself and she, herself, has no unity and peace within. That is why, according to the words of Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente for the year 2000, the highest priority is that all Christians be reunited. Only a united Christendom can evangelize the world so that it can believe in Christ (John 17,21: ... so that they may all be one .....that the world may believe that you sent me ...). With the same urgency, the Pope asks for a collaboration of the main religions of the world, which have so often fought among each other and have been a counter witness to peace for the world. But the question is: how can the Church do all this, if she is not united within herself? From this point of view, we understand when the Gospa said later in a private message, which Vicka relayed to us, that the conflict in Herzegovina is a great shame. There, surely, also exist other conflicts in the Church, which also have to be resolved, as they obscure the credibility of its efforts for peace and reconciliation. But the "Herzegovina-case", right on the border to with Orthodoxy and Islam, is surely particularly serious. Therefore, should the Queen of Peace also and finally not want this conflict resolved? Then Her initiative would be exactly on line with the Pope: from a Church united in itself and the reunion of all Christians to a new evangelisation, from an understanding of the great religions of the world to peace among all nations, to peace on earth. Once more the Gospa, "There must be peace again on earth". If the peace movement of Medjugorje synchronizes in such a way with the orientation of the pontificate of John Paul II, it is a further proof that this movement is spiritual and within the Church. And it is a further reason for the Church to deal with it on its highest level.

What needs to be done? Until now, we have mainly talked about what Rome should do. A final word as to what we and all others, who are committed to the Medjugorje movement, can do. One thing we can do is that each one of us tries as best as he can to live the messages, which the Queen of Peace gives us so patiently and tirelessly. Another thing we can do is to take care that the original message is not being falsified or obscured in the Medjugorje centres and prayer groups. Medjugorje is not just any pious prayer movement. The program of Medjugorje is not simply that of any popular mission, as it is from time to time presented to our communities. It is good to pray, to fast, to go to holy mass, to go to confession regularly, to read Sacred Scriptures. But, if we do not understand that, despite all personal piety, we are dealing here with total peace and conversion, then we have not yet correctly understood the essence of the Medjugorje message. Certainly, it always also has to do with "saving your soul". However, the essence of Medjugorje is the biblical message: God wants the unity of his people, peace on earth and the salvation of the world.

Dirk Grothues, 1998

Dirk Grotheus, born 1928, ordained priest 1955 in Munster, Germany. He is chaplain to a community of workers, instructor of religion in a gymnasiums, pastoral caregiver in a clinic for psychosomatic medicine, counsellor in the service for marriage and family affairs, and spiritual director of spiritual communities. From 1968 to 1995, he is theological collaborator for the diocesan newspaper Kirche und Leben, rector of the provincial house of sisters in Munster. Since 1987, he is spiritual advisor at the Centre Mary Queen of Peace, Medjugorje. He collaborates on theological symposia and in publications that refer to the Medjugorje apparitions and messages.


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