BIRMINGHAM, Ala. • Could a Virgin Mary statue under a pine tree in the middle of a cow pasture in rural Alabama one day become an officially recognized international pilgrimage site of the Roman Catholic Church?
Yes, it could, said Michael D. Murphy, chairman of the anthropology department and a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama who has specialized in studying the role of Virgin Mary apparitions in the Catholic Church.
"Without a doubt," Murphy said. "Some very unusual places have ended up becoming pilgrimage sites."
Marija Lunetti, the visionary who has been reporting daily visions of the Virgin Mary since she was a teenager in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, had two apparitions in a field under a pine tree in Shelby County, Ala., during a highly publicized "five days of prayer" July 1-5 at Caritas of Birmingham.
Lunetti was one of six Medjugorje youths who began reporting apparitions of Mary in 1981. She was 16 at the time and known as Marija Pavlovic. Now 47, married with four children and living in Italy, Lunetti continues having daily visions.
She has been visiting Alabama since 1988, when she came to donate a kidney at UAB Hospital for her brother, Andrija Pavlovic. She had apparitions in the hospital and at the home of Caritas of Birmingham founder Terry Colafrancesco.
Caritas is a ministry that organizes tours and publishes books and pamphlets promoting the visions of Medjugorje, in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina. Lunetti also began having apparitions in the field under the pine tree, at Colafrancesco's request, where large numbers of pilgrims could gather around to pray.
Colafrancesco expressed confidence during Lunetti's latest visit that the Vatican will eventually endorse the Medjugorje apparitions. "The Vatican is going to take the taboos off and let it flower," he predicted.
Murphy said there is a good chance the church will eventually endorse the visions — just as it did the apparitions in Lourdes, France, in 1858 and Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. But it won't happen as long as the visions are still going on, because of the potential for heresy. The Catholic Church has monitored and investigated the apparitions for 30 years, neither endorsing nor forbidding them. A Vatican commission is currently studying the visions.
"The Catholic hierarchy is very reluctant to sign off on authenticity as long as they are still current," Murphy said. "If they were to approve and then the seers start making heretical statements the Vatican doesn't approve of, they're stuck."
The visions already would have been shut down if there had been blasphemous statements made, he said. Many church officials have commented on the fact that interest in the visions has revived many people's faith.
"That's one of the reasons the church hasn't clamped down," Murphy said.
There has been little specific in the reported messages at Caritas, which are heavily peppered with talk of faith, devotion, peace and prayer. Much of the time, Lunetti reports that the Virgin Mary appeared, looked over the crowd and blessed their religious medallions, without a specific message. During the apparitions, Lunetti says the Virgin Mary appears to her and prays over the pilgrims, although they cannot see her vision.
Colafrancesco said the week of prayer drew about 15,000 to 18,000 visitors from states across the country.
"A lot of people are telling us they're deeply moved by it," Colafrancesco said. "People are leaving here saying they're going to start prayer groups."
EWTN talk show host the Rev. Mitch Pacwa, who has been to Medjugorje and did a documentary about it with actor Martin Sheen, said the Vatican will look carefully at the reported messages.
For example, early on, there was a dispute between Franciscans based in Medjugorje and a regional bishop, who was skeptical of the Marian apparitions.
"Some of the visionaries took a stance and said the Virgin Mary is on the side of the Franciscans," Pacwa said. "That's odd. That's inappropriate. The church does not want the visionaries to ask questions trying to get answers. If it's from God, God is going to take the initiative."
EWTN, the Catholic broadcasting network based in Irondale, Ala., welcomes Catholics who visit Alabama to go to Caritas, but does not take a stand on the apparitions or make recommendations to pilgrims.
Pacwa said there is no chance for the visions to get approval while they're still going on, and it's a long shot even after they stop.
One quirk that emerged was when two of the Medjugorje visionaries said the Virgin Mary endorsed a book, "The Poem of the Man-God,"that had been condemned by the Vatican. The fanciful 1940s biography of Jesus by Maria Valtorta contains details like a dancing girl brushing up against Jesus, Joseph giving young Jesus an anachronistic tool kit with screwdrivers and the Virgin Mary making statements such as "man disgusts me," Pacwa said. "The book had been condemned by the church in 1959 because it said a lot of silly things that contradicted what was in the gospels," Pacwa said. "The church rejected it. Any vision must be judged by revelation that exists in the gospels. You can't say anything you want."
What may be the unraveling of the Medjugorje visions is the lack of any spiritual depth to the messages, Pacwa said.
"That is a much more pointed critique," he said.
The writings of Sister Faustina, now a saint, describe visions from Jesus. "As you kept reading, a new depth of spiritual life began to show itself," Pacwa said. "You can see definite growth over the years in her spiritual messages. I don't see that with the messages of Medjugorje. They tend to be the same thing over and over again. Something I would look for is a growth in spiritual depth. I haven't sensed it."
Pacwa said Vatican theologians will take all that into account and that Medjugorje in the end may be denied church approval.
"I don't have a sense this is going to go swimmingly. I am very impressed with a number of the positive things I have experienced there. I have a lot of respect for the good things that have occurred. But I'm not going to be naive about some of the problems. It has to be dealt with, with full integrity."
Our Lady of Medjugorje? Very Serious Counter-Signs
Medjugorje is a village located (since the crack-up of Yugoslavia) in Bosnia and Herzegovina but populated almost totally by Croats. Since June 1981, a small group of villagers have claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary regularly appears to them with messages from heaven, and despite the constant warnings of the local bishop that there is no basis to believe these claims, Medjugorje has become the third most visited pilgrimage site in Europe. Many Catholics of undoubted orthodoxy have been to Medjugorje and reported that they saw there only abundant signs of grace at work in the thousands of pilgrims who come there to pray. And yet ... and yet there are very serious counter-signs also at work in Medjugorje.
The most serious of these counter-signs is the man who was once the chief promoter of the claims of Marian apparitions and the de facto spiritual director of the self-proclaimed visionaries. His name is Tomislav Vlašic, and he was once a Franciscan priest. He is now a disgraced ex-Catholic and laicized former priest who has taken to shilling New Age nonsense to pay the bills, and he was dismissed from the priesthood. It turns out that the primary promoter of belief in the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje is a heretic, a degenerate and probably a sociopath. In 1976, for example, he impregnated a Franciscan sister, whom he convinced to flee to Germany to hide the child.
The partisans of the Medjugorje devotion invariably rebut all objections to these alleged apparitions with an appeal to the abundant spiritual fruits which come to those who make pilgrimage there. But this is not sufficient. Many Muslims and Mormons lead lives of great goodness, but their religions are false.
Many Calvinists and Lutherans shame too many Catholics in their devotion to the Lord Jesus, their knowledge of Holy Scripture, and their holiness of life, but much of their doctrine is heretical and they live in separation from the Church of Christ fully and rightly ordered in history. The apparent fruit of holiness in the lives of pilgrims to Medjugorje is simply not evidence that the claims being made by the alleged seers are true, and until and unless the Holy Father makes a definitive judgment on this matter, the only certain guidance we have are the decrees of the Bishop of Mostar, the diocese in which Medjugorje is located. Two successive local bishops have asked that there be no pilgrimages to Medjugorje, and any Catholic who goes there to give credence to the claim of Marian apparitions is doing so against the legitimate authority of the local diocesan pastor.
In March 2010, Pope Benedict XVI created a special commission to investigate everything about Medjugorje and submit a report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. No further public statements about this matter have been made, so we must assume that the work of this commission is not yet complete. Until the Bishop of Rome makes a determination about this matter, no Catholic should promote devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the presently illicit and presumptuous title of "Our Lady of Medjugorje".
And beyond that, let us remember that the Christian faith cannot be based upon or guided by visions, locutions, apparitions, or so-called "private revelations" of any kind. When the Church approves locutions or apparitions and only when the Church approves them, these devotions can be useful to some of the faithful as an optional means of enriching their spiritual life, but our faith is given only to the Word of God -- the Word of God Eternal (God the Father's Only-begotten Son), the Word of God Incarnate (the Lord Jesus Christ), and the Word of God Written (the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments). The age of revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle, and no new word will be spoken to the human race because the final and full revelation of the Father's eternal plan of salvation has already been made in and by the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Truth about Medjugorje - By Msgr. Pavao Zanic, Bishop of Mostar, 1990
...But suddenly... an onlooker called Jean Louis jabs his hand toward Vicka on the right...
At the moment of filming I did not see that, just afterwards I saw there was a commotion in the chapel. Everybody was disturbed because Vicka had reacted.
Jean Louis made a threat gesture toward the eyes of Vicka, and she reacted. And it was to Jean Louis, an important disappointment...
After the ecstasy, I had forgotten to stop the camera, and suddenly Vicka comes in with somebody else [Ivica Vego]. She wanted to explain why she'd moved. In her trance she had been trying to prevent the Virgin from dropping the infant Jesus.
So she said, "When I arrived in the chapel, and everything was ok, when the ecstasy began, I saw nobody and I heard nobody, except the Virgin Mary. And the virgin Mary had the infant Jesus in her arms, and suddenly I thought," said Vicka, "that the infant Jesus would fall on the floor. So, to impeach that, I made a gesture, to impeach the infant Jesus, to fall on the floor." And she thought that it would explain the reaction that she had against the threat gesture made by Jean. - Louis Bélanger
The Truth about Medjugorje - ByMsgr. Pavao Zanic, Bishop of MostarBishop Pavao Zanic, presided over the Diocese of Mostar, from 1971-1993. He exercised full ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the parish of Medjugorje, which is located in the region of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He published the following article in 1990. 1. The truth regarding the events in Medjugorje is being sought out by a Commission of the Bishop's Conference of Yugoslavia (kJ). Their work though, is progressing slowly. Therefore with this statement I wish to help the Commission in coming to a decision as soon as possible. Propaganda in favor of Medjugorje is being rushed in order to place the Church and the world before a "fait accompli". This has been the intention of the defenders of Medjugorje from the beginning. It must be admitted that they have succeeded, because the other side is either working too slowly or remaining silent. For these reasons and due to the motivation that I have been given from many from all over the world who realize that the truth has been trampled upon, I have decided to make another statement according to my duty and my conscience, and help the Commission. With this statement I wish to awaken the consciences of those who defend Medjugorje. Their path is simple, wide and downhill all the way, while mine is difficult, thorny and uphill. The Church and Our Lady have no need of falsehoods. Jesus says: "The truth will make you free" (Jn 8, 32). "I am the way and the truth and the life" (Jn 14, 6) "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice" (Jn 18, 37). For even a short description of the falsehoods about Medjugorje we would need 200 pages, but for now all I will give is this short summary without a scientific approach. I am somewhat uneasy because of the fact that in some statements my name is in the forefront, yet from the beginning of the "apparitions" I have been in the center of the events due to my episcopal position and duties. I am sorry as well for having to mention some "unpleasant things", but without them the arguments lose their strength. However, the most unpleasant things will be left out.
2.A characteristic attitude: Marina B., a tourist guide for Atlas travel, brought a priest from Panama to my office in August 1989. His name: Presbitero Rodriguez Teofilo, pastor of Nuestra Senora de Lourdes. With him came Carmen Cecilia Capriles - a journalist, Gerente General of the IATA agency, and Averrida Alberto Navarro, Apartado 1344 zona 7, Panama. Marina presented herself as a tour-guide, translator for English and a convert of Medjugorje. The priest asked me for the reasons why I do not believe in the "apparitions". I told him that I have at least 20 reasons not to believe, of which only one is necessary for those who are sober and well instructed in the faith to come to the conclusion that the apparitions are not of the supernatural. He asked me to please tell him at least one reason. I told him about the case of the ex-Franciscan priest Ivica Vego. Due to his disobedience, by an order of the Holy Father the Pope, he was thrown out of his Franciscan religious order OFM by his General, dispensed from his vows and suspended "a divinis". He did not obey this order and he continued to celebrate Mass, distribute the sacraments and pass the time with his mistress. It is unpleasant to write about this, yet it is necessary in order to see who Our Lady is speaking of. According to the diary of Vicka and the statements of the "seers", Our Lady mentioned 13 times that he is innocent and that the bishop is wrong. When his mistress, sister Leopolda, a nun, became pregnant, both of them left Medjugorje and the religious life and began to live together near Medjugorje where their child was born. Now they have two children. His prayer book is still sold in Medjugorje and beyond in hundreds of thousands of copies.
I asked Marina to translate this in English. Marina cannot be blamed for having fallen into a community which is concealing the truth. She spontaneously responded according to the practice in Medjugorje: "Do we have to tell them these ugly things?" I responded by saying that if you had not held back and covered these "ugly events" these people from Panama would have found out earlier and they would not have had to travel to Medjugorje for nothing. It is an injustice and a sin to hide this truth, even though it be unpleasant, it must be said.
3. The Marian theologian Rene Laurentin behaves in the same manner. He came to visit me around Christmas 1983, and I offered him dinner. He asked me why I did not believe in the apparitions. I told him that according to the diary of Vicka and the words of the other "seers" this 'Lady' has been speaking against the bishop. Laurentin quickly responded: "Don't publish that, because there are many pilgrims and converts there." I was scandalized by this statement of this well known Mariologist! This has remained Laurentin's position: to hide the truth, and defend falsehoods. He has written around ten books on the topic of Medjugorje and in almost all of them, the truth and bishop Zanic are under fire. He knows well what people like to hear. Therefore, it was relatively easy for him to find those who would believe him. "A veritate quidam auditum avertent, ad fabulas autem convertentur" - They will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths (2 Tim 4:4). The "seers" and defenders of Medjugorje led by Laurentin, from the very outset have seen that the modern believer in a communist country very quickly believes in everything "miraculous", in apparent miraculous healings and apparent messages from "Our Lady".
4. The main players on which Medjugorje rests are retired archbishop F. Franic, R. Laurentin, Lj. Rupcic OFM, Amorth, Rastrelli S.J., and some Franciscans and charismatics from all over the world. Many books have been quickly published, as well as articles, brochures, films and souvenirs. On the move are tourist agencies, pilgrimages, prayer books written by two Franciscans Vego and Prusina who were thrown out of the OFM Order, published in many languages in 600,000 copies, fanatical prayer groups that are inspired by the apparent messages of Our Lady and the great motivator of all - money. No one even mentions that which throws doubt on the "apparitions". The bishop has been warning everyone, but the 'machinery' has been breaking forward. There have been mentioned 50 miraculous healings, then 150, 200, 300 and so on. Laurentin chose 56 dossiers and sent them to the "Bureau medical de Lourdes". Dr. Mangiapan responded in their bulletin Avril/84, that these dossiers have no practical value, and they cannot be used or considered as serious proofs of the apparitions in Medjugorje. Much has been written about the healing of Diane Basile. I sent the dossier to Dr. Mangiapan who studied the case and then took the position: "opinion plus que reservee". It is a case of sclerosis multiplex. More will be written about this later in a book.
5. The credibility of the "seers" - Mirjana Dragicevic. One month after the beginning of the "apparitions" I went to Medjugorje to question the "seers". I asked each of them to take an oath on the cross and demanded that they must speak the truth. (This conversation and oath was recorded on tape). The first one was Mirjana: "We went to look for our sheep when at once..." (The associate pastor in the parish interrupted and told me that they actually went out to smoke, which they hid from their parents). "Wait a minute Mirjana, you're under oath. Did you go out to look for your sheep?" She put her hand over her mouth, "forgive me, we went out to smoke." She then showed me the watch on which the "miracle" occurred because the hands of the watch had gone haywire. I took the watch to a watch expert who said that the watch had certainly fallen and become disordered. After bringing the watch back to her I told her not to mention that a miracle occurred. Yet, on cassettes taped later on, she went on to speak of how a miracle occurred with the watch and that initially they had gone out to search for their sheep.
Later on, she spoke that Our Lady said that all faiths are equal. How much can we believe Mirjana?
6. Vicka Ivankovic is the main "seer" from the beginning and through her the creator of Medjugorje, Rev. Tomislav Vlasic OFM, has launched the main portion of falsehoods regarding Medjugorje.
He presented himself to the Pope in a letter May 13, 1984 as follows: "I am Rev. Tomislav Vlasic, the one according to Divine Providence who guides the seers of Medjugorje." It would have been better for him that he withdrew himself into the 'desert' and that he remained silent, because his past speaks enough about him. Vicka spoke and wrote much, and in so doing she fell into many contradictions. Prof. Nikola Bulat, a member of the first commission, questioned her and wrote a 60 page study on her. He numbered all the illogicalities and falsehoods of her diary. Here I will only mention the bloody handkerchief. Word spread around that there was a certain taxi driver who came across a man who was bloody all over. This man gave this taxi driver a bloodied handkerchief and he told him to: "throw this in the river". The driver went on and then he came across a woman in black. She stopped him and asked him to give her a handkerchief. He gave her his own, but she said: "not that one but the bloody handkerchief." He gave her the handkerchief she wanted and she then said: "If you had thrown it into the river the end of the world would have occurred now." Vicka Ivankovic wrote in her diary that they asked Our Lady if this event was true and she said that it was, and along with this, "that man covered, with blood was my son Jesus, and I (Our Lady) was that woman in black."
What kind of theology is this? From this it appears that Jesus wants to destroy the world if a handkerchief is thrown into a river and it's Our Lady who saves the world!
[See Vicka in the video at the top of this blog post]
7. On the 14th of January 1982, Vicka, Marija and little Jakov came to visit me. Vicka began to speak quite nervously because she was speaking falsehoods. She said: "Our Lady sent us to you to tell you that you are too harsh with the Franciscans..." In what way? "We don't know!" Two Franciscan chaplains in Mostar, Ivica Vego and Ivan Prusina, which the bishop sought to remove from Mostar because of disorder and disobedience towards the faithful of the newly established cathedral-parish in Mostar, defended themselves before their superiors by saying that they would not leave Mostar because Our Lady through Vicka, told them not to leave. This was mentioned to me by a member of the Franciscan Provincial council. I asked Vicka at our meeting: "Did Our Lady mention anything about the Mostar chaplains, Vego and Prusina?" "She did not, we don't know them" responded all three. Our conversation lasted 30 minutes and I taped all of it. I repeated the question of the chaplains of Mostar several times and they always responded: "We don't know them." Later on, I found from Vicka's diary that they knew the chaplains very well. It was clear to me that they were lying, yet I did not want to mention this to them in order to maintain their confidence during our conversations.
8. On the 4th of April 1982,Vicka and Jakov came to visit me "sent by Our Lady". The chaplains of Mostar, Vego and Prusina were thrown out of the Franciscan Order OFM in January of that year by the superiors of their Order. Many followers of Medjugorje and "Our Lady" defended the expelled chaplains. During our conversation Vicka very excitedly began: "The last time we were with you we didn't tell you everything and for this reason Our Lady scolded us. We spoke of many things and therefore we forgot..." "What did you forget?" "Our Lady told us to tell you that those chaplains Vego and Prusina are priests and therefore they can celebrate Mass just as other priests." "Wait a minute. Did Our Lady tell you this before our last meeting?" "Yes, that's why she sent us to you. Last time I spoke of many other things and I forgot to mention this." During that previous meeting I asked her directly several times if Our Lady mentioned anything about the two chaplains. It was clear to me that Vicka was lying and this was proof enough for me not to trust her statements. Marija and Jakov also participated in this lie.