Medjugorje
Name of a village in Yugoslavia that has been the site of
claimed apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The case follows a patThe
Medium and Daybreak Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
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tern seen also at Lourdes, La Salette, and Fatima, in which
teenage visionaries state that the Virgin has given them ‘‘secrets’’
concerning civilization and religion. It is the latest of a
series of prominent cases of the apparition of the Virgin that
began in the early nineteenth century.
The visionaries have attracted some attention due to their
location. They began to report apparitions in 1981 in Yugoslavia,
at that time an atheist Marxist country. Although Yugoslavia
was independent of the Soviet Union, the state tolerated religion
but hardly encouraged it. The reported apparitions
brought many tourists, especially from Italy, into the country.
Medjugorje is located at some distance from the SerbianBosnian
war as it progresses into the 1990s, but the number of
visitors from outside of the country has definitely dropped. Additional
complications concerning the apparitions occurred
not only over confrontations between church and state, but also
between different branches of Christianity (Roman Catholic
and Eastern Orthodox).
The intricate story of the apparitions has been presented in
a stream of books and several documentaries such as The Madonna
of Medjugorje, produced by Angela Tilby, which appeared
in the British Broadcasting Company’s Everyman series in 1986.
Background History of Medjugorje
Medjugorje is a small village of some 3,500 people in Bosnia-Herzegovina,
about 200 kilometers inland from the Adriatic
coast. The area is a meeting place between Serbs and Croats,
between Moslem traditions, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the
established Catholic Church, and the Franciscans. The region
has a complex and troubled history, involving military and religious
conflicts.
For four centuries, the region was under Turkish rule, and
many Christians were converted to Islam. The Franciscans kept
the Catholic faith alive and became identified with the concept
of Croatian identity. When the Turks lost power in 1878, Pope
Leo XIII appointed non-Franciscans to work in the parish.
This was resisted by the laity, and by the Franciscans themselves,
who did not wish to lose their status. Conflict of interest
between the established Church and the Franciscans on the issues
of lay priests has remained latent into the twentieth century.
Another historical problem dates from World War II, when
in 1941 a Croatian fascist group was formed with strong Roman
Catholic ties. It lasted only a few years, but during that period
these Croats were responsible for terrible atrocities against
their Serbian neighbors of the Eastern Orthodox faith. Only a
short distance from the site of the modern apparitions, hundreds
of Serbian women, children, and babies were thrown to
their deaths from the top of a high cliff.
The First Apparitions
The first apparition was reported in 1981. There were six
visionaries, all teenagers or younger children four girls, Marija
Pavlovic (16), Vicka Ivankovic (16), Mirjana Dragicevic (16),
and Ivanka Ivankovic (15), and two boys, Ivan Dragicevic (16)
and Jakov Colo (10).
On the feast of St. John, June 24, 1981, Ivanka, Marija, and
Mirjana went for a walk to the hill of Crnica. Ivanka suddenly
exclaimed ‘‘There’s Our Lady!’’ Mirjana felt unable to look, but
Ivanka was convinced that she had seen an apparition of the
Virgin Mary. The girls returned home, and a few hours later
set out again to help a farmer with his sheep. They left a message
for their friends to follow them. The apparition again appeared,
and was also seen by some of the other children, who
had met up with Ivanka and Mirjana. The apparition was a
beautiful smiling mother with child, wearing a starry crown and
floating above the ground.
The following day, four of the teenagers returned to the
same place, followed by friends, and this time, Jakov Colo and
Marija Pavlovic saw the apparition. Similar encounters took
place on succeeding days, when the Virgin spoke to the children
in excellent Croatian. She said that she was the Blessed
Virgin Mary, sent from God with a gospel message. Asked why
the message should come through such ordinary children, she
replied that it was precisely because they were ordinary and average,
neither the best nor worst, that they had been chosen.
Thereafter, the children assembled on the hill each day to witness
the apparition.
When news of the apparition reached the church, the parish
priest was temporarily absent. The assistant priest was not impressed
and thought that maybe the children were on drugs
and hallucinating. But after a few days, as the news spread,
thousands of devout followers flocked to the hill, many in tears
as they witnessed the children in a state of ecstasy.
When Father Jozo Zovko, the parish priest, returned from
a retreat, he was astonished to find a chaotic situation, with
crowds gathering around the hill. His reaction was one of incredulity
that people should seek divine revelation on a hillside
when the church itself, with its sacraments, was the proper center
for worship.
However, Zovko gave the children some prayer books and
rosaries, and tried to instruct them about the church in more
detail. He also gave Mirjana a book about the apparitions of
Lourdes, from which the children concluded that the current
apparitions would cease after July 3rd, as they did at Lourdes.
In fact, they did not. On the following day, the children did not
visit the hill, but each one had a vision wherever he or she happened
to be at the time.
By now, there were serious difficulties involving both church
and state authorities. According to state laws, gatherings for
worship had to be regulated, and the daily assembly on the hill
was not authorized by state or church. News of the apparitions
had reached Sarajevo, capital of the republic of BosniaHerzegovina,
where there was alarm that all this might be a
right-wing plot in religious disguise. It was thought that this
might indicate a return of Croatian nationalism, with a revival
of the old Nazi sympathy. Official observers merged with the
crowds to report back on this dangerous situation. The children
were interrogated by police and examined by doctors.
The gatherings on the hillside were forbidden.
The Second Stage
On July 1, the eighth day of the apparitions, the parish
priest was troubled by both religious and state problems. In the
church, he prayed for divine guidance, while the police went to
the hill to arrest the young visionaries. The children fled
through the fields and vineyards, followed by the police. There
was only one place of sanctuary—the church.
In an answer to prayer, the priest heard a voice saying ‘‘Go
and protect the children, then I will tell you what to do.’’ He
went to the door of the church and found the children pleading
to be hidden. He concealed them in a room in the presbytery.
That evening, the apparition came to the children again, but
this time in the church itself. Now each evening the congregation
gathered to pray in the church and the apparitions appeared
as usual to the children. Often in tears, the apparition
urged the faithful to confess sins, do penance, and fast once a
week on bread and water.
The parish priest now supported the apparitions, and indeed
also shared the vision in church. The local bishop, Pavao
Zanic, visited the parish on several occasions, but was constrained
by his theological and political responsibilities. Government
observers attending a church congregation reported
back that a sermon about the need for personal change was
really a disguised criticism of socialism. Father Jozo was arrested
by the police and accused of slandering the state system. In
October, he was tried and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
He saw the apparition in prison.
The Aftermath of the Apparitions
Meanwhile, in March 1983, Bishop Zanic appointed a theological
commission to investigate and form a judgment on the
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1017
apparitions. The visionaries reported that the Virgin recommended
special prayers for the bishop and his heavy responsibility.
The religious authorities in Rome sent representatives to
make their own on-the-spot investigations. The children were
given extensive medical and psychological tests. Electroencephalographs
probed the ecstatic state of the children during
the apparitions, and scientists concluded that they were healthy
and sane, and not telling lies. The visionaries focused intently
on the same spot during the appearance of the apparition. The
ecstatic state was genuine and elevating and certainly not a
pathological condition. During this state, the children seemed
transported into a higher condition of fulfillment.
Thousands of pilgrims continued to flock to Medjugorje,
many seeking inspiration and guidance from the young visionaries.
Some typical informal question-and-answer sessions
in the open air were recorded by the BBC television team. Because
of the large number of pilgrims, priests often took confessions
in the open air. The main focal point for these gatherings
was a cross, which had been erected many years earlier in
1933 and stood opposite the site of the apparitions. People
claimed that the cross sometimes changed into a column of
light or into the form of the Virgin, and some photographs
taken of the cross certainly show ‘‘extras’’ of this nature.
A somewhat disturbing claim was that people believed that
they were able to look into the sun and see it dancing, a phenomenon
that had been reported earlier in conjunction with
the apparitions at Fatima. Naturally gazing at the sun with the
naked eye can produce a number of strange visual effects, but
it is a highly dangerous practice.
There were also reports of miraculous healings. The BBC
television team recorded an interview with a German woman
who was previously unable to walk, but now had no difficulty.
These large-scale demonstrations of a revival of faith were
alarming both to state and ecclesiastical authorities. Bishop
Pavao Zanic found himself in an increasingly delicate position.
He had earlier defended the integrity of the children, and was
fully aware that their experience might be as valid as those at
Lourdes and Fatima, but was reluctant to sanction organized
pilgrimages to the site of the apparitions.
While his commission worked slowly in its investigations, an
old controversy was now inflamed. The Franciscans had been
the parish clergy in Medjugorje for many years. In 1980, during
a reorganization instigated by the authorities in Rome, the
bishop had attempted to replace two of the Franciscans with
secular clergy. The two friars now consulted the visionaries,
seeking the opinion of the Virgin, and it was reported that the
Virgin told the children that the bishop should not have suspended
the friars. The bishop now became critical of the
claimed apparitions as hallucinations inflamed by disaffected
Franciscans, and refused to endorse the phenomena or to facilitate
pilgrimages.
On the other hand, he did not discourage the pilgrims. Consequently
a vast pilgrim and tourist trade grew up at Medjugorje
without state or religious sponsorship. In spite of primitive
conditions in the area and the nearby war, pilgrims have continued
to come from all over Europe in the thousands.
Ironically, the Virgin’s message had been one of peace and
reconciliation. The report of the bishop’s commission was secret,
but it was believed to have concluded that the claims of the
visionaries were false. The bishop himself stated that the apparitions
were collective hallucinations, exploited by the Franciscans,
and strongly criticized the chaplain at Medjugorje, Father
Tomislav Vlasic, as ‘‘a mystifier and charismatic wizard.’’
There was a theological deadlock. The visionaries were
banned from seeing apparitions in the church, but continued
to do so in a study bedroom in the presbytery. Meanwhile, the
international fame of Medjugorje won a grudging tolerance
from the government, which saw the influx of pilgrims as a vindication
of Yugoslavia as an open country.
Part of the price of the spiritual revival at Medjugorje has
been the inevitable commercialization of the religious tourist
trade. The simple village life has been totally uprooted by thousands
of tourists, ice cream and soft drink stands, stalls for the
sale of religious souvenirs, and other worldly activities. But villagers
still meet in small groups, sometimes at night. Two younger
girls claim to have seen visions and received messages.
The original group of six young visionaries claimed that the
Virgin confided ten secrets, including warnings of future world
chastisements if people did not return to spiritual life. People
were recommended to give up watching television, and return
instead to a life of prayer, fasting, and penance. The world had
advanced civilization but had lost God. It was prophesied that
Russia would come to glorify the name of God. As with apparitions
elsewhere, it was said that there would be a visible sign left
on the hill. The visions have now ceased so far as the six children
are concerned.
Ivanka received her last ‘‘secret’’ from the Virgin in May
1985, and in early 1987 married. Mirjana took up the study of
agriculture at the University of Sarajevo. Ivan’s apparitions
ceased when he was enlisted for a year of military service. Vicka
became ill with an inoperable brain tumor. Jakov was still at
school in 1986. Marija planned to become a nun. The fascinating
film records of the children in states of ecstasy, as well as
the EEG tests, remain a permanent record, as do other of the
numerous medical and scientific studies.
Psychiatrists, doctors, and scientists concluded that the visionaries
were psychologically healthy, without neurosis or hysteria,
and that their ecstasies were not a pathological phenomenon.
The fasts on bread and water recommended once or twice
weekly could merely counteract the excesses of normal diet
without risk of starvation. The cures at Medjugorje were reported
upon favorably by doctors from the University of Milan.
The apparitions at Medjugorje present many intriguing
problems, both for skeptics and believers. Such apparitions
now follow a regular pattern within the framework of Catholic
theology, just as claims of UFO contacts are often consistent
with a different pattern of belief.
It could be argued that once such conventions are established,
knowledge of them influences other visionaries. In the
case of Medjugorje, the parish priest had shown one of the visionaries
a book about Lourdes, although it must be remembered
that the apparitions had established a regular pattern before
this.
The ecstatic state of the young visionaries was undoubtedly
very real, and in the audio-visual records they appear to be
modest, honest, and touchingly sincere, too simple to be able
to fabricate intellectually advanced theological discussions. The
occasional contradictory elements in the claimed communications
from the Virgin (as in the instance of apparent criticism
of the bishop), may be due to the intense pressures from lay
and ecclesiastical authorities to which the children were subjected;
they may also have been misquoted from time to time.
The messages about the need for renewal of religious faith and
practice are a relevant comment on the secularism of our time,
although with a sophistication normally beyond the awareness
of village children.
But, as with Lourdes, Fatima, Garabandal, and other apparitions,
the messages are only within the framework of the
Roman Catholic faith, and there is no insightful communication
for Hindus, Buddhists, or people of other religions.
In the West, the apparitions have produced a wave of enthusiastic
acceptance of the visions and organizations have sprung
up in every significant Roman Catholic community to spread
the message of the Virgin and to facilitate tours to the site.
However, there has been some opposition among those elements
of the Roman Catholic Church who have not only failed
to accept the visions, but who feel that they are false. Among
the leading critics is Yugoslavian priest Ivo Sivric. He had compiled
and published a host of records, many of which he
claimed were suppressed, which cast grave doubts upon the apMedjugorje
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paritions and the continued attention given to the site. He has
argued that the apparitions emanated from the children who
first saw them. He was joined by E. Michael Jones, who also
found numerous contradictions in the events surrounding the
apparitions.
Sources
Jones, E. Michael. Medjugorje The Untold Story. South Bend,
Ind. Fidelity Press, 1988.
Kraljevic, Svetozar. Apparitions of Our Lady of Medjugorje
(1981–1983). Chicago Franciscan Herald Press, 1984.
Laurentin, René, and Henri Joyeux. Scientific & Medical
Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje. Dublin Veritas, 1987.
Laurentin, René, and L. Rupcic. Is the Virgin Mary Appearing
at Medjugorje Washington, D.C. Word Among Us Press, 1984.
Laurentin, René, L. Rupcic, and René Lejeune. Messages and
Teachings of Mary at Medjugorje. Milford, Ohio The Riehle
Foundation, 1988.
O’Carroll, Michael. Medjugorje Facts, Documents, Theology.
Dublin Veritas, 1986.
Pelletier, Joseph A. The Queen of Peace Visits Medjugorje. Worchester,
Mass. Assumption, 1985.
Sevric, Ivo. The Hidden Side of Medjugorje. Saint Francois du
Lac, Canada Psilog, 1989.

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