Life and Soul

Pastor Iuventus

I’m still not convinced by Medjugorje

I continue to reflect on my experience of Medjugorje and my impression is that the focus there is less on Our Lady than on the visionaries and phenomena. It’s a slightly painful reflection, because I know many people whose spirituality I admire who have had profound religious experiences there. There is, of course, one possible explanation: that there is something wrong with me, that I am deceived by the enemy and so unable to see the fruits. It’s not impossible, of course, but another of the things that alarmed me was the readiness with which some of the group with whom I was travelling were quick to explain away my caveats about an entirely unofficial apparition in just those terms.

We were informed by a visionary that Our Lady told them if a vision should occur at a time when Mass is due, they should, of course, go to Mass. When I take Our Lady’s putative advice, and leave the visionary’s talk after an hour because I want to go to Mass, there are murmurings among the rest of the group that my behaviour “Is not of God” (Even though the visionary has just remarked that Our Lady says we are not to criticise our priests, that priests are “closer to the Blessed Trinity than she is” – the visionary’s theology, not mine!).

St Bernadette’s response to doubts about her visions was “My job is to inform, not to convince.” Sadly, the same attitude is not found among the most loyal promoters and devotees of the apparitions. One of the reasons I find it hard to believe that anything supernatural is happening in Medjugorje (apart from the obvious fact that the Church hasn’t endorsed it) is because as a person of faith I know that a supernatural happening cannot require me to act against reason.

Yet it frequently felt as if that was what I was being asked to do, or my fellow travellers or the guides were doing themselves. Such irrationality ranged from the merely irritating to the more troubling. The fiction that we were staying in the visionary’s “home” survived the welcome of a hundred Italians to the hearthside, as well as a substantial bill at the end of our stay. Americans – the world’s most demanding travellers – were eulogising the quality of the breakfast. This comprised orange squash, bread and butter and quite the worst coffee I have ever tasted, which was described in glowing terms by others as “the best continental breakfast I have ever had”.

Trifling though this may be, it is represents the suspension of a faculty for discernment which allowed many people in the group who had been before to claim that they themselves routinely experienced visions of Our Lady back in America; or to detail “supernatural” phenomena that they had acquired in Medjugorje “to go”, so to speak, like gifts of tongues or healing or allocutions. I was asked if I had seen the crucifix that was seeping healing oil or the sun dancing or the rays of light which shone over the visionary when she prayed. No, I hadn’t. But I had seen liturgical abuses aplenty, and the Blessed Sacrament treated in a scandalous fashion at the international Mass and the ugly, abstract sacred art on display in the churches with never a human face.

One of our group had known a Montfort Missionary, Fr Luciano Ciciarelli, who disappeared in Medjugorje last July. All his belongings were left in his hotel room but he has not been seen since. His well documented disappearance was investigated by the police and there was a 200-strong manhunt. Our guide, part of the entourage of a visionary, denied any knowledge of this, though it seems inconceivable that he had not heard of it. Another member of our party concluded serenely: “I expect Our Lady just took him up to heaven.” I am all for simple piety, but there is a limit.

The same guide claimed incontrovertible scientific proof for the visionaries being in a state of ecstasy during their visions, though there is none – indeed, there is a lot of evidence to the contrary. He likewise alluded to the thousands of miracles that have occurred, yet none has been independently verified to a standard required by the Church to call it a miracle. The “miracles” are all anecdotal.

I am firmly with St Augustine, who said: “In what is necessary, unity; in what is undecided, freedom; and in all things charity.” The supernatural qualities of Medjugorje are, at best, undecided.

Pastor Iuventus is a Catholic priest in London