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Pope Francis sending bishop to Medjugorje

Pilgrims pray at a statue of Mary in 2011 on Apparition Hill in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Pope Francis is sending a bishop to a Medjugorje, Bosnia, shrine to gain “deeper knowledge” of the pastoral needs of millions of Catholics drawn there by reports of apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said on Saturday Polish Bishop Henryk Hoser’s mission doesn’t involve deciding the merits of the reported apparitions.

Six youths in 1981 reported having regular visions of Mary there. The Vatican’s study of the doctrinal merits of the reported sightings is still ongoing.

The Vatican says Hoser above all will study “the needs of the faithful who go there on pilgrimage,” and his mission, to wrap up by summer’s end, has “exclusively pastoral character.”

Last year, a Bosnian court convicted an Italian of belonging to a group extorting money from foreigners’ escorting shrine pilgrims.