Lourdes (AsiaNews) – “The apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in history, faith and theology” was the theme of an important congress organised by the Pontifical Marian International Academy (PAMI). Chaired by Card Paul Poupard, the event highlighted the 150th anniversary of the apparitions in Lourdes. PAMI President Fr Vincenzo Battaglia OFM was also present.
The Church is well known for its cautiousness in dealing with “private revelations” as well as the rigorous criteria it must use to authenticate apparitions.
In 20 centuries of Christian life, only 12 other apparitions have been recognised in addition to the one in Lourdes, whereas the overall number of apparitions runs in the hundreds. On that score the congress had nothing new to add. Instead it focused on an ecclesial reading of the manifestations of Our Lady, looking at way to forward in a theology of apparitions.
“With the issue of exorcism, this question is the least studied,” said Fr René Laurentin, one of the great specialists of the field.
In the course of the congress about 30 apparitions of Our Lady on five continents were examined, including those that have been recognised in places like Lourdes and Fatima as well as more recent ones in Kibeho (Rwanda), L’Île-Bouchard and Laus (France), and Međugorje (Bosnia-Herzegovina).
The congress ended with a round table centred on the relationship between apparitions and ecumenism. Various Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant participants made qualitatively varying presentations that tended however to complete rather than contradict each other.
However, on hearing of my desire to conduct an objective investigation, but with no intention of compromising my own Faith in any way whatsoever, Father and I eventually decided, together, that my trip could prove useful, in terms of informing other Orthodox Christians about the realities of Medjugorje. (This village, incidentally, is a short distance from the Jagodnjaca Pit, where more than a thousand Orthodox Christians were slaughtered and buried in World War II by the Croatian Ustashi, a brutal Nazi rgime supported and aided by the Croatian Franciscans. In Medjugorje itself, twenty Serbian Orthodox Priests were publicly tortured, castrated, and buried alive. For reports of these events, see the book The Suppressed Serbian Voice [Los Angeles, CA: SAVA, 1994], 2nd ed., s.v. “Medjugorje,” as well as “The Madonna of Medjugorje,” a Westernhanger/BBC video tape presentation, produced by Angela Tilby and available from WTVS, Detroit [1-800-441-3000].) Hence, as though to prove our thinking correct, my present report for Orthodox Tradition and its readers.
Our trip to Croatia was organized by a Roman Catholic tour group and we were guided by a Roman Catholic priest. When we arrived in Zagreb, I visited a local Orthodox parish (a very beautiful Church), after which we were joined by a tourist guide, a woman who happened to be Orthodox and who bluntly indicated that she considered the apparitions at Medjugorje to be a hoax. When we finally reached Medjugorje by bus, we were placed in local homes, households which had obviously benefited materially from the tourist trade generated by the apparitions. Though the village was filled with admittedly pious, if desperate, pilgrims, many obviously ill and seeking cures for every sort of disease, the locals were nonchalant about the religious aspects of their newfound fame. The woman with whom we were placed, much like our Orthodox tourist guide, dismissed the whole phenomenon with what was essentially a verbal shrug.
The appearance of the Virgin—at present to two young children, four other children (“seers”) having gone off to college—occurs in the so-called “Apparition Room,” inside a large church rectory into which only select individuals are admitted (see photograph at left). Through a series of interesting events that I will not recount here, I was mistaken, while standing with the huge crowd gathered outside the rectory, for a member of the London press. Neither assenting to nor disagreeing with this misidentification, I was quickly shuffled up to the front of the crowd and into the door of the Apparition Room, while my employer’s wife, who had come to Medjugorje as a pilgrim, ironically enough, was left standing with the rest of the people. And so it was that I saw the Medjugorje apparition first-hand, something which most pilgrims, after travelling, in some cases, halfway around the world, never get to see.
What, then, did I experience? Let me begin by saying that the Franciscans who operate the Medjugorje complex are, almost to a number, exceedingly officious, rude, and even nasty. In fact, as I entered the Apparition Room, a brutish Franciscan, “elbowing” his way in, grabbed me by the collar and simply pushed me aside. My strong protest was met with indifference. This nastiness was complemented by the cold, chilling atmosphere of the hall, which gives little evidence of being a religious shrine. At any rate, as I stood at the back of the room, two young people walked in, knelt, Crossed themselves in Latin style, and then stood and stared at the front wall. After a short time, one related the Virgin’s message for the day. Such was the Medjugorje miracle. I saw nothing. I can only attest to the total lack of a spiritual atmosphere in the Apparition Room and to the cold chill that prevailed in it. Nor did I, when outside the building, witness anything like a “dancing sun,” another phenomenon reported by pilgrims to Medjugorje. Rather, I am aware of the case of one young man who, looking too long at the sun for this supposed miracle, seriously impaired his vision.
I should add that, after leaving the rectory, our guide took our group for an audience with the “seers.” During this audience, a pilgrim asked one of children the following question: “Does the Virgin say that the Catholic Church is the true church?” The response given by the child (Marija, pictured at right) provides clear evidence of the ecumenical content and religious relativism which, oddly enough, increasingly mark the “revelations” at Medjugorje: “Our Blessed Mother says that all religions are equally pleasing to God.”