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Vatican to probe claims of Virgin Mary apparitions at Medjugorje

medjugorje

Catholic pilgrims in Medjugorje, 25 June 2009/Damir Sagolj

The Vatican has opened an investigation into reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary at the small town of Medjugorje in southern Bosnia which have drawn more than 30 million pilgrims and divided the Catholic Church.

Since six children first reported visions of the Virgin Mary on a hillside near Medjugorje in 1981 — reminiscent of famous apparitions in the French town of Lourdes and Fatima in Portugal — Catholics have debated whether the visions were a modern-day miracle, wishful thinking or an elaborate fraud.

“This commission, composed of cardinals, bishops, theologians and experts, will work in a confidential manner and submit the result of its investigation to the Congregation (for the Doctrine of the Faith),” the Vatican said in a statement.

Unlike Fatima or Lourdes, the Vatican has not officially recognized the apparitions in the small town, some 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Sarajevo, and claims about it are controversial. Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar, the nearest city in Bosnia, warned Catholics last year against uncritical belief in the Medjugorje sightings and issued a series of restrictions on the parish.

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Vienna cardinal’s Medjugorje visit stirs emotions, speculation about Mary visions

Medjugorje, 25 June 2006/Danilo Krstanovic

Medjugorje, 25 June 2006/Danilo Krstanovic

A highly-publicised visit by Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn to the disputed Roman Catholic shrine of Medjugorje seems to have deepened the divide between Catholics who fervently believe the Virgin Mary appears to visionaries there and those who suspect the Bosnian pilgrimage site may be a hoax.

The visit over the New Year’s holiday provoked a surprisingly undiplomatic public complaint from the bishop of Mostar, the Bosnian region that includes Medjugorje, and that has set the Catholic blogosphere buzzing (for example herehereherehereherehereherehere…). It also prompted a little-noticed theological comment from Schönborn that might point to where the debate over Medjugorje may be going. More on that later…

We reported here in October that Bosnian Church officials expected the Vatican to rule soon on the apparitions at the village supporters see as a “new Lourdes.” There has still not been any such ruling, so the issue has remained unresolved. This also heightened the interest in a visit by a leading “prince of the Church,” a cardinal who is also a close adviser of Pope Benedict and editor of the official Catechism catechism.

Vatican ruling on disputed Medjugorje shrine expected soon

medjugorje-statueHas the Virgin Mary been appearing daily for many years in the once obscure Bosnian village of Medjugorje to share religious messages with a few local believers? Is the site visited by over 30 million pilgrims a hoax? The question has long divided Catholics who have debated whether the visions are a modern-day miracle, wishful thinking or the result of an elaborate fraud. (Photo: Virgin Mary statue at reported apparition site, 25 June 2009/Damir Sagolj)

After observing events sceptically for many years, the Vatican may soon issue firmer guidance for Catholics on the claim that the mother of Jesus has been visiting the Balkans, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, head of the bishops’ conference in Bosnia, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday. That guidance, if it clearly expresses the scepticism the official Church has long shown towards the Medjugorje phenomenon, could deal a serious blow to a site some Catholics see as a “new Lourdes.”

“We are now awaiting a new directive on this issue,” said Puljic, the Sarajevo archbishop who survived the city’s long wartime siege in the 1990s. “I don’t think we must wait for a long time, I think it will be this year, but that is not clear… I am going to Rome in November and we must discuss this.”