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 here … here … here… here… here… here… here… here…). 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.
Schönborn engaged in a bit of Church one-upmanship by visiting the pilgrimage site without consulting the local bishop, a noted sceptic about claims that the mother of Jesus has been visiting the place almost daily since 1981. While his visit was described as private, his public comments there were so positive as to raise the question whether the Vatican might change its long-standing reservations regarding events there.
“These days, we have all come to Medjugorje to be especially close to the Mother of the Lord. To be more exact, we have to say that we have come here because we know that the Mother of the Lord wants to be close to us,” Schönborn told believers who attended his New Year’s Vigil Mass in Medjugorje.