Some supporters of the Medjugorje phenomenon point to the substantial number of conversions as evidence that the “apparitions” must be authentic. Sceptics are written off because they “don’t understand” how Medjugorje has changed so many lives and how pilgrimages to Medjugorje have been so instrumental.
Well, I’ve been there and done all that. Even bought some souvenirs at the local gift shop. But I still don’t believe in Medjugorje. Here’s my story.
Although I grew up in a Catholic household, as a teenager I was a typical Catholic-in-name-only. I went to Mass on Sundays because my parents forced me, but for the rest of the week I was a bona fide heathen.
One day, when I was about 16, my mom asked me to read a book about Medjugorje. I reluctantly agreed. Frankly, it freaked me out. The part that struck me the most was the mysterious 10 secrets, most of which were actually chastisements for the evil deeds of mankind. So I got scared. Really scared. The thought of eternal damnation can be a powerful incentive. I read a second book about Medjugorje, which did little to assuage my fears. I started praying the rosary daily and going to confession very often. During the summer break, I even went to Mass daily. Many parts of my lifestyle needed a radical reboot. I underwent a complete overhaul. My friends were none too pleased.
While this was certainly a positive development, the driver of my conversion was fear, not love. My spirituality was soaked with a terror of sin, which fed a pathological case of scrupulosity and legalism. Unless you’ve experienced this, you have no clue how acutely painful and distressing it is.
But I never blamed Medjugorje for that. It’s not God’s fault if I couldn’t cope with the reality of sin and hell. In the midst of my pain I remained a rational being. I understood very well that the problem was within me, not with the Gospel. I wasn’t about to invent my own religion to feel better. It was just a question of learning to cope. Things did gradually improve over the years.
I did my best to stay in touch with Our Lady’s monthly Medjugorje message for the world. I believe it was on the 25th of each month. I found the messages very bland and repetitive, but I felt guilty for even thinking that. After all, who was I to question Our Lady?
As I became a young adult, I was always a firm believer in Medjugorje. I realized how much work God had done in me. I wouldn’t hesitate to tell my Catholic friends about Medjugorje and how it changed my life. I was deeply grateful to God and Our Lady for this wonderful apparition. I considered it to be on par with Fatima and Lourdes. I was jealous of those who had been on pilgrimages to Medjugorje.
In 2005, it would be my turn. I was sent to Italy in the spring for a business trip. Medjugorje is only a hop, skip and a jump from Rome, so I made the necessary arrangements and finally go to visit the tiny Bosnian village. Fittingly, my mom joined me for the trip.
We spent three days in Medjugorje. We attended Mass everyday and prayed the rosary in the church with many other pilgrims. The church would go silent at 5:45 pm each day, the hour at which the apparitions were taking place. We climbed Mt. Krizevac and also the Podbrdo. We walked around town and visited some souvenir shops. One store was giving away free glow-in-the-dark statuettes of Our Lady. It was a relaxing time, but neither my mom nor I experienced anything special. Nevertheless, this didn’t shake our faith Medjugorje. We were as convinced as always.
It must have been around 2008 when I first learned of the dark side of Medjugorje, the stuff that no author ever publishes because they don’t want the truth to kill their royalty revenues. I came across the report written by Bishop Pavao Žanić, who was bishop of Mostar from 1980 to 1993. He was there from the beginning and witnessed the very dirty origins of the phenomenon. He chronicles a litany of disobedience, lies, cover-ups and doctrinal errors. He recounts mistakes made by “Our Lady” regarding a problematic priest named Ivica Vego. Due to his disobedience, by an order of John Paul II, he was thrown out of the Franciscans, dispensed from his vows and suspended. He did not obey this order and he continued to celebrate Mass, distribute the sacraments and pass the time with his mistress (a nun at the time). “Our Lady” told one of the visionaries on 13 occasions that this man was innocent. Yet, the man went on to have at least two children with his mistress. Those children are tangible proof that he was guilty as charged. Vego and the nun eventually left Medjugorje and lived together in a nearby town. As the bishop points out, the Mother of God can’t be wrong on basic facts. “Our Lady” also told the seer that Vego could ignore the orders of the Pope and the local bishop and continue celebrating the sacraments. The Mother of God would never encourage disobedience.
I eventually discovered other articles exposing additional scandals at Medjugorje. Then there was the report written by the current bishop of Mostar, Ratko Peric. He does a great job of describing additional problems and of summarizing all the episcopal commissions that have thoroughly studied and investigated the phenomenon over the past 30 years. Every one of these commissions reached the same conclusion, that there is no evidence to substantiate authentic apparitions. But you’ll never read about their findings in your local book store.
All these revelations were deeply traumatic for me. Medjugorje had been an anchor and a certainty in my life. Now I was learning that I had been deceived. The authors promoting Medjugorje had been telling only part of the story. This was a dark time for me. I was deflated and shocked.
I started questioning just who I could trust. That’s when it became clear that the Magisterium is the real anchor. It’s the only part of the Church that comes with an explicit warranty from God. Everybody else can let you down. Yes, my conversion began through Medjugorje, but that doesn’t prove authenticity. God can work through anything, good or bad.
Thanks be to God, my faith was not shaken. But I deeply fear for many people of good faith who have placed all their eggs in the Medjugorje basket. I’ve met good Catholics who become agitated if I gently challenge their assumptions about Medjugorje. They don’t want to hear it. I fear for them because their foundation seems to be in the wrong place, especially considering that the end of Medjugorje is near.
The Vatican is becoming more bold in trying to shut this thing down. Some time ago, they pressed charges against one of the priests that masterminded the phenomenon. In October 2013, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirmed that all faithful should respect the verdict of the Yugoslavian bishops from 1991, in which they concluded that it is not possible to state that apparitions are occurring. This is a very strong statement. The same letter from the CDF also said that “no cleric or faithful may participate in any meetings, conferences, or public celebrations in which the authenticity of the apparitions are taken for granted.” This raises the question of whether even private pilgrimages to Medjugorje are now forbidden. How does one go on a pilgrimage to a destination whose fame depends on an alleged apparition and not presume it to be authentic?
Many supporters of Medjugorje invoke the peace they felt when they visited the place. Ultimately, the authenticity of an apparition doesn’t depend on any “feelings” or personal “experience” that you or I may have had. It requires thorough and rational investigation. This has been done already, many times over. It’s time to accept the facts and let go. I did it, so can you.