Monday 18 April 2011

The problem with Međugorje

The small town of Međugorje in western Bosnia-Herzegovina has arguably become the greatest site of Catholic controversy about modern belief in the miraculous. Over the centuries, Catholicism has been no stranger to debate (and often violent disagreement) from within its own ranks about the veracity of various claims of miracles, prophecies and apparitions. Lourdes, Fatima, Knock, Padre Pio and Annaliese Michel have all provoked furious internal discussion within Catholicism about what bits, if any, of these alleged spiritual phenomenons are genuine and what bits, if any, are false - either deliberately or accidentally.

But even within the catalogue of Catholicism's often uneasy relationship with claims of the miraculous, Međugorje has touched a nerve. For those unaware of the story, in 1981 two local Catholic teenagers, Mirjana Dragicevic and Ivanka Ivankovic, claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary. The following day, four of their friends returned with them to the site outside the town where the Virgin had allegedly appeared, to see if Mirjana and Ivanka's story was true. On that day, Maria Pavlovic, Jakov Colo, Vicka Ivankovic and Ivan Dragicevic, all claimed that Mary had appeared to them, too. After making their claims, the six alleged visionaries were cross-examined by a Franciscan Father Bubalo and, since then, they have claimed that the Virgin has been repeatedly but intermittently appearing to them, transmitting messages for people to do penance, fast and pray more often. As with Lourdes, the influx of pilgrims has transformed Međugorje's local economy, turning it into one of the centres of the Balkans' tourist industry.

Unlike his predecessor, the current Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, has long been suspected of being sceptical about the shrine at Međugorje, but in 2008 he blessed a statue of Our Lady of Međugorje, sometimes also known as "the Queen of Peace," despite the fact that the Church has yet to formally rule one way or the other on the authenticity of the shrine's claims. Interestingly, however, the Vatican has prohibited priests from making a pilgrimage to the site, once they are ordained and in March 2010, the Vatican announced that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition) would be investigating Međugorje, under the leadership of His Eminence Cardinal Ruini. One bishop who certainly will not be speaking in Međugorje's favour is the Vatican's former exorcist, Bishop Gemma Andrea, who, in this article via Tea at Trianon, savages Međugorje's claims and goes even further, claiming that the shrine is sinister in origin.

We will have to wait for the Congregation's official findings, but the bizarre, fascinating, often unsettling story of Međugorje has not yet reached its climax.

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