Pope Francis and President Donald J. Trump, who are scheduled to meet soon at the Vatican, share certain striking characteristics despite coming from opposite sides of the cultural and societal spectrum.
Both come forth as “plain-speaking” leaders, in the tradition of Harry Truman, representing, in lingo, the “common man”; both are bold, unafraid to take a controversial, even very controversial, stance; and both speak quite offhandedly, brusquely, candidly, and sometimes discordantly, with frequent lacunae, governing in a “stream-of-consciousness” fashion (Trump with his “tweets,” the Pope during press conferences aboard his plane).
The result, while often consternation — confusion — nonetheless makes both fascinating. Throw in too “unpredictability.”
Most recently, returning from Fatima, aboard that plane, the Holy Father expressed both belief and doubt when it came to the famous apparition site of Medjugorje — though he clarified this much: while the early apparitions are worthy of serious consideration, he does not believe or at least doubts in the validity of current ones (repeating his oft-used line — twice on planes, and once during a talk at St. Marta’s House at the Vatican — that the Blessed Mother is not like a “postmistress” or “telegrapher,” appearing each day at a scheduled time to deliver a message to a seer. Three of the original six visionaries still claim to see her each day).
The matter was recently studied by a commission headed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini of Italy (and originally convened by Benedict XVI), which concluded it “credible” that at the least the first seven days of the apparitions were supernatural (a 13-to-one vote, with one abstaining), while divided among themselves about the many hundreds of apparitions since that first week in 1981.
This was huge news: though one can quibble over current apparitions (the commission was split on these), a very substantial and thorough panel is saying, according to a leaked version, that in 1981, the Virgin Mary indeed did visit those children, at least for that first week — seven appearances.
The commission did not make a definitive judgment (this can only be done by the Pontiff), but simply put, in its judgment, after four years of intense study: yes, Mary did appear in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Will there be further controversy? Almost certainly. But if the Pope accepts that finding, as it appears he does (he called the study “very, very good”), it immediately catapults Medjugorje into the very top tier of historic apparitions. (There is still that big “if.”)
Seven days means at least seven apparitions accepted by the commission — enthralling in that, even if this were one day to be the final and only Vatican determination, just the first week, it would compare in frequency with other famous apparitions.
At Fatima, there were six appearances of the Blessed Mother. At Guadalupe, there were five, at Knock there was one, at Betania there was one accepted, at the Miraculous Medal two, at Banneux eight, at Beauraing twenty-seven, at LaSalette just one, in Wisconsin two. At Lourdes, eighteen were officially authorized — though at many approved sites, the apparitions went beyond the official ones.
It is as if the commission will abide by a time-honored template, but nothing beyond that: a few apparitions over a finite period, to a restricted number of seers, preferably one, which is more manageable — although at Laus in France, which took more than two centuries to win approval (in 2008), there were hundreds of apparitions, and many too at Kibeho in Rwanda and San Nicolás in Argentina.
Of note in this regard: only three of the seven main initial seers at Kibeho were accepted.
This may also occur at Medjugorje: some visionaries officially allowed, others not. More probably, the limit, as in the study, will be on the number of appearances, as also occurred recently with apparitions at Itaparinga in Brazil and in fact places like Fatima, where the seers all had mystical experiences beyond the original, official ones. Since 1981, there have been thousands of alleged visitations. And criticisms about “behavior” (as the report phrased it). Although, in the first years, at least two of them had interests in life as religious, none ended up a priest or nun, unlike major sites such as Fatima, Lourdes, and Kibeho itself (where one of the three official seers entered a cloister in Rome, while a second was killed during the Rwandan genocide).
Interesting — riveting — questions thus arise. For instance: were any secrets given during the first ten days? It doesn’t seem so. But we can’t be certain. If they weren’t, they are in the commission’s no-decision category — a sort of “suspense account,” which makes sense, in that the Church never rules on apparitions with secrets until the prophecies are played out. It remains, as always, a matter for our discernment.
Also of note: the panel said in those first few days, there were actually seven — not just six — seers, counting Marija Pavlovic’s sister, who saw Mary just once. (There actually may have been others who witnessed her as well. See below also for first week of messages.)
Another question: Was Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller [below], very powerful as prefect of the Congregation charged with overseeing doctrine and mysticism, opposed to what the commission had to say?
It was Cardinal Müller (no relation to the new special prosecutor in Washington) who halted first a Medjugorje seer living in the Boston area from public apparitions in churches (followed by a broadened order on others, actions first reported here).
This powerful Vatican official also reversed an archbishop’s approval of apparitions in Lipa, Philippines, much to the dismay of the bishop (see our interview with him here), and recently stopped any further public messages from San Nicolás, despite its formal approval. Cardinal Müller likes to emphasize that apparitions are not necessary to the Faith and may vigorously have attempted to affect response to the commission’s presentation — explaining otherwise confusing remarks from the Pope, who mentioned an “auction” of the study [see text of the plane comments below].
Said the Pope [photo of him at the top from the Religion News Service] — in answer to a question posed aboard the plane returning from Fatima:
“The relation Ruini affirms that it is necessary to distinguish the first apparitions, when the visionaries were small and says that it is necessary to continue investigating those. Regarding the presumed present appearances, the relationship presents its doubts.
“I personally am more evil [also translated as “worse” or “naughty”], I prefer the Virgin Mother than the Virgin who becomes in charge of a telegraph office and sends a message every day. And these alleged appearances are not so valuable: I follow this as personal opinion. There are those who think that the Virgin says: ‘Come, on such a day, at such an hour, I am going to give a message to that seer.’
“Then, third point, is the spiritual and pastoral fact, the knot of the relationship: people who become, who find God, who changes their lives. And this not thanks to a magic wand. This fact can not be denied.” [Further texts of his remarks, below.]
The current Pope’s view of Medjugorje may derive from his time as archbishop in Buenos Aires and the appearance there of one of the visionaries who has traveled extensively presenting daily apparitions, especially in the United States, where Müller stopped him.
As mentioned, three of the visionaries still claim to see her daily, while daily apparitions to the other three halted a while ago — one as long ago as 1981.
There are various versions — translations — of the papal remarks, with few in the “mainstream” Catholic media presenting the positive remarks by the Pope (as far as the early apparitions), only the doubtful ones.
The Pope’s comments contrasted, to a noticeable degree, with those of Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser, who the Pope appointed to serve as apostolic envoy or administrator at Medjugorje, and who spoke in a more positive way of the enormous “fruits” from the site, especially its more than forty confessionals, its countless conversions, especially among young, and the hundreds of priestly vocations it has produced.
At a time of such a crisis in vocations, and with Church attendance badly waning, one might interpret this as welcome “produce” (the church at Medjugorje, St. James, unlike those in the rationalistic West, is always full to overflowing). “My friends, you should be carriers of joyful news,” Archbishop Hoser said after a week there. “And you can say to the whole world that in Medjugorje, there is a light… we need these spots of light in today’s world that is going down into darkness.”
Visiting Medjugorje makes all the difference in the world. The Polish archbishop had previously said: “If Marian devotion has flourished in Medjugorje, if such multitudes arrive there, it is therefore a place where veneration will continue, since Our Lady can be venerated everywhere, especially in those locations where this veneration is so fruitful, as we hear it has been from so many testimonies.” He will deliver a final report on the pastoral approach to Medjugorje at the end of June. He told an Italian newspaper this week that he had seen nothing at the site that was imaginative or deviating but instead prayer, recollection, and “great spiritual fervor.”
A fellow Pole, Karol Józef Wojtyła, who became Saint John Paul II, was a strong backer of the apparitions, though, like the current Pope, he had not visited.
Pope Benedict XVI — who did visit Medjugorje, as prefect for the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith — never indicated publicly how he stood on the matter and scrupulously avoided comment. (It was Benedict who convened the current panel.)
If it is approved, will only several or even just a couple of the Medugorje seers be accepted in the end?
While it’s doubtful the Vatican will ever condemn the apparitions, it most probably will institute it as a shrine with the now-established oversight. One suggestion: serious theologians, clergy, and journalists visit before coming to conclusions. Such research is basic and invaluable.
Messages that first week:
Wednesday, June 24, 1981
The visionaries see a distant apparition of a young woman in a long grey dress holding a baby in her arms on the hill of Crnica (now known as Apparition Hill). The first time was in the afternoon, the second time towards 6:00pm.
Thursday, June 25, 1981
The date of the first apparition for the group of six visionaries, who see Our Lady nearby on the hill: Our Lady says: “Praised be Jesus!”
Ivanka: Where is my mother? (Her mother had died two months previously.) “She is happy. She is with me.”
The visionaries: Will you return tomorrow? The apparition answers with a nod of her head.
Mirjana: No one will believe us. They will say that we are crazy. Give us a sign! The apparition responds only with a smile. Mirjana believed she had received a sign. Her watch had changed time during the apparition.
“Goodbye, my angels. Go in the peace of God.”
Friday, June 26, 1981
In the presence of a crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 people, drawn there by the luminary signs coming from the hill of the apparitions, Vicka sprinkles the apparition with Holy Water and says: If you are the Gospa, stay with us, if not, go away. The apparition only smiles.
Ivanka: Why have you come here? What do you desire?
“I have come because there are many true believers here. I wish to be with you to convert and to reconcile the whole world.”
Ivanka: Did my mother say anything?
“Obey your grandmother and help her because she is old.”
Mirjana: How is my grandfather? (He had recently died.) “He is well.”
The visionaries, on a request from the crowd: Give us a sign which will prove your presence. “Blessed are those who have not seen and who believe.”
Mirjana: Who are you? “I am the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Why are you appearing to us? We are not better than others.
“I do not necessarily choose the best.”
Will you come back? “Yes, to the same place as yesterday.”
On returning to the village after the apparition, Marija sees the Virgin again, in tears, near a cross with rainbow colors:
“Peace, Peace, Peace! Be reconciled! Only Peace. Make your peace with God and among yourselves. For that, it is necessary to believe, to pray, to fast, and to go to confession.”
Saturday, June 27, 1981
“Praised be Jesus!”
Jakov: What do you expect of our Franciscans?
“Have them persevere in the faith and protect the faith of others.”
Jakov and Mirjana: Leave us a sign because the people treat us as liars.
“My angels, do not be afraid of injustice. It has always existed.”
The visionaries: How must we pray?
“Continue to recite 7 Our Father’s and 7 Hail Mary’s and Glory Be’s, but also add the Creed. Goodbye, my angels. Go in the peace of God.”
To Ivan, aside from the others: “Be in peace and take courage.”
(Ivan said: What a beautiful smile when she left me.)
Sunday, June 28, 1981
The visionaries: What do you wish?
“That people believe and persevere in the faith.”
Vicka: What do you expect from the priests?
“That they remain strong in the faith and that they help you.”
Why don’t you appear to everyone in church?
“Blessed are they who believe without having seen.”
Will you come back? “Yes, to the same place.”
Do you prefer prayer or singing? “Both, praying and singing.”
Vicka: What do you wish from the crowd which has gathered here? The visionaries said this question received no response except for a glance filled with love, and Our Lady’s smile. Then Our Lady disappeared. The visionaries prayed so that she might return because she had not said: Goodbye, my angels. During their song, You Are All Beautiful, she reappears.
Vicka: Dear Gospa, what do you expect of this people? She repeated the question three times and finally was given this answer:
“That those who do not see believe as those who see.”
Vicka: Will you leave us a sign so that people believe that we are not liars or comedians? No other response, only a smile. “Go in the peace of God”, She said, as she disappeared.
Monday, June 29, 1981
The visionaries: Dear Gospa, are you happy to see so many people here today? “More than happy.” (She smiles, writes Vicka).
How long will you stay with us? “As long as you will want me to, my angels.”
What do you expect of the people who have come in spite of the brambles and the heat? “There is only one God, one faith. Let the people believe firmly and do not fear anything.”
What do you expect of us?
“That you have a solid faith and that you maintain confidence.”
Will we know how to endure persecutions, which will come to us because of you?
“You will be able to, my angels. Do not fear. You will be able to endure everything. You must believe and have confidence in me.”
Here Vicka writes a question from Dr. Darinka Glamuzina: May I touch Our Lady? She gives this response:
“There have always been Doubting Thomas’s, but she can approach.”
Vicka shows her where to stretch out her hand. Darinka tries to touch her. Our Lady disappears, and then reappears in her light.
The parents of a three-year-old child, Daniel Setka, who had suffered from septicemia since the fourth day of his birth, asked the visionaries to intercede for the handicapped child. Dear Gospa, is little Daniel going to speak some day? Cure him so that they all will believe us. These people love you very much, dear Gospa. Perform a miracle. Dear Gospa, say something. They repeated this petition and conveyed the response:
“Have them believe strongly in his cure. Go in the peace of God.”
The Hidden Phase
(Jun 30, 1981 To Dec 31, 1981)
During this period, Our Lady appeared to the visionaries in hidden places, away from the police patrols that were trying to track them down.
Tuesday, June 30, 1981
Apparition at Cerno. Mirjana: Are you angry that we were not on the hill?
“That doesn’t matter.”
Would you be angry if we would not return any longer to the hill, but we would wait in the church? “Always at the same time. Go in the peace of God.”
On that day, Mirjana thought that she understood that the Gospa would return for three more days, until Friday. But it was only her interpretation.
Thursday, July 2, 1981
Jakov: Dear Gospa, leave us a sign. The Virgin seemed to consent with a nod: “Goodbye, my dear angels.”
Text of papal remarks:
Question: In Fatima we have seen a great testimony of popular faith, the same one seen in Medjugorje. What do you think about the apparitions and the religious fervor they have aroused, since you decided to appoint a bishop delegate for the pastoral aspects?
All apparitions or alleged apparitions belong to the private sphere, they are not part of the ordinary public magisterium. For Medjugorje Benedict XVI instituted a commission presided over by Cardinal Ruini. I received the result, was composed of good theologians, bishops and cardinals. The commission’s relationship is very, very good. There were some doubts in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the dicastery considered it appropriate to send all the documentation, including opinions contrary to the Ruini relationship, to each of the members of the IV Fair (the monthly meeting of the Congregation). I received the notification on a Saturday, already late. I did not think it was right: it was like “auctioning off” the Ruini relationship, which is very well done. On Sunday morning, the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith received a letter in which I ask you to send to IV Fair those opinions against, to send them to me personally. These opinions were studied, all (underline: all). The relation Ruini affirms that it is necessary to distinguish the first apparitions, when the visionaries were small and says that it is necessary to continue investigating those. Regarding the presumed present appearances, the relationship presents its doubts. I personally am more evil, I prefer the Virgin Mother than the Virgin who becomes in charge of a telegraph office and sends a message every day. And these alleged appearances are not so valuable: I follow this as personal opinion. There are those who think that the Virgin says: “Come, on such a day, at such an hour, I am going to give a message to that seer.” Then, third point, is the spiritual and pastoral fact, the knot of the relationship: people who become, who find God, who changes their lives. And this not thanks to a magic wand. This fact can not be denied. Now, to see this, I appointed a good bishop (Monsignor Hoser, ndr.), who has experience to deal with the pastoral part. At the end something will be said.
Another translation text:
Pope Francis: I’ll start with the first. I read in the papers that I peruse in the morning that there was this problem, but I still don’t know how the details are and because of this I can’t give an opinion. I know there is an issue and the investigations are moving ahead. I hope that they continue ahead and that the whole truth comes out. Medjugorje, all the apparitions, or the presumed apparitions, belong to the private sphere, they aren’t part of the public, ordinary magisterium of the Church. Medjugorje. Medjugorje. A commission was formed, headed by Cardinal Ruini. Benedict XVI made it. I, at the end of 2013 the beginning of 2014, I received the result from Cardinal Ruini. It was commission good theologians, bishops, cardinals, but good. Very good. And the commission. The Ruini report was very, very good. Then there were some doubts in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Congregation judged it opportune to send each one of the members of this Feria quarta (Editor’s note: “Feria Quarta” is a once-a-month meeting in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during which current cases are examined) all the documentation, even those that seemed to be against the Ruini report. I received a notification – I remember it was a Saturday evening, late evening… and it didn’t seem right. It was like putting up for auction – excuse me the word – the Ruini report which was very well done. And Sunday morning the prefect received a letter from me that said that instead of sending them to the Feria Quarta, they they would send the opinions to me personally.
These opinions were studied and all of them underscore the density of the Ruini report. Principally, three things must be distinguished: the first apparitions, that they were kids. The report more or less says that it must continue being studied. The apparitions, the presumed current apparitions: the report has its doubts. I personally am more nasty, I prefer the Madonna as Mother, our Mother, and not a woman who’s the head of a telegraphic office, who everyday sends a message at such hour. This is not the Mother of Jesus. And these presumed apparitions don’t have a lot of value. This I say as a personal opinion. But, it’s clear. Who thinks that the Madonna says, ‘come tomorrow at this time, and at such time I will say a message to that seer?’ No. The two apparitions are distinguished. The third, the core of the Ruini report, the spiritual fact, the pastoral fact. People go there and convert. People who encounter God, change their lives…but this…there is no magic wand there. And this spiritual and pastoral fact can’t be ignored. Now, to see things with all this information, with the answers that the theologians sent me, this good, good bishop was appointed because he has experience, to see the pastoral part, how it’s going. And at the end he’ll say some words.
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