By Elise Harris
Asked by journalists about the alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje, Pope Francis said the original apparitions more than three decades ago deserve further study, but voiced doubt in the supposed ongoing visions.
He stressed the need to distinguish between the two sets of apparitions, referencing a report submitted to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by a commission set up to study the apparitions by Benedict XVI in 2010.
“The first apparitions, which were to children, the report more or less says that these need to continue being studied,” he said, but as for “presumed current apparitions, the report has its doubts.”
“I personally am more suspicious, I prefer the Madonna as Mother, our Mother, and not a woman who’s the head of an office, who every day sends a message at a certain hour. This is not the Mother of Jesus. And these presumed apparitions don’t have a lot of value.”
He clarified that this is his “personal opinion,” but added that the Madonna does not function by saying, “Come tomorrow at this time, and I will give a message to those people.”
Differentiating between these and the first apparitions, he said, is key.
Pope Francis spoke to the 70 journalists on board with him during his May 13 flight from Fatima back to Rome. The presser followed a two-day trip to mark the centenary of the Marian apparitions that occurred in Fatima in 1917. During the visit, he also canonized two of the young visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
While the Fatima apparitions have long been approved by the Vatican and local bishops, debate continues to cloud discussion over the authenticity of the alleged appearances in Medjugorje.
The apparitions allegedly started June 24, 1981, when six children in Medjugorje, a town in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, claimed to have witnessed apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
According to the alleged visionaries, the apparitions conveyed a message of peace for the world, a call to conversion, prayer and fasting, as well as certain secrets surrounding events to be fulfilled in the future.
These apparitions are said to have continued almost daily since their first occurrence, with three of the original six visionaries claiming to have received apparitions every afternoon because not all of the “secrets” intended for them have been revealed.
In April 1991, the bishops of the former Yugoslavia determined that “on the basis of the research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations.”
On the basis of those findings, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith directed in October 2013 that clerics and the faithful “are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.”
However, Benedict XVI established a commission, headed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, to study the topic in further detail.
In January 2014, the commission completed their study on supposed apparitions’ doctrinal and disciplinary aspects, and was to have submitted its findings to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The congregation has yet to submit its final document to the Pope for a final decision.
Pope Francis told journalists that Cardinal Ruini’s report was “very well done,” and that there are three main takeaways that must be kept in mind when thinking of the report.
First, he stressed the importance of studying the first apparitions of 1981 as their own entity, and attached to this was the second point on the need to be wary of the alleged ongoing appearances, always distinguishing between the two.
Third, he emphasized the need to also look at the pastoral and spiritual dimensions of Medjugorje, because “people go there and convert. People encounter God, change their lives.”
This isn’t a result of “magic,” he said, but is a valid spiritual and pastoral fact that “can’t be ignored.”
On this point, he made reference to the appointment in February of Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warszawa-Praga as a delegate of the Holy See to look into the pastoral situation at Medjugorje. The Polish archbishop is to “suggest possible pastoral initiatives for the future” after acquiring a deeper knowledge of the local pastoral situation.
Francis said Archbishop Hoser was named for the post because “he has experience” for it, and while he has already spoken on both the fruits and challenges of Medjugorje, will provide his full insights in due time.