From Attacks To Talk Of 'Signs,' A Swirl Has Arisen Around A Famous Apparition
There is suddenly more than the normal activity swirling around the famous apparition site of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Hercegovina. There is the approach of its 25th anniversary -- and so many ready to attend that rooms are all but impossible to obtain. Crowds are said to be larger than ever (if not with so many Americans). There is the sudden flurry of new books on the apparitions. A number have been released in the last several months. There are the attacks: never in its more than two decades of history have there been so many attacks against the site. And there is the speculation on how Pope Benedict XVI feels about the happenings.
But mainly, there has been a series of extraordinary messages.
At a site where indications of the future are few and far between, and where seers carefully deflect questions about their "secrets" (focusing instead on standard Catholic teaching), now come two messages that suddenly sail beyond that low-key approach.
"Dear children! In this Lenten time, I call you to interior renunciation. The way to this leads you through love, fasting, prayer and good works. Only with total interior renunciation will you recognize God’s love and the signs of the time in which you live. You will be witnesses of these signs and will begin to speak about them. I desire to bring you to this. Thank you for having responded to me,” was the missive reported on March 18, 2006, by seer Mirjana Dragicevic-Soldo, who was first to receive all ten secrets and who receives a monthly as well as an annual birthday appearance.
That was the annual message. And not long after, on March 25, 2006 -- Feast of the Annunciation -- was this message from another seer, Marija Pavlovic-Lunetti:
"Courage, little children! I decided to lead you on the way of holiness. Renounce sin and set out on the way of salvation, the way which my Son has chosen. Through each of your tribulations and sufferings God will find the way of joy for you. Therefore, little children, pray. We are close to you with our love. Thank you for having responded to my call."
It was the first time in memory that the message did not start out with "Dear children" -- and the word "courage" was used in a way that went beyond its previous usage at Medjugorje (where if anything it was used in terms of evangelization). Moreover, "decided" is past tense. It had been 13 years since “signs” was uttered in such a directly prophetic way.
We must always be cautious of problems in translation. But there was no mistaking the overall tenor of two messages less than a month apart. Was she saying that the apparitions were nearing their conclusion? Or was she simply hinting that something was coming -- something big?
The few indications offered about the secrets indicate that they include events that will come as warnings to the world, followed by developments in the Church, at Medjugorje itself, and by "chastisements." John Paul II was known to read the monthly messages -- with many of his themes echoing them, including establishment of World Youth Day.
But it is the idea of darkness engulfing the world -- a notion John Paul also repeated, in one of his last letters -- as well as major events as purification that initially galvanized interest in the apparitions, and the new messages hearken to those early days, as well as to the 1990s.
In fact the last time she uttered the term “signs of the times” had been on January 25, 1993, and then several months later on August 25, 1993, at the height of the civil war in former Yugoslavia -- a time when bombs could be heard at night echoing from the nearby city of Mostar and Medjugorje itself had been threatened (but miraculously spared).
"May every hatred and jealousy disappear from your life and your thoughts, and may there only dwell love for God and for your neighbor," she said that January. "Thus, and only thus shall you be able to discern the signs of the time."
"Read Sacred Scripture, live it, and pray to understand the signs of the times," she said that August.
In using similar language now was she simply pointing to the war in Iraq – which at the time of the 2006 messages was going especially badly, with sectarian strife, with the beginnings of civil war as there had been civil war in Bosnia – or is it of higher moment?
The few times she had otherwise used the word "signs" had to do with "signs" of spring, or "signs" of God in a sunrise. It had to do with nature.
These were very weighty words. It was hard to conceive of the seers formulating all this themselves, in such a perfectly succinct way. To do so, each would have to be a proficient writer – at times, more than a proficient writer. It was powerful and exacting prose.
Whatever the Church deems true or untrue (by which we will strictly abide), these were poignant reminders that what was occurring outside of ourselves was not as pertinent as what was occurring inside ourselves and that we had to renounce the ego and attachments to the world in order to appreciate or even see what was occurring.
She had never used the term “close to you with our love” – as if in reassurance, and as if to ready us for a time when the Lord didn’t seem close – never mind the direct mention of “tribulations and sufferings.”
Yet what reassurance this was: No matter what the trial, she was promising, God would find a way of joy for us, she said reassuringly -- and in what seemed like preparation.
Why would we believe otherwise now? Why wouldn't the signs pertain to nature? And if so, we think of the great climate flux and the storms and events like the Asian tsunami and "Katrina."
Mirjana, who says that she will relate the event in her secret to a priest just before it occurs, once told her spiritual director that what was in the secret "will be visible. It is necessary in order to shake up the world a little. It will make the world pause and think." It would be an event, she said, in 1985, that "everyone everywhere will immediately hear about." She said if people saw it, as it was allegedly shown to her, they would be "shaken up enough to take a new and different look at themselves and everything around them." She said people would not want to rush to see what happened, anymore than they would rush to see a dam that had burst.
We'll wait for the Church. We will abide by its final ruling (which is currently in the hands of a committee of bishops). But in the meantime, there is the speculation. Is the Pope as positive as his predecessor, John Paul II, who even committed his devotion to Medjugorje in handwriting -- or will Benedict take a dimmer view, as others expect?
The man who has assumed the position of overseeing apparitions, Cardinal William Levada -- now prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- reviewed and allowed speakers to talk publicly about Medjugorje and other apparitions when he was Archbishop of San Francisco.
One reason for such openness may be reports that the apparition site has spawned more priestly vocations than any movement in the past two decades. As one of the books, The Fruits of Medjugorje, by Elizabeth Ficocelli, relates, "it is claimed that more confessions are heard at St. James Church in Medjugorje than in any parish in the world, keeping more than 150 confessors busy every day. It is reported that more than 30,000 priests and bishops have visited the Croatian village. In 1990, at the peak of political unrest and just prior to the outbreak of civil war, 1.9 million people received Communion in Medjugorje, surpassing even the popular shrine at Fatima."
As the book points out, a local bishop sought to condemn Medjugorje but was halted from doing so by the Vatican, which removed the Bishop of Mostar's jurisdiction over the apparitions. "Because of the ongoing phenomenon, it would be imprudent for the Church to authenticate the events at this time," says the author, who points out that a national commission of bishops -- which now has total say in the matter -- thus far has neither confirmed nor rejected authenticity.
Again, we will abide by whatever the official ruling says. The Blessed Mother herself has emphasized obedience.
"One must follow the authority of the Church with certainty," she said in answer to a question posed by local priests in 1986. "Yet, before she expresses an opinion, it is necessary to advance spiritually, because she will not be able to express a judgment in a vacuum, but in a confirmation which presupposes growth of the child. First comes birth, followed by Baptism, then Confirmation. The Church comes to confirm him, who is born of God. We must walk and advance in the spiritual life, affected by these messages."
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