Mary in Medjugorje?

An apparition of the Blessed Mother has allegedly been appearing in the former Yugoslavia
By luke eggleston / SUN staff writer

One year after the death of Yugoslavia’s ruler, Josip Broz Tito, in 1980 six young parishioners of St. James Church in the village of Medjugorje, located in Bosnia-Herzegovina, claim they witnessed the appearance of a white figure holding a child on the hill Crnica. According to the visionaries, the figure beckoned them forward but their fear held them in check.

Four of the children say they were mysteriously drawn to the same place the following day and two other children joined them. The group prayed to the Blessed Mother and the meeting became the basis for the visions of Medjugorje. The children who returned to Crnica on the second day continue to see the apparition and relay the messages of Mary. The two who went the first day but not the second have never seen Mary again.

The apparitions, which have yet to receive the official approval of the church, allegedly persist to this day. The visionaries, who are adults now, claim they still see the apparition and discuss its message with pilgrims. During the roughly two and one-half decades since the alleged appearance, the former Yugoslavia has endured tumultuous events.

In 1991, the communist regimes of Eastern Europe collapsed amid a flurry of good will. But in the wake of the totalitarian state’s dissolution, once-simmering ethnic tension erupted. Amid such dramatic events, the alleged apparition persisted in teaching peace and love for one’s enemies.

The totalitarian state in Yugoslavia stifled its citizens’ freedom but it also kept the chaos of ethnic strife in check. The fault lines, however, had been evident since the death of Tito in 1980.

The apparition at Medjugorje has yet to receive approval from the church. Pope John Paul II was impressed with the number of pilgrims who had been converted there but stressed caution until a final approbation was given.

One reason cited for the church’s reluctance to confirm the apparitions at Medjugorje apparently is a longstanding rivalry between the Franciscans located in the tiny village and the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno. Initially, Franciscan Father Jovo Zosko was skeptical regarding the children’s experience. When he also experienced the apparition, however, he was won over. Meanwhile, Bishop Pavao Zanic was initially enthusiastic toward validating the apparition but ultimately swung entirely in the other direction toward vehement opposition.

Msgr. Eugene Yennock, the pastor at St. Daniel Church in Lyncourt, ventured to Medjugorje roughly 10 years ago. Msgr. Yennock said the number of young people and lapsed Catholics who went and participated in confession and were converted impressed him.

“It’s a good feeling that you get when you see people gathered there. It’s a manifestation of faith,” Msgr. Yennock said.

Maria Gallipeau, a Liverpool resident and lifelong parishioner at Our Lady of Pompei, has made pilgrimages to Medjugorje twice, once in 1993 with Father Albert Mary Shaman and then again in 2003 with her prayer group, the Daughters and Sons of Christ. During her last visit to the Balkan nation, Gallipeau also made a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

Gallipeau describes herself as “very devoted to Our Holy Mother.” She compared the overall sense of Medjugorje to that of Lourdes, saying you can “feel” Mary there.

She said that perhaps her strong connection to the place was amplified by the central role of children in the phenomenon. Gallipeau herself has five children.

“When you go into the church [in Medjugorje] you are filled with peace and a sense of Holy Mother,” she said, noting that “warmth” and “peace” are familiar sensations to those who have gone to Medjugorje.

She said that in 1993, while the former Yugoslavia was torn by ethnic violence, the village of Medjugorje was strikingly placid. The pilgrims had flown into Zagreb and then traveled to Medjugorje via boat. She said that the atmosphere in the village contrasted sharply with the rest of the country, although at night the pilgrims could hear the sounds of civil war raging in the distance.

“It was just awesome. It was so peaceful,” she said. “It was 1993 so there was fighting all around but we didn’t see any of it.”

The piety of the village dwellers made a significant impression on Gallipeau. Despite their inordinate poverty, the people are extremely devoted, she said. According to Gallipeau, many of the people wear rosaries and pray throughout the day. Each day, the entire village shuts down so that the people can attend Mass. In addition, each day, the people of the village and the pilgrims hike the hill upon which the apparition first appeared. Gallipeau observed that most of them do so barefoot.

While in Medjugorje, Gallipeau witnessed the miraculous phenomenon of “dancing suns.” She said she continues to see “dancing suns” on occasion.

During these visions, the sun doesn’t hurt one’s eyes despite the fact that the witness is looking directly at it. The sun also literally dances and appears to fall down before rapidly ascending back into the sky. Gallipeau also said that the light covers the area it shines on a golden hue. In addition, one sees a spectrum of colors.

Gallipeau said that while she was already very religious, her experience in Medjugorje dramatically enhanced and fortified her faith.

“It makes you feel like you can take on the world,” she said. “It’s a gift — faith is a gift.”

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