Understanding Medjugorje
Book Review

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“Signs and Wonders” by Peter Costello,

as published in the Irish Catholic, Sunday 19 October 2008

Understanding Medjugorje: Heavenly Visions or Religious Illusion? by Donal Anthony Foley (Theotokos Books, 19.95 euros)

For more than two decades the “phenomenon of Medjugorje” has aroused impassioned debate. The recent news that Fr Vlasic, the initial promoter of the seers, has been disciplined by the Congregation for Doctrine and Faith may give many, especially here in Ireland, reason to pause for thought.

Enthusiasts for the shrine have been quick to claim that Fr Vlasic has been living in Italy for many years and has had no contact with the seers. But all would have to admit that he was instrumental in establishing the international interest in what has been happening in Medjugorje.

This book by Donal Anthony Foley makes its position clear by its subtitle: he believes that the affair is one of “religious illusion”. This will displease or dismay many.

Now it has always been the approach for the church since the time of Urban VIII to take its time over deciding matters that have aroused religious enthusiasm; they have always to be treated with caution. It is said that in the instance of apparitions the CDF cannot begin to investigate until the apparitions cease. This is not a view that appeals to the historian or the journalist or even the lawyer, all of whom would feel that information must be gathered while impressions are fresh.

This, given his point of view, Donal Foley attempts to do. The text runs to some 300 pages, and step by step he carefully inquires into every aspect of the affair. Central to his point of view is the fact that unlike other apparitions, such as Lourdes, Fatima, or La Salette, there is no “message”.  The remarks passed on by the seers are trite and inconsequential, in his view. The book is filled with exact, well documented detail, Mr Foley being a graduate with a further degree in theology.

Donal Foley, rather than seeing the visions in the light of a merely humanistic doubt as to the validity of all human testimony, often returns to the point about whether they might be diabolical in initiation.

Personally, before evoking such an explanation, I feel it would have been better to exhaust the possibility of mere human fallibility, conceit and even cupidity. The author is sternly critical, in comparisons with the simple lives of Bernadette and Sr. Lucia, of the BMWs, large houses and lavish lifestyles of the seers, and their constant travels through Europe and North America in search of well-off donors.

In Ireland, as we all know, the pilgrimage to Medjugorje is immensely popular. But everyone who thinks of going there has a duty also to inform themselves, not only by the writings of those who support the seers, but also those others such as Mr Foley who are far more critical and indeed disbelieving.

It is hardly becoming for those who would pride themselves on the acceptance of church authority in all matters, to ignore, deny and denounce the local bishop when he expresses disapproval of the events chronicled here.

There is a point of view that would point out that acceptance of all personal visions and revelations is a matter of private choice, unless the matter is specially approved by the Church. And even then this is merely a matter of sanction, not a matter of doctrine. Such “revelations” are not a part of the deposit of faith. But this perfectly orthodox, if reductionist view is not the trend of this book.

At the end of his critique, Donal Foley suggests his readers turn away from Medjugorje and turn instead towards other shrines of accepted apparitions such as Lourdes, but especially to Fatima, in which he has a special interest.

He thinks, in any case, that on the whole, we should all move away from clinging to “signs and wonders” and move towards living for Christ in others. This is to end what has been a trenchantly critical book on a positive note.


To order the book, please click here

Understanding Medjugorje is Demy Octavo size (8.5 in. x 5.5 in.). It has 23 chapters, 310 pages, and a comprehensive index.

It costs £12.95 / $19.95 / €19.95

ISBN 0955074606

Extracts from the proposed book in PDF format, including the table of contents, introduction, sample chapters and the bibliography, can be seen here ...

To order the book please click here


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