Documents on Medjugorje from
Mgr. Ratko Peric, Bishop of Mostar

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CRITERIA FOR DISCERNING APPARITIONS: REGARDING THE EVENTS OF MEDJUGORJE - Part 1

Medjugorje, a parish in the diocese of Mostar-Duvno in Herzegovina, is known not only to Catholic Croats but to the entire world. For 14 years now, much has been spoken and written on the "seers", and on the "apparitions" of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this parish. The ecclesiastical ministry of the diocesan Bishop Msgr. Pavao Zanic, has been marked by commissions, investigations, communiques, declarations, meetings with the "seers", persuasions and dissuasions regarding these events.

His coadjutor and successor, from the time of his taking over the ministry of bishop in Mostar (1993), has received many letters of varying content, expressing all types of advice and suggestions on the events of Medjugorje. Some have sought to impede these phenomena, while others have endeavored to have them approved and propagated. He himself volens-nolens has been asked in some public appearances and interviews to say something and to explain himself. He never refrained though, from supporting the Declaration of the Bishops' Conference of 1991. He also mentioned the events of Medjugorje at the Bishops' Synod in Rome, in October of 1994. Therefore, this current and contemporary theme cannot be ignored.

It is impossible to provide a brief summary of the events tied to Medjugorje. There exists an abundant amount of literature from the naive to the fanatic. This article limits itself to bringing out the theological criteria for heavenly "private" apparitions on earth. Many worthwhile articles and books have been written on this topic which systematically and expertly write on "private" apparitions and revelations. For this reason, the aim of this article is to gather criteria which can help those who already know certain facts, to compare them to these rules and evaluate the conclusions. Consequently, to bring forth the official documents and declarations of the Church regarding the events in the parish of Medjugorje in the diocese of Mostar-Duvno and finally, to summarize the position of the Diocesan Chancery in a few points keeping in mind the well-known Declaration of the Bishops' Conference of 1991.

1) According to the teachings of the II Vatican Council, the historical person of Jesus, his appearance and revelation, by word and deed, through miraculous signs, passed on to us through his apostles, is the final and complete revelation of God, to which nothing essential can be added or taken away. Therefore, beyond this first revelation, there shall be no other revelation before Jesus' Second Coming. In this sense, the Council is quite unambiguous: "As a result, he himself - to see whom is to see the Father (cf. Jn 14:9) - completed and perfected Revelation and confirmed it with divine guarantees. He did this by the total fact of his presence and self-manifestation - by words and works, signs and miracles, but above all by his death and glorious resurrection from the dead, and finally by sending the Spirit of truth. He revealed that God was with us, to deliver us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to eternal life."

2) Holy Scripture: in the Old Testament, the word "listen" is used twice as often as the words "to see" or "to look" (1080 : 520). Along with this, the relationship of man to God, including the most humble friend of God, is a relationship of words and not one of seeing or of vision: One cannot see God and remain alive, was also valid for Moses. God revealed his glory to him but not his face (cf. Ex 33:20-23). On the other hand, "listening" to the word of God is the regular attitude of the believer, the prophet and the king. It is no surprise that the Jewish Credo-I believe, does not begin with the words "I believe in God almighty", but rather with: Shema Israel - Hear, O Israel (Deut 5:1).

In the New Testament, especially in the Letter to the Hebrews (1:1-2), emphasis is made to the fact that God has spoken many times and in many ways to the fathers and prophets. Yet all revelation - of the Holy Trinity and of our salvation - definitely and completely, is found in the revelation of the only Son of God, who is the reflection of the Glory and imprint of God's being. The theology of St. John the apostle and evangelist particularly emphasizes this vision and revelation of the Son: "No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (Jn 1:18). Jesus is the revelation of the Father, his image and icon. Hence, he who sees the Son, sees the Father. Jesus shall praise those who believe and have not seen (Jn 20:29). In John's theology, "seeing" and "believing" are one and the same.

The Word of God, the Second Divine Person did not "appear" in a human body, but became body and lived amongst us, in our human condition, in space and time. This revelation is the substance of our faith and also the highest expression of revelation. For this reason, the religion of Christ is the religion of the Incarnation, which surpasses all types of apparitions. After his death and resurrection, Christ appeared many times in his glorious body, identical to the preceding one he had. These apparitions had a dual purpose: on the one hand, they proved Jesus' resurrection, and on the other, through these apparitions Jesus finished his instructions to his disciples: he gave them the power to forgive sins, he established their general mission to proclaim the Gospel to all creation, he told them to wait for the Holy Spirit, and to give witness to all, so that people could believe, be baptized and saved. After the ascension of Jesus, apparitions are no longer necessary.

3) Theological problems and explanations. Theologians who are professionally involved in studying Revelation are loath to talk about private apparitions and messages. Yet amongst the people, many of the faithful are inclined to believe in such phenomena, because they provide something visible, touchable, something which can be felt or sensed. This is especially true if this is something which becomes visible in their lives in the form of some kind of emotional aid, a healing or similar experience. Such phenomenon and beliefs can easily slide into true superstition and forms of magic, especially if the desired "grace" or "miracle" doesn't occur in the way the person expected and "prayed for". In such situations, it is not uncommon to come across even - suicide.

Yet, it must be objectively recognized that in the last years and decades, tens of millions of people have made pilgrimages to the recognized Marian shrines of the world, such as Lourdes, Fatima, Czestochowa, Loreto, Marija Bistrica, etc. This is also another reason why so much is written and spoken on the problem of private apparitions. Moreover, he who in his ecclesiastical ministry feels it his responsibility, (whether this be in a theological, investigative or episcopal teaching ministry), has the duty to defend the faith of the common folk and not to allow (under the veil of various public religious gestures), the concealing of any superstitions, nor permit the faith of the people to be based upon false apparitions.

Theologically speaking, in order to accept private apparitions as authentic, they must be characterized by some essential traits and be free of dubious elements.

R. Silic, a professor of theology in Sarajevo, advised the priests of his time briefly and clearly: "May pastors of souls be careful not to quickly believe in revelations so that they may not be deceived by pious women."

Another Franciscan priest from Herzegovina, K. Vasilj, provides three criteria: 1) The appearing Mary must be in total concordance with Mary of the New Testament; 2) The person who claims that Mary is appearing to him/her must be completely sincere and truthful; 3) That person must also be psychologically healthy, unperturbed by illusions and hallucinations.

A serious theological article on apparitions was written ten years ago by a Jesuit professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Rev. Jean Galot. He presents three problems which should be resolved while questioning the authenticity of apparitions: 1) Did a true apparition occur? 2) Is the person who presented this trustworthy? 3) Can the theology of the apparitions be explained and placed within the life of the Church? This third problem should be placed first, and the theologian gives it much attention.

Describing various apparitions depicted in the Bible, he also brings out his own theological considerations. In the faith, there exists a fundamental light which is shrouded by darkness. Hence, some seek apparitions in order to confirm their faith. They would like to compensate that which they lack in believing by "seeing". "It is exactly this desire which drives a good number of today's Christians towards persons who say that they have apparitions or visions."

The first criterion for discerning authenticity is rarity and exceptionality. Apparitions are essentially very rare occurrences. They cannot replace the faith. "Hence, apparitions which would continue for a long period of time, becoming a part of daily life of the seers, would tend to transform Christian living into seeing and would then liberate it from the darkness of faith. Such frequency would be a motive to doubt the authenticity of the apparitions."

The second criterion for judging authenticity would be the conformity of the ensuing messages and revelations to the truths of the faith. If there were to be any doctrinal errors, or affirmations incompatible with the teachings of the Gospel, with Christian love; or if they were to contain slander, to instigate rebellion, to entice "disobedience towards Church authority", in such cases their validity would have to be questioned.

Thirdly, "it would equally be detrimental if the transcendent origin of the apparitions were to indicate a certain human manipulation: when the recipients of apparitions determine the place, date, regularity or program. They do not then concern a phenomenon from above, but more or less a direct experience of the actors on earth".

Fourthly, one has to consider the fruits also. "It must be observed that the spiritual fruits alone cannot suffice in discerning the authenticity of apparitions. There have been cases where many conversions were registered, which then only wound up being rejected by Church authorities as unfounded."

Z. Puljic, once a member of the diocesan commission for the investigation of the events of Medjugorje, and who today is Bishop of Dubrovnik, emphasizes the necessity of a serious analysis of the following elements for the discernment of the authenticity of apparitions:

- the psychological equilibrium of the person;

- the object or content of private apparitions, and

- the moral implications on the "seer" or on others who accept them.

Other theologians present up to eight criteria for discerning authentic from false private apparitions and revelations. In order to evaluate them, one would have to respond to these questions:

- What is the basic information on the "seers" like, and how are they judged to be?

- Has there been a concrete realization of the seers' announced predictions?

- Is the seer honest and respectful towards his superiors (spiritual director, pastor, bishop)?

- Is an absolutely authentic text of the "messages" obtainable?

- Does there exist any harmony between the so-called messages and revelations to the official teachings of the Church?

- Are the so-called messages useful towards the eternal salvation of people?

- Have the so-called apparitions survived all the difficulties of time and all investigations?

- Have there been significant fruits in every aspect?

R. Fisichella, a respected professor of theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, after making some biblical observations, stresses the following criteria for discerning the authenticity and truthfulness of private apparitions:

- These visions must never overshadow the authentic and radical Revelation described in Holy Scripture;

- They must always respect the mystery and secrecy of genuine revelation; "it is absurd, to not say blasphemous, - not only to Western mentality - that during a vision one could photograph the face of Jesus or the Virgin!";

- They must respect the mutual completion of charisms; and the greatest of these is love; hence they should not be directed against love which is the center of Christian revelation.

Furthermore, for a theological analysis of so-called private apparitions, it is important to keep in mind the social and cultural factors of the place where the apparitions occur, a linguistic verification of the descriptions of the apparitions would be necessary, and finally, a thorough psychological analysis of the seers.

One also must recall that apparitions are always something "extraordinary", rare, and this is an important element for their discernment. "If apparitions were to occur on a daily basis in the life of a believer, or if they were to continue for years, this would obviously create serious problems for the theology of faith". Every apparition must refer to or return to the revelation of Christ, presume it and lead towards it as well.

Referring to the "scientific research" on the "apparitions" at Medjugorje, of R. Laurentin, a French priest and publicist, J. Curic, a professor at the Catholic Theological Faculty in Zagreb, provides a few significant critical points which greatly contribute towards clearing up the mentioned difficulties:

Curic first of all differentiates between the popular term "scientific" as it was comprehended in the 19th century and the way it is understood today in the 20th century. Real scientists today are much more humble and careful, due to the likely rebuttals and replies they can easily receive tomorrow for their conclusions of today.

- While the French scientist lists facts and figures, he remains in line with his historical profession. But when he presents the actual "visions" of the seers, he does not take into consideration the "experience of the presence" as a significant element of spiritual consciousness. This is one of his greatest drawbacks according to the Croatian Jesuit.

- A three day stay in Medjugorje during the Christmas rush, gave Laurentin the opportunity to establish that the seers are mentally healthy, simple and totally honest. Curic observes though, that God does not reserve his gifts only to those who are "scientifically" sane. He portrays Laurentin's great leaps to conclusions: "Meanwhile, if he were to come to a perfectly certain conviction that the seers of Medjugorje are totally sincere in their declarations, this would not give him the right to conclude - that the subjective sincerity of their speech proves the objective truthfulness of their visions."

- Following this, Curic poses a general problem of principle: "what if anything can science research and verify regarding extraordinary, miraculous phenomenon, whether they be of divine or demonic origin? It appears that Glas Koncila did not proceed properly when it reiterated the "scientific nature" of Laurentin's approach to the Madonna's "apparitions"; as if the problem of the authenticity of these apparitions (after all our Balkan controversies), could now be resolved in a proper manner -the scientific way." Laurentin recognizes that in the end "the verdict must be left up to the Church".

Curic then responds: "Why would this scientist, having concluded his scientific research, now restrain his scientific conclusions and bow before the unscientific authority of the Church? If science can scientifically establish that a certain virus causes cancer, then no bishop could ever deny this conclusion! Hence, if science scientifically establishes that the Madonna is "appearing" in Medjugorje, can the bishops along with their commissions deny this?" Here the critic is examining two things. The first: God's grace cannot be an "object" of scientific research; second: yet, through grace, God can touch a person in such a way that this encounter manifests itself in a miraculous healing, miraculous knowledge, etc. But science is incapable of establishing the miraculous nature of these happenings!

Curic differentiates between mystical and prophetic types of private revelations. Mystics usually cannot and do not know how to express what they have experienced. Prophetic souls "behave themselves diversely: they are convinced of the truthfulness of their experience and consciously wish to go public, so that people may listen and follow their 'message'". The phenomenon of Medjugorje falls into this prophetic category. Yet the mystical and prophetic types of revelations cannot be verified by science, but only through a spiritual evaluation.

Curic also presents the differences between public Revelation which is absolutely necessary for salvation and which extends for all eternity to all of mankind, and private revelations which no one has the right to impose upon or extend towards others. This results from the private nature of private revelations.

- This type of private revelation does not lose its private character even after the so-called "approval" or "nihil obstat" of the Church, which can also revoke this "approval". Curic's conclusion is: "Whoever believes along with Laurentin that the Madonna has truly appeared to the seers of Medjugorje - and not once or twice, but thousands of times - that person would have to keep in mind the historical fact that even very noble Divine initiatives have ended in failure, because they were defeated by the disproportionate propaganda of various naive and fanatical persons. On the other hand, one shouldn't forget that according to the Bible, God is not bound by our human legal or scientific methods."

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