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Defying scientific study, psychological analysis, attempts of Communist suppression, full-scale war and on-going Church scrutiny, the Virgin Mary continues to visit daily with young people from the tiny village of Medjugorje, in former Yugoslavia. What could be so important that Heaven would send the Mother of Jesus to earth every day for an astonishing period of more than 20 years?
In the early 1990's, the clash of politics and religion disintegrated the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia into various warring factions. The brutal struggle between Muslim, Serbian Orthodox and Croatian Catholic caught the attention of the world. People lamented over televised bloodshed and destruction in Sarajevo, on the very same grounds where the Olympics, the international games of peace, were held just a decade earlier.
For millions around the globe, however, there was a vested interest in this conflict that had nothing to do with politics or media coverage. This war-torn, forsaken land, for believers of many nations, represented sacred ground. For in this very region exists the obscure hamlet of Medjugorje, an unlikely host to a supernatural event that surpasses any other in history: the daily visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mother for over two decades.
What exactly is Medjugorje?
The apparitions of Medjugorje began on June 24, 1981, when the Virgin Mary appeared to six Croatian children on a rural hillside. As in the apparitions of Fatima, Portugal, perhaps the most popular of all Marian apparitions, the Virgin comes with the self-proclaimed title, "Queen of Peace." On occasion she appears escorted by angels. At other times, she carries the infant Jesus in her arms. Her signature sign, however, is the crown of twelve stars she wears around her head, much like the scriptural woman from the Book of Revelation.
Today, the six visionaries are adults. They live in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Italy and America, although all of them spend some time in Medjugorje each year. Interestingly, none of the visionaries have entered the religious life, as expected. Instead, all are married and are raising children. Whether the seers have elected to lead a quiet, private life, or remain in the public eye, marriage and family is central to their spirituality.
What makes Medjugorje unique?
Marian apparitions are certainly not a new phenomenon. For centuries, the Virgin Mary has been reported to appear and speak to seers around the world, often in the most remote places. Reports of heavenly visitations in modern times, in fact, are occurring at an unprecedented rate. Yet, there is an importance to the Medjugorje phenomenon that merits special attention.
First, unlike "traditional" apparitions which typically occur for a very limited time, the number of visitations of the Virgin in Medjugorje has far exceeded any in history. The Mother of Jesus has literally appeared every day since 1981, entrusting her listeners with over 10,000 messages.
Second, the scope of the messages of Medjugorje is also extraordinary. They are specific and revealing, even incorporating a monthly message for the entire world since 1987. The Virgin affirmed her intentions in Medjugorje in the early years of the phenomenon:
"I wish to keep on giving you messages as it has never been in history, from the beginning of the world." (4/4/85)
The messages of Medjugorje – a call to peace and conversion -- seem to dovetail on previous apparitions. There is speculation that Medjugorje may be the fulfillment of earlier events.
"I have come to call the world to conversion for the last time. Afterwards, I will not appear any more on this earth." (5/2/82)
Why does the Virgin Mary come?
The Virgin comes, the visionaries report, to teach us how to achieve peace in our hearts, in our homes and in the world. Perhaps there has never been a more appropriate time than the present for the world to receive this heavenly instruction.
She comes, they say, to remind the world that God exists. She cautions that darkness reigns over the whole world. This, the Virgin tells us, is because we have turned away from God and have become distracted by the lures of materialism. We have become lukewarm in our faith and have forgotten the Bible.
Therefore, the Mother returns to earth each day, patiently, predictably, in the hopes of reconciling the world back to her Son. Her words of comfort and consolation, correction and guidance and, at times, desperation, have attracted the attention of many. Her words are simple and repetitive, making them temptingly easy to dismiss or underestimate. Few, she tells us, can comprehend the full intent of her words, and none can do so without prayer.
"You are not conscious of the messages which God is sending to you through me. He is giving you great graces, and you do not comprehend them. Pray to the Holy Spirit for enlightenment. If you only knew how great are the graces God is granting you, you would be praying without ceasing." (11/8/84)
As a Mother who loves her children, the Blessed Virgin comes to call her people to holiness, to an abandonment of self for God. Equally important, she comes to warn us of danger and tell us how we can protect ourselves.
The urgency of Our Lady's messages was clarified in the first year of the apparitions. The visionaries were told:
"A great struggle is about to unfold. A struggle between my Son and Satan. Human souls are at stake." (8/2/81)
For the next several years, the Virgin hinted of "a plan." She asked for prayers for this plan, that it be carried out according to God's will. Finally, in early 1987, she revealed the nature of this plan, in her first monthly message to the world:
"Dear children, I want you to comprehend that God has chosen each one of you, in order to use you in a great plan for the salvation of mankind." (1/25/87)
This plan, Our Lady told the seers, cannot be carried out without the help of her children. To defeat Satan in our lives and in the world, the Queen of Peace revealed five important spiritual weapons.
Five Weapons with which to Defeat Satan
1. Our first defense, not surprisingly, is prayer. Prayer, promises the Virgin, can change the world. It is the only way to save the human race. "Pray!" is the most frequent message of Our Lady. In prayer, she says, the spirit is purified. Whether it is the Rosary, formal prayers, silent meditation or prayers of consecration, it is important that prayer not become a mere recitation of words. The Virgin calls us to pray with the heart, to pray with love.
2. The second weapon against the attacks of Satan is the practice of fasting. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are filled with examples of abstaining from food for the purposes of penance and purification. The Virgin informs us that the importance, effectiveness and power of fasting have been all but forgotten, particularly in the past century.
"Fasting and prayer can stop wars and suspend the laws of nature." (7/21/82)
While fasting can consist of giving up earthly pleasures such as alcohol, cigarettes or television, Our Lady tells us that the best fast is one of bread and water. She invites all people, except the sick, to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. Through fasting, the body is purified, and the spirit is once again placed in control of the flesh.
3. The third weapon in our arsenal against darkness is daily scripture reading. The Virgin Mother encourages her children to display the Bible in a visible place in the home, to encourage us to read it everyday and apply it to our lives.
4. Fourth, the Virgin calls us to penance, to atone for our sins and those of the world. For Catholics, this means going to Confession, at least once a month, with a focus on transforming ourselves to become closer to God. Again, this is a practice that has lost much of its significance in the world today. Monthly confession, Our Lady goes as far as saying, will be a remedy for the Church in the West.
5. Finally, the Queen of Peace calls Catholics to receive the Eucharist as often as possible. The Mass, she tells the faithful, is the most important and most holy moment in our lives. It should be our life. Mass is the greatest prayer of God, and we should prepare ourselves accordingly.
If the above five practices are our weapons against evil, our armor, instructs the Queen, must be love. Without love, she says, nothing is possible.
The Queen of Peace Comes to all People
Our Lady has made it clear that the apparitions and messages of Medjugorje are not limited to Catholics only. We are all her children, she tells us. Particularly when pressed by the Croatian visionaries about the oppression and persecution of the Serbian Orthodox and Muslims in their own country, Our Lady answered:
"It is you who are divided on earth. The Muslims and the Orthodox, for the same reason as Catholics, are equal before my Son and me. You are all my children. Certainly, all religions are not equal, but all men are equal before God, as St. Paul says."
"Salvation is available to everyone, without exception. Only those who refuse God deliberately are condemned. It is God alone, in His infinite justice, who determines the degree of responsibility and pronounces judgment." (1984)
Of course, even those who refuse God deliberately can be saved, if they repent before the end of their lives. God's Mercy is available to everyone, even great sinners.
Viewpoint of the Catholic Church
The apparitions of Medjugorje are the source of much discussion and controversy within the Catholic Church. According to Church teaching, apparitions such as these fall under the category of "private revelation." The faithful are not obliged to believe in or follow any particular apparition.
However, since prayerful meditation on approved apparitions has been shown to enhance one's faith and lead a person into deeper relationship with God, the Church carefully scrutinizes reports of supernatural occurrences to test their legitimacy. This process involves an analysis of the visionaries, the documentation of miraculous cures and interventions, and an assessment of the overall fruits of the event.
Since Medjugorje is an ongoing phenomenon, the Church cannot make a formal decision at this time. It is significant, however, that these apparitions have lasted for 23 years and have not been condemned by the Church. While under the watchful eye of the Magisterium, the publicized messages continue to be true to the Gospel and not contradictory to the faith. The fruits appear sound, particularly the numerous spiritual conversions.
Our Lady has been questioned through the visionaries by those who wish to respond to the messages without being disobedient to the Church. She answers:
"One must follow the authority of the Church with certainty. 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." (1986)
Signs and Warnings
Like Fatima, the phenomenon of Medjugorje comes complete with prophesized signs and warnings. However, signs and warnings are not the crux of Medjugorje: conversion is. It is never to late for conversion, even to the last moment of one's life.
By placing too much emphasis on signs and warnings, the overall point of the apparitions can get neglected. Consider the people of Jesus' time who grew impatient waiting for their Savior's "imminent" Second Coming. In a similar fashion, many people who were "converted" through Medjugorje due to messages of future chastisements and supernatural phenomena have become lukewarm believers over time, returning to old habits and lifestyles. In short, conversion that is fear-based instead of love-based, or one that is motivated primarily by sensationalism, is at best difficult to sustain.
However, as the story would be incomplete without it, the following summarizes the prophesized events as these apparitions draw to a close.
Our Lady promised to confide 10 secrets regarding future events to each of the seers. As of this writing, three of the visionaries have received all ten secrets, and see the Virgin once a year. The remaining three visionaries have been given nine secrets each and continue to receive daily visitations.
Some of the secrets have to do with Medjugorje itself, while others seem to foretell of serious chastisements for the world. None of the visionaries are permitted to speak specifically about any of them.
"This century is under the power of the devil, but when the secrets confided to you come to pass, his power will be destroyed. Even now he is beginning to lose his power and has become aggressive. He is destroying marriages, creating division among priests and is responsible for obsessions and murder. You must protect yourselves against these things through fasting and prayers, especially community prayer." (1982)
In addition to the ten secrets, there will also be three public warnings to the world, a final call to conversion and a definitive sign of the authenticity of the messages. One of the visionaries, Mirjana Dragicevic, was told by the Virgin to select a priest in which to entrust these warnings. Mirjana selected Father Petar Ljubicic. At the appropriate time, Mirjana is to give Father Petar a piece of parchment she received from the Lady herself. The writing on this parchment is not decipherable presently.
When Father Petar receives the parchment, he will be able to read the first warning. He is to fast for seven days, and then announce the warning to the world. Three days later, it will occur as prophesized. According to the schedule of Heaven, the next two warnings will be delivered in much the same way.
Following the warnings, the Virgin will leave a permanent and beautiful sign on Apparition Hill, at the place where she first appeared to the children in Medjugorje. The sign will be unchangeable and undeniable.
"Be converted! It will be too late when the sign comes. Beforehand, several warnings will be given to the world. Hurry to be converted. I need your prayers and your penance." (5/25/83)
A Time of Grace
This is, as the Virgin says, a time of grace and blessings, a gift from God. It is His words we are hearing, spoken through His mother. The earth is being renewed in holiness by these apparitions. The time for conversion, for prayer and an increase in holiness is now, not in the future. We must hear the messages and transform them into life today.
"Dear Children! God gives me this time as a gift to you, so that I may instruct and lead you on the path of salvation. You do not comprehend this grace, but soon a time will come when you will lament for these messages." (8/25/97)
The visionaries assure us: the Queen of Peace wants each of us to be happy on earth and, eventually, with her in Heaven. She offers her wayward children the gentlest and most loving of invitations, so we will not be driven away. Painstakingly, she beckons, for an incredible period of more than twenty years. Will the world respond to her divine plan for peace? Only Heaven knows.
"Dear children, when God calls men, it is really a great thing. Think about how it would be sad to let pass those opportunities that God allows without taking them. So do not wait for tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow. Say 'yes' to Jesus now! And may this 'yes!' be forever." (5/16/87)
-- by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Copyright 2003 by Elizabeth Ficocelli