The Pope, Medjugorje and messages from heaven

The issue of Medjugorje can be a divisive one within the Church, writes Michael Kelly

The issue of Medjugorje can be a divisive one within the Church; anyone who works in the Catholic media will tell you that.

Those who are devotees understandably feel passionate about the issue. Lots of Irish people have gone to the village and had enriching spiritual experiences there, some people also speak of healing attributed to the intercession of Our Lady at Medjugorje.

Many who have been to Medjugorje believe that the Mother of God appears there on a regular basis. Some 30,000 Irish people travel to the shrine every year and the alleged ‘seers’ of Medjugorje regularly pack out venues around Ireland when they come to speak.

Alleged visions

On the other hand, there are those within the Church who dismiss the alleged visions of Medjugorje as a fraud. A 1991 Church commission found no evidence of “supernatural apparitions and revelations” and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is now studying the matter. Many people expect that Pope Francis will then issue a definitive ruling asserting the Church’s position on Medjugorje.

At the very least the Vatican seems concerned about some elements of the Medjugorje phenomenon. The Pope’s representative in the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano recently wrote to bishops there telling them that Catholics should not attend events where the alleged visionaries of Medjugorje promise apparitions from Our Lady.

I was in Rome this past week and Pope Francis is continuing his practice of giving short homilies during morning Masses in the Vatican residence where he has decided to live.

One particular homily caused a little bit of a buzz among Vatican officials with many people interpreting the Pope’s comments as a swipe at Medjugorje.

Now, the Pope didn’t mention Medjugorje by name, but he did warn that purported visions of Mary, if taken in the wrong spirit, can sow confusion and distance people from the Gospel.


“Curiosity pushes us to want to hear that the Lord is here or over there, or it makes us say, ‘Well, I know a visionary who receives letters from Our Lady, messages from Our Lady,’” the Pope said. But Mary is “not a postmaster of the post office sending out messages every day.”

The spirit of curiosity is what makes people want to “take control of God’s plans, of the future, of things, to know everything, take on everything,” he said.

Was the Pope referring to Medjugorje? Well, we can’t be certain. But, many seasoned Vatican-watchers certainly think he was.

Medjugorje aside, maybe the Pope is making a wider point in his remarks, getting at a tendency sometimes present among Catholics that can lead to a misunderstand religion as a form of magic or superstition.

I’m always disturbed by the near-hysteria that grips Ireland from time-to-time when people claim to be receiving visions from Heaven. Whether it’s Joe Coleman asking people to stare directly at the sun in Knock (never a good idea as any ophthalmologist will tell you), the alleged appearance of an image of Our Lady on a tree stump in Rathkeale or ‘moving statues’ in Ballinspittle, many people are fascinated, gripped even, and travel vast distances.

How many pass by a church where we believe the real presence of God among us, the Eucharist, is reserved in the tabernacle? It is as if the desire to see ‘something more’ is compelling. How can it be that people will flock to look at a tree stump when many of our churches are empty for large parts of the day?