On a Hill Far Away.....
THE MESSAGE AND MIRACLES OF MEDJUGORJE
by Edgar L. Havaich
Two young men and four young women from Medjugorje, Yugoslavia,
claimed that since 1981, they have communicated with an
apparition that identifies itself as Mary, the Virgin Mother of
Jesus Christ, the Queen of Peace.
The reports of these apparitions have drawn an estimated 15
million people to this town of about 400 families in central
Yugoslavia. Some come hoping to get closer to God. Some come
seeking healing. Some are curious. Some are skeptical.
Some leave claiming they have received healing. Others report
renewed religious fervor. Others leave convinced the whole thing
is a fraud.
The Medjugorje saga began on June 24, 1981. According to an
article titled "A Call To Peace" (Fred Lilly, New Covenant maga-
zine, Oct. 1984), the story goes as such:
"One afternoon in late June 1981, two teenage girls were walking
together near the town of Medjugorje, in a rural section of
Yugoslavia. Suddenly one of the girls, Ivanka Ivankovic [Elez],
was startled by something she saw on a hillside nearby. It was a
human figure bathed in bright light. 'Look,' she shouted to her
companion, Mirjana Dragicevic, 'the Madonna.'
'Why would the Madonna appear to us?' Mirjana replied, refusing
to even look in the direction of the light.
Meanwhile, a friend named Vicka Ivankovic was walking on the same
road, looking for Ivanka and Mirjana. As she came upon them she
too saw the bright figure on the mountainside. 'Look at the
Madonna,' she cried. Then, frightened, she ran back toward the
Thus began what are claimed to be appearances of the Virgin Mary
to young members of St. James Parish in Medjugorje. Only the
latest in a series of claimed apparitions in this century, the
events in Medjugorje have attracted worldwide attention. Almost
every day ... the town has been jammed with pilgrims, reporters,
and the curious. Articles and books on the event have appeared
in many countries, the name of Medjugorje is now known to
hundreds of thousands of people around the world."
The article goes on to tell how the children returned to the
hill the next day along with other children and several adults.
Again they saw the apparition and approached it. When they got
within six feet of it, the children were thrown to the ground.
Then the figure told them that June 25 is to be commemorated as
the feast of Mary, the Queen of Peace.
The grandmother of one of the children suggested throwing holy
water at the figure to determine if it was from the devil. The
water was thrown but the figure remained, a sign that it was not
demonic. Then the children asked the figure to identify itself.
The figure said she was the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The apparitions continued. Each day people came to the hill.
Some said they saw a light, but only the six children said they
saw the figure.
The parish priest of Medjugorje, Rev. Jozo Zovko, did not
believe the children at first. However, he said that one day
while he was praying he felt God told him to protect the
children. As he got up off his knees from praying and opened the
door of the church, the children came running around the corner
with the police in hot pursuit. The priest sent the children to
his home and then misdirected the police to the village. This
episode convinced Zovko that the children's story was true.
Zovko was jailed for 18 months for defending the children.
During his term, he was sent to work in a local furniture
factory, where he suffered hearing damage. Some call him "the
first martyr of Medjugorje."
Local authorities said people could no longer assemble on the
hill. The apparitions then moved to St. James, the village
church, where they have remained since.
The visions come in three phases. The youths begin by standing
and reciting several "Our Fathers" (the Lord's Prayer), "Hail
Marys" and "Glory Bes." Immediately upon the appearance of the
Virgin the youths kneel. Phase one consists of contemplation or
inaudible conversation with the apparition. Not all of the
visionaries converse with the Virgin. The second phase includes
prayer by all of the visionaries with the Virgin. During this
phase the youths' voices are audible. The final phase is the
return to contemplation or inaudible conversation with the
apparition. The Virgin then departs and the vision is over.
The message of Medjugorje is claimed to be a message for all
faiths. Rev. Michael O'Conner, a Roman Catholic priest, says the
Medjugorje message will harmonize Catholics and Protestants.
Some Protestant reporters claim to have had supernatural
experiences after coming to Medjugorje only with the intent of
writing a report on the visions. One such reporter, Wayne A.
Weible, now spreads the Medjugorje message full time.
The message can be summarized as "Peace, Conversion (some
publications say commitment to God), Faith, Prayer, Penance and
Fasting." The Queen of Peace newsletter (Vol. 1, No. 2)
describes several of the above points:
PEACE: "Peace is the central message of Medjugorje. June 25th is
to be dedicated to Mary as Queen of Peace. It is her peace that
is to be the carrier and agent of reconciliation."
COMMITMENT TO GOD: "He is our Creator and Lord; hence we must
accept Him as the undisputed Number One in our lives. According-
ly we are to renounce our sinful ways and aim constantly at God's
love and service. To this end Our Lady urges Catholics to go to
Confession at least once a month."
FAITH: "It needs to be deep, strong, total, unhesitating, big-
hearted. Nothing pleases her more, the Madonna of Medjugorje has
told us, than to hear us reciting her favorite prayers: the creed
(that is, the formula of faith)."
PRAYER: "All of us are exhorted to pray more and better.... And
everyone (this applies especially to the priests) is recommended
to say the rosary."
FASTING: "The mother of God reminds us that all penance and
fortification is sanctifying and draws special favors from God.
Fasting should be done twice a week and Wednesdays and Fridays
are suggested. The best way to fast is on bread and water
These messages generally conflict with biblical Christian
teaching. The Bible never tells us to make God or Jesus No. 1 in
our lives. Jesus Christ is simply to be our life (Colossians 3:4)
with no room for No. 2 or No. 3. The Virgin's instruction on
confession suggests her message is essentially to Roman Catho-
Christians should be concerned with pleasing God, and no one
else. The Bible urges us to pray without ceasing. This sounds
like the Pharisees who thought they were heard for their
multitudes of words. The instruction regarding the rosary again
suggests the Roman Catholic emphasis.
The apparition's messages are shallow and unspecific. For
example, she tells people to surrender themselves to God and
pray that Satan will not carry them around like branches in the
wind. She desires that people love all men with her love. She
wants people to surrender to her so she can lead them to God.
Some of the messages attack a key aspect of Christianity: its
claim to be the exclusive way of spiritual salvation. Devotees
say the apparition told the visionaries that all faiths lead to
God. Another message had to do with a devout Moslem whom Mary
said was close to sainthood. When Mary was questioned on the
woman's religious views, Mary responded that this was for God to
Rev. Paul Zanic, the Bishop of Mostar, the diocese in which St.
James Parish is located, says "The message is a ho-hum message -
yawn - six kiddies from 10 to 17 years say that they have seen
Mary, the mother of Jesus. There are 117 ongoing apparitions of
the Blessed Virgin Mary being examined now by the Vatican, so
what's new? This message is not new; peace through prayer and
penance." ("'Miracles Of Medjugorje': Two Priests' View," St.
Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 26, 1988, pg. 5D)
What then is the Medjugorje appeal? Judging from some
testimonies, one appeal is the feeling of peace one gets at the
site. Some people even report going through withdrawal after
There is another aspect to the Medjugorje appeal, a mystery
that surrounds the events. According to Medjugorje lore, two of
the six visionaries is to receive 10 secrets from Mary. The
messages pertain to the Roman Catholic Church and the future of
humanity. Two visionaries already have received their 10 secrets
and no longer receive daily visitations. However, one of the two
still has them on birthdays and other special occasions. The
other has visits on the anniversary of the apparition. The
remaining four visionaries have received nine secrets. (The
Apparitions of Medjugorje, The Riehle Foundation; also see Queen
of Peace newsletter, Vol. 1 No. 2.)
The visionaries already have revealed one of the secrets. It
pertains to a sign on the hill where the apparition first appeared.
This is going to be a visible sign, says the apparition. The
apparition says: "This sign will be given for the atheists. You
faithful already have signs and you have to become the sign for the
atheists. You faithful must not wait for the sign before you
convert; convert soon. This time is a time of grace for you. You
can never thank God enough for his grace. The time is for deep-
ening your faith and for your conversion. When the sign comes,
it will be too late for many." (Miracle at Medjugorje, pg. 2)
The sign will be visible, permanent and will be used to convert
Mary the Prophet
Finally, there is a prophetic element to the Medjugorje message.
"We believe that Our Lord is sending His Mother Mary to us as a
prophet," says the Rev. John Vargas. "Like Elisha, Mary brings with
her Our Lord's instructions for our cure." ("The Living Message,"
The Mir Response, pg. 9)
But no biblical prophet ever demanded the attention this appa-
rition has sought. She has taken center stage. We are to be
reconciled to her and spread her message. That contradicts Jesus'
message. He told us to go into all the world and make disciples.
Ever since that first sighting, Medjugorje has been a point of
contention in the Roman Catholic Church. One priest, who was born
there and knows the youths, has been labeled a traitor by fellow
Franciscan priests because of his criticism of the Medjugorje events.
The Rev. Ivo Sivric calls the happenings "a pious initiative
gone wrong, and now they don't know how to stop it." Sivric
adds, "You get the impression from the children that the Blessed
Virgin Mary is a wise woman, that Jesus Christ is angry all the
time and that the Blessed Virgin Mary comes along and prevents
this angry God from being an angry God all the time."
"That is not what Christianity teaches," Sivric says. He has
written a book, The Hidden Face of Medjugorje, in which he tells
his conclusions on the Medjugorje affair.
Sivric says his book deals with discrepancies in the visionaries
reports of their visions. For example, the visionaries have all told
about receiving 10 secrets. Originally there were only to be five
secrets, the book says. On June 30, 1981, the children said the
Madonna would appear three more times. It is now 1990 and four of the
six still report daily apparitions. Sivric sees the events at
Medjugorje as a serious problem. He sees materialism sweeping the
community. "They were tobacco and grape farmers, closely tied to the
land, and now they are involved in a completely new life. The people
don't go to Church; they wait on tourists. The neighboring villagers
don't go. All of these stories about the people crawling on their
knees to Medjugorje is simply folklore. The (Yugoslavian) people who
are good Catholics are not going on pilgrimage." (Post-Dispatch, pg.
Sivric wrote another book on the peasants of the Medjugorje region.
He tells of how they love to recite and create epic poetry, tales
of heroes and romance - in short, myth.
He suggests that the young seers are carrying on a centuries-
old tradition of myth-making. He said "It would be in keeping
with the character of the peasants of the region for the
children's tale to have started as a comedy, just as fun. Now it
is impossible to stop it. Many people are asking me, if that is
so, how can it keep going on for eight years? In my opinion, the
visionaries are like hostages of the village with its new pros-
Bishop Zanic likewise takes a dim view of the events and does
not think anything supernatural is happening at Medjugorje. At
first he was enthusiastic about the visions. Today he calls them
demonic. He says he thinks it is all a deception staged by the
Franciscans. The bishop says all these people could have stayed
home and prayed.
Signs and Wonders
Along with the reported apparitions there also comes the testi-
monies of those who say they have witnessed a "sign." The signs
vary, some say their rosaries turned to gold. Others report
healings. Some tell of a 15-ton stone cross that spun around
until its beams disappeared.
The most talked-about is the "miracle of the sun." The sun is
said to dance, spin, pulsate, even turn into a communion host.
Some say they have seen Mary standing on the sun. Others say it
In 1986, Sivric interviewed 200 people in Medjugorje and con-
cluded that the purported miracles were the result of "atmospher-
ic conditions in the mountainous region." He said the pilgrims
have read so much, heard so much, that they are psychologically
prepared for something to happen." (Post-Dispatch pg. 1D)
Some who have gone to Medjugorje have returned not with healing
but with physical affliction. An article in the May issue of the New
England Journal of Medicine cites doctors from Phoenix reporting two
cases of eye damage suffered from the "miracle of the sun" at
Medjugorje. A recent documentary, Medjugorje: Its Miracles and Its
Message, said one caller from Florida reported being blinded by
Medjugorje sun-staring and another losing sight for the same reason.
One last blow to the credibility of the Medjugorje visions is the
story of Ivanka Elez's (formerly Ivankovic) request to see her dead
mother. The apparition granted her wish and Ivanka was momentarily
held by her mother, who then vanished. This is necromancy, a
practice the Bible condemns (see Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Isaiah
8:19; 1 Chronicles 10:13,14; and Luke 16:19-31, esp. vs. 27-29).
Christians don't need an apparition of the Virgin Mary to give
them instruction. Neither do they need six youths to transmit
The Bible tells us whom God sent to teach Christians. In John
14:26, Jesus says, "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom
the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and
bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto
The Gospel has not changed in 2000 years. Messages from a hill
in Yugoslavia cannot replace the message conveyed on that hill
outside Jerusalem the day Jesus paid the price for all our sins.
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