Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Croatian Bishop's Conference Official Bulletin - Glas Koncila - Common Question on "Pilgrimages" to Medjugorje

Recently looking through articles at the official bulletin of the Croatian Bishop's Conference - Glas Koncila (Voice of the Council), I found this question and answer among the "Common Questions" (Opća pitanja). I wrote to Glas Koncila asking them if they could provide a date when this went onto the website. It seemed as if the question was written on April 9th, but a few days later, it read April 12 (meaning the date shown was the current date).  I got quick response from Glas Koncila that it appeared in the February 2001 issue.  The fact that this particular question remains on the website, means they are still receiving these sorts of questions, thus "common" (or FAQ). 

It is offered here in English, not only as a record, but because it contains good information in general about the nature of pilgrimages (what may be defined as a pilgrimage and what may not), who can organize them, and what should and should not happen on them.  Another interesting question is answered within this one on vegetarianism.

My emphases in bold. Summary and notes at the bottom.

Here is a translation of: Doživjela sam duhovni teror na putu za Međugorje; zar crkvena vlast to ne može spriječiti?

I experienced spiritual terror on the way to Medjugorje; can’t church authorities prevent that?

[Full Question]On a bus going to Medjugorje I experienced surprise and scandal. On the way a lady guide, who leads such pilgrimages as a private person, allegedly healed sick people by the laying on of hands and cast out evil spirits from some of them. The scenes were in bad taste. Some of the passengers on whom she carried out her rituals went into an obviously abnormal state, but for her that was a sign that the Devil had really gone out of them.

Among the passengers there happened to be some vegetarians who requested a meal without meat. The guide in front of everyone insultingly accused them of being heretics, followers of Sai Baba and similar non-Christian sects. She herself at the same time wore us out with her smoking.

Don’t church authorities have control over such cases?

A female reader

[Glas Koncila]The case is indeed disturbing and urges certain clarifications. The person involved may not be considered the leader of a pilgrimage, nor may trips like that such as she organizes be called pilgrimages. Real pilgrimages must be within the organization of a church institution or association.

When talking about Medjugorje, it is understood that every believer alone or in a group can go there to pray, but motivated only by personal devotion. Church authorities have not confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions taking place there and church institutions can not invite the faithful on pilgrimage for the reason of Our Lady’s apparitions. There are no such problems when it comes to pilgrimages to other recognized Marian churches, for example, Marija Bistrica, Trsat, Aljmaš and others which have been declared to be Marian shrines and holy place where the faithful can pray and receive the gifts of grace, even though at those places there was neither recognized nor disputed apparitions.

We can not close our eyes to the fact that many believers from our homeland and from the world are going to Medjugorje as though on pilgrimage believing in the apparitions of Our Lady there. No one can forbid that to them nor call it a sin; it is always possible for devout prayers to bear good fruit. But for the reasons mentioned above, those cannot be an official pilgrimages that church representatives would lead. Therefore, it is indeed possible that self-styled organizers set to work and lead those kind of pilgrimages. Some of them without any kind of supervision of church authorities, as witnessed in the above example, can behave altogether arbitrarily, in bad taste and inappropriately spiritually terrorize the faithful who have trusted them. Obviously, those who wish to go to Medjugorje for devotional reasons should be warned not to accept any kind of spiritual guide during the journey. If some travel agency arranges that kind of trip because there are those who are interested, that cannot be forbidden to it, but even it does not have the right to arrange any kind of spiritual leader. The faithful, if it is appropriate, can also pray customary prayers together on the way, but in no way accept extraordinary acts of alleged healings and exorcisings of the Devil. When they reach their goal, they can participate in the devotions that the local spiritual caregivers lead, assuming that they are under the supervision of higher church authorities and that they are acting in accordance with church regulations. If they notice something quite otherwise, they should refrain from it.

This is also an opportunity to recall that our bishops, while once admitting that they did not find evidence for official recognition of the apparitions, were still, independent of that, determined, to provide the faithful who come there the ability to perform appropriate devotions and have reception of the sacraments and that is why the church authorities should help and keep control. Should it come to a serious implementation of that second part of the decision of our bishops, maybe one could find a way to prevent really scandalous cases like the one you experienced. It is a particularly crude abuse of devout intentions and could scandalize the well-meaning faithful and show our faith in the most ugly and corrupt light to those who are not of the faith.

As for vegetarianism, it must be said that there are also vegetarians among the most orthodox, that it is not a religion but a discipline of living, indeed a kind of permanent abstinence that should be commended even if we ourselves do not wish to undertake it. As long as religious parties do not find legally acceptable and appropriate precautions feasible, such would-be pilgrimages will be possible in which it will be able to experience also such deviant people who obviously have no basic knowledge of Catholic faith and spirituality. [Private translation by Fr. Philip Pavic, OFM]

Note: The Croatian Bishop's Conference speaks in a way that reflects the fact that the bishops of Croatia and BiH were once one conference in the former Yugoslavia.  Hence, the language: "Should it come to a serious implementation of that second part of the decision of our bishops, maybe one could find a way to prevent really scandalous cases like the one you experienced."

Main points with additional notes
  • Trips to Medjugorje by individuals or groups are not considered pilgrimages since the phenomenon is not recognized as authentic, nor has the site been approved as a "shrine" or "sanctuary" such as other places named. Church institutions and associations, or those going as representatives may not lead group visits.
  • Individuals or groups may go to Medjugorje "motivated only by personal devotion".
  • In 1987 Cardinal Kuharic stated in the Glas Koncila: "it is not permitted to organize either pilgrimages or other religious manifestations based on an alleged supernatural character attributed to Medjugorje's events."
  • On March 23, 1996 (Prot. No. 154/81-01985), then Archbishop Bertone wrote: "...official pilgrimages to Medjugorje, understood as a place of authentic Marian apparitions, are not permitted to be organized either on the parish or on the diocesan level..."
  • On August 21, 1996, then Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls explains why: "...The problem is if you systematically organize pilgrimages, organize them with the bishop and the church, you are giving a canonical sanction to the facts of Medjugorje ..."
  • Finally, on May 26, 1998 (Pr. No 154/81-05922) Archbishop Bertone writes: "...they are permitted on condition that they are not regarded as an authentification of events still taking place and which still call for an examination by the Church..."
  • It may not be forbidden or considered sinful for people to visit Medjugorje, as though on pilgrimage. [many who do this are unaware of the distinction, some being misled by tour companies and promoter sites].
  • Devout prayers of visitors is what bears fruit (along with the Sacraments, as pointed out later)
  • Since the current status of Medjugorje does not permit official pilgrimages organized by representatives of Church institutions or associations, other private organizations may be leading them.
  • These tour guides are not under any kind of supervision by Church authorities.
  • Advises against getting involved with "spiritual guides" on such tours.
  • Customary prayers may be prayed along the way (this means devotions according to the teachings of the Church, such as the Rosary, and other approved prayers).
  • Those visiting should not accept, "extraordinary acts of alleged healings and exorcisings of the Devil"
  • Upon arriving in Medjugorje, visitors may participate in devotions led by local spiritual caregivers, "assuming that they are under the supervision of higher church authorities and that they are acting in accordance with church regulations." And, they should refrain from anything to the contrary.  This goes back to the authority given to the local bishop in the 1991 Zadar Declaration when it said (my emphases in bold; comments bracketed in red):
Yet the gathering of the faithful from various parts of the world to Medjugorje, inspired by reasons of faith or other motivesrequire the pastoral attention and care, first of all, of the local Bishop and then of the other bishops with him, so that in Medjugorje and all connected with it, a healthy devotion towards the Blessed Virgin Mary according to the teachings of the Church may be promoted [Note: Marialis Cultus does not have a provision for devotions based on alleged apparitions which have not gained approval at any level of the Church. Hence, devotions based on the alleged apparition, which have not been approved for use by ecclesial authority, are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church]. The Bishops will also provide special liturgical and pastoral directives corresponding to this aim. At the same time, they will continue to study all the events of Medjugorje through the commissions. [Bishop Peric has provided pastoral and liturgical directives here, here, here and here among other places, and his 2006 homily (third link) was acknowledged by the CDF when it advised the Bishops of Tuscany to share it with priests of the diocese.]
  • Independent of the question of authenticity, which was never acknowledged to date and is a question now being handled by the new commission, the Croatian Bishops again acknowledge the second part - the ability of people to go there for devotions.
  •  The Croatian bishops then affirm the authority of the local bishop when they say, "...the church authorities should help and keep control...." and then in pretty strong terms point out: "Should it come to a serious implementation of that second part of the decision of our bishops, maybe one could find a way to prevent really scandalous cases like the one you experienced" 
  • Points to the fact abuses such as the one depicted in the question, "could scandalize the well-meaning faithful and show our faith in the most ugly and corrupt light to those who are not of the faith"

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