Pope John Paul II “Medjugorje – The Spiritual Heart of the World”
By Daniel Klimek, March 13, 2010 – http://www.ministryvalues.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=863&Itemid=125
Pope John Paul II once powerfully observed, “Today’s world has lost its sense of the supernatural, but many are searching for it –and find it in Medjugorje, through prayer, penance, and fasting.” The late pontiff and future saint, his holiness, spoke these words on August 1, 1989,while addressing a group of Italian physicians studying the apparitions in Medjugorje with medical and scientific investigations.
It is no secret within Rome that John Paul II absolutely loved Medjugorje, once even acquiring the nickname “Protector of Medjugorje” within the Vatican. Even eminent American intellectuals were no strangers to this reality. The great Franciscan intellectual, Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, himself an investigator of supernatural phenomena, once admitted about John Paul II in a revealing interview: “I can tell you for a fact that the pope loves Medjugorje from afar and would go there in a minute if the theologians would let him.”
While it is known that the late Polish pope never personally visited Medjugorje, what is less known is that throughout the last two decades of his life Pope John Paul II held personal meetings and correspondences with Medjugorje visionaries, Medjugorje priests, even Medjugorje inner locutionaries, and numerous pro-Medjugorje bishops. His enthusiasm and love for Medjugorje’s mystics was overwhelming and filled with abundant respect and a joyful beauty overcome with hope. One such example is when Medjugorje visionary, Mirjana Dragicevic Soldo, met with John Paul II. She once shared the details behind this poignant, and somewhat humorous, encounter while addressing a group of pilgrims:
“I personally had a such a great honor to be able to speak with late Pope John Paul II. That was so beautiful. I was in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome with all other pilgrims. Pope as he was walking by, he was blessing everybody. He blessed me and just walked away. And then this Italian priest I was with said ‘Holy Father, this is Mirjana from Medjugorje.’ He came back, blessed me again and he left. And I said to this priest, ‘Father, you see he just thinks that I need a double blessing’ [laughter]. However, in the afternoon we received an invitation tomorrow morning to come to Castelgondolfo, close to Rome in order to talk to Holy Father. I don’t have to tell you that I couldn’t sleep all night. Tomorrow when I reached the place, he saw that I was so excited. We were alone and then he started talking to me in Polish. He thought I would understand because both are Slavic languages. He wanted to make me feel comfortable but I didn’t understand a word because it’s not even close to our language. However, I was crying and I couldn’t catch a breath to say a word. So when I finally succeeded to say a word, I said ‘Holy Father, can we try in Italian ?’ [laughter]. Then we talked and among other things he said to me, ‘If I were not Pope, I would be in Medjugorje a long time ago. I know everything, I have been following everything. Ask pilgrims to pray for my intentions. And take good care of Medjugorje because Medjugorje is the hope for the entire world…’ ”
Beyond such personal words of encouragement and trust for the visionaries and the fruits of faith at Medjugorje, Pope John Paul II frequently displayed his appreciation in officially signed papal blessings as well. Two such official blessings were given by John Paul II to Fr. Jozo Zovko, O.F.M., the pastor in St. James Church at Medjugorje when the apparitions began, and to Vicka Ivankovic, one of the Medjugorje visionaries who still receives daily apparitions. Vicka, like Mirjana, has also personally met with the Holy Father in Rome, exchanging gifts and warm sentiments of faith. The official blessing she received from the late pope hangs on her wall, beautifully framed, in her home.
Fr. Jozo met with Pope John Paul II in 1992, in the midst of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. John Paul II’s words to Fr. Jozo were striking: “I am with you, protect Medjugorje! Protect Our Lady’s messages!” The passion and urgency of the Holy Father’s words for the protection of Medjugorje make clear how much the holy site, as to millions of Catholics, meant to him.
That Our Lady is appearing in Medjugorje, the Holy Father had little doubt about. The papal blessing he signed and gave to Fr. Jozo read:
“I grant from the heart a particular blessing to Father Jozo Zovko, O.F.M. and I invoke a new outpouring of graces and heavenly favors, and the continuous protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Joannes Paulus II.”
The Holy Father’s own knowledge of Medjugorje and the major figures surrounding the events there was very impressive. Often his knowledge extended beyond the facts that many Medjugorje devotees may even know. For instance, most Medjugorje followers know that there are six visionaries. However, fewer may know that, in addition to the original six children who reported experiencing apparitions of Our Lady in 1981, two also reported experiencing interior locutions (locution cordis), the mystical grace of seeing and hearing Our Lady in an interior way – through the heart, especially when in prayer. Jelena and Marijana Vasilj, distant cousins, were the two youngsters who reported experiencing this grace. At Medjugorje, they acquired the nickname of “the seers of the second generation,” being ten year-old girls (compared to the older visionaries) during the beginning periods of the apparitions.
Of course, such idiosyncratic distinctions, between young mystics who received apparitions and those who received inner locutions—while perhaps a bit perplexing to many observers—were no problem for John Paul II to discern. He didn’t miss a beat. In 1988, John Paul II received a group of Croatian Catholics into his private chapel in Rome. He instantly recognized two members of the group from photographs he had witnessed. Approaching the two young girls, he said, “Ah yes, Jelena and Marijana, who have the interior locutions.” John Paul II greeted the girls warmly and stared into their eyes for some time with much amusement.
Today, both Jelena and Marijana are, of course, mature women. Jelena’s path has especially been interesting. Traveling to the United States for her undergraduate studies, she completed her B.A. at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, Jelena returned to Rome where she pursued a doctorate in theology at the Gregorian University, always displaying a sophisticated mind with a deep appreciation for the Catholic faith.
Only two years after the pope met with “the seers of the second generation,” John Paul II sent his friend and confidant, Bishop Paul Hnilica, S.J., then Auxiliary Bishop of Rome, to accompany Marija Pavlovic, another Medjugorje visionary, on a visit to Russia. Bishop Hnilica continually told Marija how much the pope wished to visit Medjugorje. Similarly to the words John Paul II gave to visionary Mirjana Soldo during their meeting, the Bishop emphasized how the Holy Father explained to him: “If I wasn’t the Pope, I’d be in Medjugorje already!”
Many bishops from around the world have had similar encounters with John Paul II on the topic of Medjugorje. In June 1986, in response to a group of twelve Italian bishops seeking advice on pilgrims traveling to Medjugorje, the pope recognized the indisputable fruits of faith present in the village: “Let the people go to Medjugorje,” he said, “if they convert, pray, confess, do penance and fast.”
Similarly, in April 15, 1990, the National Catholic Reporter quoted Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer of San Angelo, Texas. Bishop Pfeifer explained:
“During my Ad Lumina visit to Rome with the Bishops of Texas in April 1988, I asked our Holy Father his opinion about Medjugorje during the private conversation I had with him. He spoke very favorably about the happenings there, pointing out the good which had been done for people. During the lunch which the Texas Bishops later had with the Holy Father, Medjugorje came up for further discussion. Again His Holiness spoke of how it has changed the lives of people who visit it, and said that so far the messages are not contrary to the Gospel.”
Likewise, during his Mass Homily at the Notre Dame Conference on Medjugorje delivered on May 14, 1989, Bishop S. Treinen, Bishop of Boise, Idaho, related a conversation he once had with John Paul II:
“In the course of it [our conversation] I said: ‘Holy Father, I have just come from Medjugorje. There are wonderful things going on there.’ The Pope replied: ‘Yes, it’s good for pilgrims to go to Medjugorje and pray and do penance. It’s good.’ That’s first hand, I heard him say it myself.”
In February 1990, Bishop Murilo Krieger, then Auxiliary Bishop of Florianopolis, Brazil, reported a conversation with John Paul II about the apparitions, wherein the pope enthusiastically told him: “Medjugorje is a great center of spirituality!” Not only that but the Holy Father also happily assented to Bishop Krieger’s request, giving his papal blessings to the visionaries. Bishop Krieger explained:
“In1988, I was with eight other bishops and thirty three priests on spiritual retreat in the Vatican. The Holy Father knew that many of us were going to Medjugorje afterwards. After a private mass with the Pope, before leaving Rome, he said, without having been asked anything, ‘Pray for me in Medjugorje.’ On another occasion, I told the Pope ‘I am going to Medjugorje for the fourth time. ’He concentrated his thoughts and said, ‘Medjugorje, Medjugorje, it`s the spiritual heart of the world.’ On the same day I spoke with other Brazilian bishops and the Pope at lunch time and I asked him: ‘Your holiness, can I tell the visionaries that you send your blessing?’ He answered: ‘Yes yes,’ and embraced me.”
In addition to Pope John Paul II’s overwhelming support, in recent years Medjugorje has acquired some very influential supporters in Roman Catholic circles. Critics of Medjugorje, from the bishop of Mostar to German theologian Manfred Hauke, are given a lot of media attention. But what is noteworthy is how many cardinals have voiced their affection for the shrine, including Cardinals Tonini Ersilio, Emmanuel Wamala, Jean Margeot, Frantisek Tomasek and, most recently, his eminence Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, the Archbishop of Vienna who visited Medjugorje as a pilgrim for Christmas 2009. Even theologians have shown their appreciation. The French theologian Fr. Rene Laurentin and the Swiss theologian and cardinal Hansursvon Balthasar have been open Medjugorje supporters. Balthasar, in addition to being arguably the most eminent theologian of the twentieth century, is also known for co-founding—with his friend Joseph Ratzinger (the current Pope), and with others—the Catholic journal Communio. He frequently referred to the events happening at Medjugorje as “a theater of holiness.”
Most recently, the popular American priest, Fr. Donald Calloway of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, published his autobiography, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy. Fr. Calloway is the vocation director for the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, the author of numerous books, and a leading proponent of the Divine Mercy devotions of St. Faustina Kowalska. It was a book about Medjugorje, The Queen of Peace Visits Medjugorje, which led to Calloway’s famous conversion, going from an agnostic and destructive youth wrestling with addiction, promiscuous sex, and illegal crime to someone who found hope, peace, and meaning in Medjugorje, leading to the priesthood and to his current life of spiritual maturity and personal unity with Christ and Our Lady.
The messages and fruits of Medjugorje have reached an innumerable amount of people. From the faithful millions who have visited the village to the millions who have read about it, to some of the most influential members of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II, who many Catholics believe was a mystic himself, had a special relationship (in his immense spirituality and in his devotion to Our Lady) with Medjugorje. He asked others to protect Medjugorje and he believed that Medjugorje was the fulfillment of Fatima.
Monsignor Angelo Kim, President of the Korean Bishops’ Conference, once wrote about his encounter with John Paul II in the Korean national weekly newspaper, Catholic News, in 1990. Prior to the conclusion of the last Bishops’ Synod in Rome, the Korean bishops were invited to a lunch with John Paul II. Msgr. Kim addressed the Holy Father directly and said, “Father, thanks to you, Poland was able to liberate itself from Communism.” To this, the Holy Father responded, “No, this is not my merit. This is the work of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as She had predicted in Fatima and in Medjugorje.”
As mentioned, in the Vatican he was known as the “Protector of Medjugorje.” In reality, this relationship was mutual. According to the testimony of the Medjugorje visionaries, on May 13, 1982, on the anniversary of the Fatima apparitions and on the occasion of an assassination attempt on John Paul II’s life, Our Lady said, “His enemies tried to kill him, but I have protected him.”