by Marco Corvaglia
§ 1. Introduction
Even today, proponents of Medjugorje must somehow come to terms with the uncomfortable opposition of him who was Bishop of Mostar at the time when the phenomenon began, Msgr. Pavao Žanić.
And so, hundreds of thousands of people that every year go to that spot heard that at one point the communist government allegedly intervened and threatened the bishop, inducing him to become an opponent of Medjugorje.
Actually, these are just slanders. It can be categorically excluded that Msgr. Žanić submitted to any pressure from the police, as we shall see: on the contrary, he challenged the regime until the end.
Msgr. Žanić, who met all the seers in Medjugorje on 21 July 1981, remained favorably impressed, but began to be puzzled after having twice met (14 January and 4 April 1982) privately, in Mostar, Vicka and Jakov, who seriously and irreconcilably contradicted themselves (see: The Gospa and Instigation to Insubordination). Since that time, the bishop began to change his mind.
But, before continuing, let us know about Msgr. Pavao Žanić and listen to a statement made by him (in Italian) in this video, dating back to the beginning of 1984:
I think: if I’m guilty, I deserve the bottom of Hell. But I can not pass over all these…deceptions, I think. All these revelations, according to me, are by Father Vlašić. He knows what to tell all the world.
Perhaps he is a saint and I am damned, I don’t know. I am waiting on the Grace or a sign by Our Lady in order to believe.
This way, I can not believe.
In time and following the events one upon another, his insight deepened.
§ 2. The Communists and Medjugorje
But what was, at that time, the real attitude of the communist regime in the face of Medjugorje?
It is a fundamental issue, which is also connected to the subject of the alleged long years of persecution towards the visionaries, according to the uncritical pro-Medjugorje historiography.
In fact, in the parish document Chronicle of the Apparitions, which carefully reported everything that was happening every day to the seers, there is no trace whatsoever of persecution directed at them.
They were repeatedly interrogated, but, unlike what happened to their parish priest Jozo Zovko, harsh measures were never taken against them, nor against their parents, brothers and sisters.
The Medjugorje Franciscan Fr. Zrinko Čuvalo, one year after the beginning of the phenomenon, reported to the Italian journalist Gianfranco Fagiuoli that "from June 24, 1981 to June 24, 1982 the number of faithful who came on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje exceeded one million, with an average of over three thousand a day" [Gianfranco Fagiuoli, Le apparizioni della Madonna di Medjugorje, Peruzzo, Milan, 1985, p. 23]. This is clearly incompatible with the idea of a severe repression (although the numbers provided by the Franciscan can not be precise, of course).
This video documents the remarkable flood of pilgrims in June 1982:
The historical record shows that the hostility of the Government towards the Medjugorje phenomenon tended to visibly decline, albeit with undeniable oscillations, and the first softening came a few months after the beginning of the phenomenon.
The change was due, especially at a later time, to proven economic reasons that the government never took the trouble to hide very much.
In confirmation of all this, one could cite several testimonies of that time, all by supporters of Medjugorje and therefore above suspicion (Marijan Ljubić and André Castella, for example, or Cyrille Auboyneau, who wrote that, after the beginning of the apparitions, "the police began to soften, in the space of some months" [C. Auboyneau, La vérité sur Medjugorje, clef de la paix, F.-X. de Guibert, Paris, 1993, p. 22]).
Father Tomislav Vlašić, assistant pastor of Medjugorje from 1981 to 1984, is a controversial person. But he has pronounced, on the issue we are talking about, words that are confirmed by the indisputable existing historical documentation.
This is his account:
Approximately after the first anniversary, their attitude [of the leaders of the regime] began to change, because they became convinced that the coming together of people in Medjugorje had no political character .... Later, namely in the winter of 1983, began a new manoeuvre of the government, which sought to promote and introduce the "religious tourism" and the rapid construction of houses that would serve that purpose: an operation that has much disfigured the landscape, as can be seen today. Since then, the regime completely changed tactics: it began to take advantage of the apparitions of the Virgin and of the coming together of the people, in order to further its own interests and to materially enrich itself.
[A Medjugorje la Madonna è viva (”In Medjugorje Our Lady is alive - Conversations with Father Tomislav Vlašić), Luci dell’Esodo, Mestre, 2008, p.41]
We should also remind ourselves that a State publishing house ( "AG Matos”, based in Samobor), in 1983, published an apologetic book, Gospina ukazanja u Medjugorju ["The apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje"] by Father Ljudevit Rupčić.
In the first book on Medjugorje published outside the former Yugoslavia (April 1984), it is written:
The Marxist government can not officially authorize the pilgrimages, but it is well disposed and tolerant for tourists going to pray privately to Medjugorje while respecting public order.
[René Laurentin, Ljudevit Rupčić, La Vierge apparaît-Elle à Medjugorje ?, O.E.I.L., Paris, 1984, p. 188]
We can mention also propagandistic transmissions in favor of Medjugorje, as the 1 hour documentary Faith and Mysticism - Five Years of the Medjugorje Madonna, broadcasted on 16 and 17 October 1985 by the Yugoslav state television. The pro Medjugorje authors also admit it, as famous Father Luigi Bianchi, who saw this show as an enormous exaltation of Medjugorje [See L. Bianchi, L. Dogo, Medjugorje. Una nuova Fatima in Jugoslavia? (“Medjugorje. A New Fatima in Yugoslavia?”), Marelli, 1987, p. 168] or even Father Slavko Barbarić, who, on 27 December 1985, declared with satisfaction:
Something that seemed like a miracle to me was when, on 17 October, they showed a documentary film on Medjugorje on Belgrade Television; it was very good, it gave people a fresh impulse. This is most important.
[Tomislav Vlašić, Slavko Barbarić, Pregate con il cuore, Amici di Medjugorje, Milan, 1986, p. 211]
In September 1986, the Secretary of the Commission for Religious Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Filip Šimić, interviewed by the BBC, stated that the Medjugorje pilgrims had to be made welcome (the statement was also reported by the BBC journalist Mary Craig in the book Spark from Heaven, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1988, p. 191):
§ 3. The Bishop Challenges the Communists
On the basis of what has been documented above, one can easily understand that, very soon, Žanić's opposition was an attitude that not only did not please the government, but that was even unwelcome.
We can even say that the more the sympathy of the regime for Medjugorje grew and became more unequivocal, the more the evidence of the facts made clear the position of the Bishop against Medjugorje.
Let us highlight further proofs.
On 12 January 2012, the News Agency of the Curia of Mostar (KIUM) issued a communiqué (The Twelfth Anniversary of the Death of Bishop Žanić) [it was published in Croatian with the title 'Vidjelica' Marija i istina, "Službeni vjesnik", 1/2012, pp. 102-103]:
Last November, the local Bishop Ratko Perić asked the honourable Mr. Almir Džuvo, Director of the Intelligence and Security Agency of B-H in Sarajevo, to allow him access to the UDBA [Yugoslav Communist police] reports in connection with Bishop Pavao Žanić and Medjugorje. The Director kindly complied and made available in photocopy more than 30 documents from the years 1981 to 1988. [...]
Being a persistent opponent of the communist system, it is explicitly mentioned that he [Bishop Žanić] is a “bearer of enemy activity” under number 1 in the documents dated: 31 January 1983; 7 November 1983; 8 December 1983; 4 January 1984; 7 March 1984; 24 April 1986.
On 25 June 1987, the sixth anniversary of the "apparitions", Father Laurentin (who, it should be remembered, was for at least fifteen years the biggest and best-known propagandist of Medjugorje in the world) estimates that the faithful flocking to Herzegovina are between 50 and 100 thousand, but the French Mariologist himself adds that government controlled newspapers "have generously estimated the crowd to be 400 thousand people" [R. Laurentin, Dernières nouvelles de Medjugorje, No 7, O.E.I.L., 1988, p. 3]
In 1988, Laurentin again expressly acknowledged that:
It is well known that nowadays the economic and tourist authorities of the country should consider a condemnation of Medjugorje as the national catastrophe.
[Laurentin, Dernières nouvelles de Medjugorje, No 7, p. 23]
Well, on September 29, 1986, the Bishop said in an interview with Mexican priest Ruben Rios:
People are pointing to me as a heretic. It gives me pain to know that pious and simple people speak ill about me, but I'm absolutely certain, one hundred percent, that everything about these appearances is a pure lie, a fraud, a falsehood. I can not speak against my conscience. I would rather die.
[Medjugorje, Entrevista al Excmo Sr. Dr. Pavao Zanic, obispo de Mostar made by Father Ruben Rios Zalapa - Caminos de Luz. Xet - Apart. Postal 203, 64000 Monterrey, N.L. Mexico, published in December 1986 by the Diocese of Monterrey with the imprimatur of the bishop, Msgr. Suarez Rivera]
Despite the intimidation, on July 25, 1987 Žanić in his homily in Medjugorje, on the occasion of the conferring of Confirmation, expresses, with composure, but with equal clarity, his opinion on the matter (the full text of the homily is published in Laurentin, Dernières nouvelles de Medjugorje, No 7pp. 72-75).
Laurentin then quotes the words several times spoken during 1988 by the Bishop:
I risk my life with the fanatics of the apparitions.
[Laurentin, Dernières nouvelles de Medjugorje, No 7, p. 13]
On 21 March 1988 Msgr. Žanić wrote, in a private letter to an American Salesian:
Dear father Jacques,
you are one of the few people to have clearly seen this imposture.... A huge propaganda has been made all over the world: books, audio tapes, videotapes, newspaper articles, religious items, statues, medals, etc., in great abundance. Until now, no visionaries ever had had a so powerful support as the one those of Medjugorje get from Franciscans and Charismatics. There are huge material interests: money, money, money!
[in Fr Michel de la Sainte Trinité, Medjugorje en toute vérité, CRC, Saint-Parres-lès-Vaudes, 1991, p. 445]
On 20 October 1989, in an interview with the journalist Kieron Wood, of the Ireland Radio-Television, in defiance of the government that would consider, as Laurentin says, "a condemnation of Medjugorje as the national catastrophe," Žanić said:
Money plays an important role in this issue.
[ibid., p. 487]
In 1990, the Yugoslav communist regime ceased to exist and, in March of that year, Msgr. Zanic made public his memorial in Italian, English, German and Croatian: The Truth About Medjugorje, where he writes, among other things:
I have already declared earlier and now I repeat the same declaration, that if Our Lady leaves a sign which the "seers" are speaking of, I'll make a pilgrimage from Mostar to Medjugorje (30 km) on my knees and beg the Franciscans and the "seers" for forgiveness.
In 1993 Msgr. Žanić left his office as Bishop, having reached retirement age.
Again in 1996, by then seventy-eight, when asked if he was still "so firmly convinced" about the falseness of Medjugorje, Msgr. Žanić replied:
More and more convinced and sure.
["Crkva na kamenu" (Diocesan pastoral bulletin), 5 / 1996, p. 12]
Even the first historian and chief propagandist of Medjugorje in the world, Father René Laurentin, honestly admitted, when the bishop was retired on grounds of age:
As to Bishop Žanić, he was neither bad nor communist. He is a man of integrity, impulsive, but a man of heart. I very much appreciated and admired him from this point of view.
[René Laurentin, Dernières nouvelles de Medjugorje, No 15, F.-X. de Guibert, Paris, 1996, p. 63]