by Marco Corvaglia
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 in good faith to that spot heard this version of events, solely based on rumors: the bishop was initially well disposed toward the visionaries, but at one point the communist government intervened and threatened him, inducing him to become an opponent of Medjugorje.
Actually, it can be categorically excluded that Msgr. Žanić submitted to any pressure from the police, as we shall see.
To affirm the contrary is only slander.
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.
Since that time, the facts that I am now trying to document, at least minimally, with my work, began to gradually come out.
The bishop changed 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 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.
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 dominant historiography regarding Medjugorje.
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).
The historical record shows that the hostility of the Government towards Medjugorje 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]), but 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. We can mention also State travel agencies, like the “Atlas” from Dubrovnik, that began providing services to the pilgrims in 1984, propagandistic transmissions in favor of Medjugorje, as the documentary Faith and Mysticism, broadcasted on 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]
Father Tomislav Vlašić, assistant pastor of Medjugorje from 1981 to 1984, is and remains a controversial person, suspected by Žanić to be, in the early years, the author of the messages of Our Lady. He was also subjected to severe disciplinary sanctions in 2008 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But we must also admit that this eyewitness has had the courage to pronounce, on the issue we are talking about, words that are perfectly and accurately confirmed by the indisputable existing historical documentation.
This is his account:
Approximately after the first anniversary [therefore in 1982], 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]
Very soon, therefore, the opposition of Žanić 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 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 those of Medjugorje ....
During the work of my committee of inquiry, I was constantly in contact with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and with Cardinal Ratzinger personally. When the work was completed, we discussed the publication of the final judgment. The Cardinal told me that the defenders of Medjugorje were too strong and it would be better to get a commission appointed by the Episcopal Conference to continue the work.
[in Fr Michel de la Sainte Trinité, Medjugorje en toute vérité, CRC, Saint-Parres-lès-Vaudes, 1991, pp. 445-446]
There is, Msgr. Žanić adds in this letter of 1988, strong pressure to "preserve Medjugorje without pronouncing a final judgement" [ibid., p. 446]
On October 20, 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. [...]
With regard to the worthless tests of Dr. Joyeux and of Father Laurentin, when they were published, the psychiatrists of the Commission have said: Ah, they do not mean anything. [...]
There are many advocates and supporters who work for Medjugorje [...]
I was told:
You can not imagine the pressure here in Rome, so that we let Medjugorje go on.
[in Fr Michel de la Sainte Trinité, Medjugorje en toute vérité, op. cit., p. 488]
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.
If all the "ugly things" could be made public then surely the answer would be clearly negative to everyone. Yet, Laurentin, Rupcic, Vlasic, Barbaric and others meticulously hide the truth. If the defenders of Medjugorje come across someone who is skeptical of the apparitions, they quickly isolate this person, accuse him of something or declare him mad. The majority of the pious public has naively fallen victim of the great propaganda, the talk of the apparitions and healings. These people themselves have become the greatest propaganda for the events. They do not even stop to think that the truth has been hidden by deliberate falsehoods. They do not know that not one miraculous healing has occurred that could have been verified by competent experts and institutions such as the "Bureau medical de Lourdes".
Some say that there have been conversions as well. I have received indeed many truly touching letters, and I feel sorry for those who will sooner or later be disappointed. But there has also been fanaticism, superstition and misinformation in the events of Medjugorje. I have also received many rude accusations in the mail which I cannot mention, all in the name of the "Queen of Peace". That which is positive in these events cannot justify the falsehoods and lies that have been spread in order to win the world over for God.
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]
He died on 11 January 2000 at the age of 82, always remaining unmistakably firm in his position, in spite of the calumnies that he had to suffer for many years.