by Marco Corvaglia
§ 1. Introduction
The then bishop of Mostar, Msgr. Pavao Žanić, met all the "seers" in the parish church on 21 July 1981 and remained favorably impressed.
During the homily the bishop declared:
They don't lie. I firmly believe it. They express exactly the bottom of their heart. Is it their personal experience or a supernatural fact? It is difficult to say.
[René Laurentin, La Vergine appare a Medjugorje?, Queriniana, Brescia 1991, p. 57]
On September 1, 1981 bishop Žanić wrote a vibrant protest letter to the President of the Yugoslav Federation Sergej Kraigher, complaining of the "slanders" and "irresponsible attacks" made in those days by the regime press against the Franciscans of Medjugorje [cf. ibid., p. 61].
Still in the following month of October Žanić wrote about Medjugorje, in the diocesan bulletin Crkva na kamenu, saying that "in similar cases caution is regularly recommendable as well as openness" [Crkva na kamenu, n. 9, ottobre 1981, in Michael Kenneth Jones, Medjugorje Investigated, Devotions, 2006, p. 135].
On January 11, 1982, without his obligation, the bishop formed a "first four-member commission of inquiry" [Laurentin, Storia e messaggio delle apparizioni di Medjugorje, Queriniana, Brescia 1987, p. 145].
It is clear that he was still open to the phenomenon. But at the beginning of 1982, he changed his mind.
In Medjugorje the slanderous rumor spread that the Communist government had intervened which, threatening the bishop, would have induced him to become an opponent of the phenomenon.
Actually, he 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).
However, still at the end of 1983 Žanić hoped earnestly that there was something to save in the phenomenon.
Interviewed by the journalist Renato Farina, for the weekly "Il Sabato", the bishop said:
If everyone was like Marija... She is a perfect witness, she is like Bernadette. But the others don't convince me, they can't speak, they are also angry. [...] How happy I would be to recognize that the "Apparition" is authentic. But the responsibility is great, immense...
[Interview by Renato Farina, originally published in the weekly "Il Sabato", year VI, n. 38, 17 September 1983, p. 16, in Mario Botta, Luigi Frigerio, Le apparizioni di Medjugorje, Mimep-Docete, 1984, pp. 153-154]
And here is a statement made by the bishop (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. What is certain is that his positions were always dissonant from those of the regime, as we are about to document.
§ 2. How the Regime "Converted"
The historical documentation shows that the government's hostility towards the Medjugorje phenomenon manifested itself particularly starting from August 1981, but then it visibly diminished.
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, 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]).
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:
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]
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.
[in Fr Michel de la Sainte Trinité, Medjugorje en toute vérité, CRC, Saint-Parres-lès-Vaudes, 1991, p. 487]
Published on 9 September 2008. Updated on 12 September 2017