MEDJUGORJE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Pope has authorized official pilgrimages to a village where the Virgin Mary is alleged to have begun appearing in 1981.
Archbishop Henryk Hoser, apostolic visitor to Medjugorje, and Abp. Luigi Pezzuto, papal nuncio to Bosnia-Herzegovina, announced Pope Francis' decision Sunday during Mass at the parish shrine there.
The announcement comes as a papal affirmation of what Abp. Hoser had suggested to Aleteia in 2017.
"Today, dioceses and other institutions can organize official pilgrimages. It's no longer a problem," he had said at the time while living in Warsaw.
Alessandro Gisotti, an Italian journalist functioning as the "ad interim" director of the Holy See Press Office, told reporters that this announcement requires "care to prevent these pilgrimages from being interpreted as an authentication of known events, which still require examination by the Church."
"Considering the considerable flow of people who go to Medjugorje and the abundant fruits of grace that have sprung from it," continued Gisotti, "this authorization is part of the particular pastoral attention that the Holy Father intended to give to that reality, aimed at encouraging and promoting the fruits of good."
In 2010, Benedict XVI established a commission on Medjugorje headed by Cdl. Camillo Ruini to collect and examine all the material, vote on the supernatural or non-supernatural nature of the alleged apparitions and offer pastoral solutions.
The report concluded that the first seven apparitions occurring between June 24 and July 3, 1981 were of supernatural origin based on 13 votes in favor, two votes against and one suspensive vote; however, the report expressed doubt regarding the many thousands of apparitions from 1982 onward based on 12 votes not giving an opinion and two votes against.
As a pastoral solution, the report recommended lifting the ban on official pilgrimages, establishing an authority in Medjugorje dependent on the Holy See and transforming the parish into a pontifical sanctuary to care for the millions of pilgrims and avoid the formation of parallel churches.
Of note, Cdl. Gerhard Ludwig Müller had expressed serious doubt regarding the alleged apparitions and the Ruini report when prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Discussing the Ruini report on a return flight from Fatima in May 2017, Pope Francis told reporters that he did not personally believe in Medjugorje.
"Regarding the first apparitions, when the visionaries were children, the report more or less says that it has to continue to be investigated. Surrounding the alleged actual apparitions, the report has its doubts," he said.
The Pope added:
I personally am more negative. I prefer the Virgin Mary as a mother, our mother, not as head of a post office that sends a message every day at a specific time — this is not the mother of Jesus. And these alleged apparitions do not have much value. This I say as my personal opinion.
Medjugorje is in the diocese of Mostar-Duvno where the local ordinaries have consistently denied the authenticity of the apparitions since 1985. Bishop Pavao Žanić (1980–1993) launched an investigation in 1982 and concluded in 1985 that "the apparitions of the Madonna in Medjugorje are not a reality."
Bishop Ratko Perić (1993–present) has reaffirmed this conclusion on more than one occasion and as recently as February 2017.
However, despite the disputed nature of these alleged apparitions as well as his own personal disbelief, Pope Francis also discussed what he called a "spiritual and pastoral fact" regarding Medjugorje during his talk with reporters on the return flight from Fatima in May 2017.
"There are people who go there and convert, people that find God, whose lives change. And this is not thanks to a magic wand. This is a spiritual and pastoral fact that cannot be denied," he said.
"Now with all of these results, and with the responses that the theologians sent me, a bishop was appointed — a very good, very good one, because he has experience to see how the pastoral part goes. At the end he will say something," the Pope added.
The Pope was talking about Abp. Henryk Hoser whom he appointed as papal envoy in 2017 and apostolic visitator in 2018. At the time, Abp. Hoser had noted that his mission was "to analyze the pastoral situation and propose improvements."
For now, the Pope has decided to permit official pilgrimages to Medjugorje based on pastoral grounds. So far, however, he has yet to grant or deny official approval for any of the alleged apparitions themselves.
Of the six reporting visions of Mary for the past 38 years, three say they continue to receive a message every day at the same time wherever they are, one once per month and the other two once per year.
This puts the number of alleged apparitions in the range of 40,000 to date, which is more than all the Marian apparitions officially approved by the Catholic Church combined since Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531.