ST. LOUIS (RNS) To Roman Catholic officialdom, it’s unclear whether the Virgin Mary appeared to Ivan Dragicevic and five others 34 years ago in a Bosnian village.
What is clear is that Dragicevic won’t be appearing Wednesday to speak in St. Charles, as some had hoped.
Earlier this month, Archbishop Robert Carlson addressed a memo to priests and deacons in the archdiocese:
“I have received a request from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to remind everyone that they are not to participate in events that promote the so-called visionaries of Medjugorje and in particular Mr. Ivan Dragicevic.”
Prior to the March 3 memo, Dragicevic had been scheduled to speak in St. Charles’ Lindenwood University, about 25 miles from St. Louis.
Dragicevic is one of six who claim the Virgin Mary appeared and spoke to him in 1981 in Medjugorje, a town situated in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia.
Vicka Ivankovic, Mirjana Dragicevic, Marija Pavlovic, Ivanka Ivankovic and Jakov Colo are said to have been with Dragicevic on that day. Most were teenagers at the time. After the apparition, they are said to have run down a hill at lightning speed, bursting through the doors of the parish church.
They told the priest there that they had seen a woman with a long, flowing dress and veil who had identified herself as the Virgin Mary.
The six say the Virgin Mary has continued to reappear to them ever since. For three of the seers, the visions are daily. She shows up only once a year for the other three. Typically, she makes an appearance at 6:40 p.m. The central message is one of peace.
Since 1981, millions of faithful have flocked to Medjugorje, or what’s known as the “village of miracles.”
In 1991, however, the bishops of the former Republic of Yugoslavia asserted that “on the basis of the research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations” in Medjugorje.
But Michael O’Neill, a Chicago Catholic who runs a website centered on miracles, says the bishops’ declaration left the door open for the Vatican. He said the bishops did not conclusively rule out the possibility that the visions were supernatural, but said only that there was insufficient evidence.
Responding to continued interest, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican body responsible for promulgating and defending Catholic doctrine, launched an investigation in 2010 into the alleged miracles.
A decision is said to be imminent, but this isn’t the first time such rumors have circulated.
The fact that the visionaries have claimed to have experienced the apparitions for so long sets the Medjugorje miracles apart from other Virgin Mary sightings, O’Neill said.
That makes some Catholics skeptical.
But “in reality there’s no such thing as a typical apparition.”
Dragicevic travels back and forth between Bosnia and the U.S., speaking at various churches and experiencing visions almost on demand, raising further suspicions among some.
Dragicevic was invited to St. Charles by the Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich Foundation, a Catholic nonprofit in the west St. Louis County town of Grover. The foundation could not be reached for comment, but its outgoing phone message notes that Dragicevic’s event was canceled because of “unforeseen circumstances.”
The commission of cardinals, bishops, theologians and other experts looking into the miracles have reportedly interviewed the visionaries, trying to determine whether there are any hints of fraud. A desire for fame and money on the part of the six, or alleged statements from the Virgin Mary that contradict Catholic doctrine, are both red flags.
O’Neill isn’t holding his breath.
“I would be willing to bet every dollar I have that they won’t say that this is authentic,” O’Neill said. “I just don’t think they’ll want to take that risk.”
“They would never want to approve something and then have the visionary say something crazy.”
Some have speculated that Pope Francis has already alluded to the reported miracles of Medjugorje.
“But I know a visionary, who receives letters from Our Lady, messages from Our Lady,” Francis said in 2013. “But, look, Our Lady is the mother of everyone. And she loves all of us. She is not a postmaster, sending messages every day.”
Such claims, he said, “distance us from the Gospel, from the Holy Spirit, from peace and wisdom, from the glory of God, from the beauty of God. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God does not come in a way that attracts attention; it comes by wisdom.”
One possibility, a kind of middle road, is for the church to establish a shrine in Medjugorje. And there is always the chance the Vatican will establish at some point in the future that the miracles are authentic.
Either way, the public may someday discern the truth.
According to the visionaries, the Virgin Mary will stop appearing after each has received 10 secrets. At that time, there will be three warnings given for all the world to hear for themselves. These events are supposed to happen within the lifetime of at least one of the visionaries.
If they don’t, O’Neill says, that will offer proof that the miracles were fake.
“We all want an answer this moment,” O’Neill said. But “the fact of the matter is that this thing will resolve itself on its own.”
(Lilly Fowler is the religion reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She can be reached on Twitter @LillyAFowler.)