Anti-Medjugorje critics—from names like Manfred Hauke to E. Michael Jones and their supporters–in efforts to find any bad fruits from the Bosnian village and to justify their antagonism toward the phenomenon, frequently invoke the fact that none of the six Medjugorje visionaries have entered religious lives (as priests or nuns). This claim is invoked in order to, somehow, undermine the validity of the apparitions. Of course, such critics completely ignore the fact that the visionaries lead exemplary lives as devout Roman Catholics, fasting on bread and water a few times a week, dedicating many hours to prayer each day, welcoming endless groups of pilgrims into their homes, being habitually present at Mass and Confession, beyond simple Sunday attendance. In essence, constituting an example for the laity on how to lead holy lives that sanctify daily life.
Anti-Medjugorje critics also ignore the fact that marriage and starting a family, lifestyles which each of the visionaries have embraced, constitute a sacred vocation, and a specific calling, within the Church.
Anti-Medjugorje critics also ignore the fact that visionaries from some of the most prominent Marian apparitions in Church history have never entered religious life either—yet, this did not stop the Church from acknowledging the positive fruits and authenticity of the apparitions experienced at such locations (the eminent case of St. Juan Diego—who was never ordained but, in fact, canonized—and his apparitions from Our Lady of Guadalupe speaks for itself).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, anti-Medjugorje critics ignore the fact that, if religious vocations constitute a sign toward the authenticity of apparitions, then Medjugorje must be one of the most authentic apparitions in Church history, being responsible for countless of vocations to the priesthood around the world. Eminent Church members, from archbishops to cardinals and papal advisors, have acknowledged this reality.
During the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, on September 12, 1996, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, the main author of the Catachesim of the Catholic Church, acknowledged this striking reality about Medjugorje while addressing an audience of 10,000 in Vienna. He explained: “If I was an opponent of Medjugorje I’d have to close down my seminary since almost all the candidates have received their call to the priesthood through Medjugorje!” What a remarkable and powerful claim – the fact that almost all of Vienna’s candidates to the priesthood came to the priesthood through the apparitions in Medjugorje.
In a future interview with Gebetsktion Wien, a few years later, this past January, Cardinal Schonborn reiterated this claim while explaining why he came to Medjugorje as a pilgrim in 2010. “I will just repeat what I once said in one interview: if there was something wrong about Medjugorje, we would have to dismiss half of our seminarians, since so many of our priestly vocations are both directly and indirectly related to Medjugorje.” Not only did Cardinal Schonborn acknowledge the fruits of faith present in Medjugorje through the immense influence the apparitions have had on priestly vocations but, equally important, he explained how much the sacred example of Medjugorje’s visionaries played a role in inspiring his pilgrimage to the village. “…was in Vienna last year and I spoke with him, Marija Pavlovic Lunetti this year, they were both in Cathedral of St. Stephen and I gave my permission for those events. Both of those two encounters have impressed me so much, primarily because of modesty, simplicity, clarity and heart warmness of those two visionaries. That only strengthened my decision to quietly and simply come to Medjugorje.”
Archbishop Georg Eder of Salzburg, Austria, also recognized the undeniable connection between Medjugorje and religious vocations. His words are as powerful as they are urgent for a European culture that has lost its sense of the spiritual. A sense that has been reawakened through Medjugorje. Archbishop Eder explained:
“My impressions here are not surprising. I know that groups from Salzburg very often go to Medjugorje, that new prayer groups are constantly started, that there are more and more people who say: ‘In Medjugorje I received my vocation!’”
The Archbishop further added – “I am reflecting: We are losing three things that we are getting back in Medjugorje: penance, conversion and vocations. In Austria we look in vain for these things. Conversion is not mentioned anymore because people do not need it; Confession is dying out with us except in shrines and in the churches of religious orders where this sacrament is sought and lived; spiritual vocations are less and less. In Medjugorje this is happening constantly: Confessions, conversions and spiritual vocations!”
It is fascinating how in a European culture like Austria’s, wherein faith is constantly ignored and on the decline, hope emanates from a distant Bosnian village. Both Cardinal Schonborn and Archbishop Eder have implied that, if it was not for Medjugorje, then Austrian Catholicism—at least in the realm of priestly vocations—may become obsolete. Thus the influence of the apparitions has played a monumental role in reawakening the spiritual life in Austrian Catholicism.
Bishop Paolo Hnilica, an esteemed Jesuit who was close friends with Cardinal Karol Wojtya and, later, a close papal advisor once Wojtya became Pope John Paul II, also acknowledged the fruits of Medjugorje. He once noted about John Paul II: “The Pope, for his part, recognized a long time before that supernatural events are really at work in Medjugorje!” But beyond John Paul II’s love for Medjugorje— (see, “Pope John Paul II – Medjugorje ‘spiritual heart of the world’”)-–Bishop Hnilica himself could not ignore the overwhelming impact that Medjugorje has had in influencing both vocations to religious life as well as miraculous healings. He once noted:
“So many are the people who have experienced the presence of Mary at Medjugorje that they cannot be counted, just as the stories of spiritual and even physical healings can no longer be counted. Countless, as well, are the vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life born of the grace of Medjugorje. These are just some of the main spiritual fruits which have brought many to the conclusion that the Queen of Peace is truly present in Medjugorje.”
Since many of the seminarians who have been inspired to enter religious life as a result of Medjugorje, both future priests and nuns, are young people, this reality itself – Medjugorje’s influence on the youth in converting to, and renewing, the faith – could not be ignored by Church leaders. In 1983, only two years after the apparitions began, Cardinal Kuharic, then-Primate of Croatia, reflected: “How can I doubt that Medjugorje is God’s doing?…Do you know that half a million young people have surrendered to Christ? The Lord is stirring this country! They need fifty to sixty priests every weekend just to hear confessions and to counsel these young people! And it’s all because this apparition!”
Fr. Donald Calloway, the popular American priest of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception who is a leading proponent of the Divine Mercy devotions, and the author and editor of numerous books on Mariology, was another young person who experienced the grace of Medjugorje in his remarkable conversion story and in his road to the priesthood (see the story, “Father Calloway – Saved by Medjugorje and the Virgin Mary” on MinistryValues). Fr. Calloway, who studied at the Franciscan University in Ohio and at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., acknowledged that even in America—where we often are reminded of the shortage of vocations—Medjugorje has played a central role in encouraging young men to pursue the priesthood. In an interview that Fr. Calloway gave in February 2004, he explained how many young men he met in seminary who were as inspired by Medjugorje as he was to pursue the vocation:
“I loved every minute of Medjugorje. I’m going back in March. It’s the edge of Heaven, wonderful…Our Lady is building up this army, this whole new generation, layer by layer. Rank by rank they are coming out of seminaries to take their places. There’s a whole generation of priests coming, and they’re just like me. No nonsense. I always tell people, get ready, because it’s coming to a parish near you…We’ve been formed by the Blessed Virgin Mary and her apparitions. So many of the guys I knew in seminary, they loved things like Medjugorje or Betania or Amsterdam or Kibeho. They don’t have a problem with it. They bite onto truth like a shark, and they’re going to be the guys in the seminaries teaching. They’re going to be in parishes. One cardinal said if it were not for Medjugorje, he would have hardly any seminarians. I compare it to Guadalupe.”
Even men who have been ordained for many years have been attracted to Medjugorje, including countless of bishops from the international world. Bishop Stanislas Lukumwena Lumbala from Kole, Congo, once made the fascinating observation about Medjugorje: “One should not worry about approval all the time. The approval will certainly be given. Bishops come, and they come to pray. There is something that we are drawn to, something that has impressed us. Little by little, Medjugorje will be approved!”
What is that mysterious something—as the bishop speaks of—which draws bishops, and cardinals, and countless of young people, and pilgrims to Medjugorje? What is that something which inspires massive conversions and leads individuals to religious vocations in countries where the faith seems dead, like Austria or America? Perhaps the answer could be summed up in the words of the late, great pontiff, Pope John Paul II, who once poignantly observed:
“Today’s world has lost its sense of the supernatural, but many are searching for it – and find it in Medjugorje, through prayer, penance, and fasting.”
The Belgium-Catholic philosopher Alice von Hildebrand once beautifully wrote in an essay: “Now let us abolish the terms ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’, the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ which are secularistic. I suggest that we say from now on ‘those who have kept the sense of the supernatural and those who have lost it’. That is the great divide, that is the essence. Do you look at the Church and her teaching, whether dogmatic or moral, with a supernatural eye, or do you look at it with secular lenses? That is the divide. Left and right confuses the issue. Let us rediscover the greatness and the beauty of the supernatural…”
At Medjugorje, countless of people, young and old, have rediscovered the greatness and the beauty of the supernatural, realizing that the miraculous is not a thing of the past but something that exists in the modern world. This sublime rediscovery has opened the door to religious vocations in the most unexpected places, transcending the standards and norms of modern secular culture with a spiritual awakening so profound and powerful that it could only be explained as a grace of God.
By Daniel Klimek February 4, 2011