A commentary on the text: “Medjugorje must not divide Croats”
The web portal of the Croatian daily Slobodna Dalmacija (Independent Dalmatia) released on 13 August 2018 an article by Dr. Ivica Šola, theologian and professor of communications at the Department of Culture of the Josip Juraj Strossmayer University in Osijek, under the title: Međugorje ne smije dijeliti Hrvate (Medjugorje must not divide Croats). The basic idea of the comment, if we have understood it well – even though it is mentioned only in the title and the last sentences – consists in encouraging the thought that it is not good that the phenomenon of Medjugorje should negatively affect to such levels, the unity of Croats. We presume that this includes the unity of Catholic believers, which we would certainly support and therefore in this light we can underline the great value of the text.
It is apparent however, that everyone looks upon Medjugorje through their own goggles, which is good to keep in mind while trying to develop the above-mentioned need for unity. That is, it is good and important to respect a different opinion and not to despise anyone for it, yet at the same time it seems important to us to have our own opinion and to not refrain from politely articulating it. In this light, perhaps one day in the future when it will be possible to speak on it dispassionately, the Medjugorje phenomenon may prove to be an excellent foundation for such fruitful and mutually respectful debates, and someone will gratefully recall the call for unity that emerged from the author’s pen, which, we repeat, is very valuable in itself. We wish to say that we respect all that Ivica Šola wrote in this regard, because it is the fruit of his experience and his thoughts, yet his argument seems to be contradictory.
In brief, in more than two thirds of the text, he presents argument after argument rather sarcastically, disproving the credibility of the Medjugorje apparitions and leads the reader to the only conclusion: that the Medjugorje apparitions are a simple lie. Then unexpectedly, he adds that this doctrinal aspect is completely irrelevant to him because he feels peace and proper devotion in Medjugorje and this is enough for him to consider the place a shrine and to want to come back there to the Queen of Peace.
Although his intention – the call for the unity of the Croats, as earlier mentioned is good, from the comments made on that and other portals who published his text, one can see that it was naive and unattainable in this moment of history. Specifically, there were very few who agreed with his opinion and this only furthermore provoked the hostility between those who promote and those who oppose the Medjugorje phenomenon, since both sides could find in the text some parts which they could agree with but many more with which they disagree with, and hence they most frequently rated the text as charlatanry.
We would never have said that the text deserves this type of rating, however, following the above, it is apparent that the Gospa (Lady) of Medjugorje is not the Queen of Peace, no matter how much Šola tried to prove it. On the contrary, if there does exist such a blessed peace that he is witnessing from his own experience, this is obviously limited only to Medjugorje, while the same cannot be said of those areas beyond it. This is mostly related to the harshness and rudeness of the supporters of Medjugorje apparitions, that is, to their unfriendly attacks upon all those who do not believe in these apparitions. Hence, we ask ourselves, what kind of Christian (lack of) love are they carrying with them from this Oasis of Peace.
But more importantly, quite a few comments on Šola’s text emphasize how important the doctrinal side of Medjugorje is and how no good pastoral action, insomuch as it is truly so, cannot find any justification if it is a lie. We entirely agree with this, even though to some degree one may find some justification for the author’s position as well. The fact is that many Catholic shrines have emerged on suspicious grounds similarly to Medjugorje. Today, in the same way, we venerate some of the saints even though we are unsure whether they even existed, let alone the mighty miracles attributed to them. Hence, in this sense, Medjugorje is no exception. Yet we maintain that such incorrect circumstances could have brought forth good fruits during those times when one had no access to the proper sources, but not today, when with a few clicks of a mouse one can find out everything about the manipulations of Medjugorje. In other words, for the people of today, it is vitally important and with full right, that fides and ratio are not fighting each other, but rather that they be inseparable in the Truth.
We would still like to critically reflect a bit more on the value of the blessed peace, that is, on the sacred atmosphere and devotion in the purest form that the author gives witness to from his experience of visiting Medjugorje. The Church has never given importance to such emotional experiences, because if they neglect the other rational side, they habitually become religious deviations. This is evidenced by many medieval and later societies and associations which the Church had forbidden for these reasons. Additionally, we need not be trite in saying that even the narghile (hubble-bubble), bong (water pipe) or joint can be excellent peace producers as well as a multitude of life experiences in which emotions or exclusive spirituality are in the foreground. Yet we certainly want to stress that this argument, because it is listed as a counterbalance to the doctrinal and rational side of Medjugorje, seems a bit naive.
If we in fact try to put it to a higher and more serious level and to consider that this is a deep spiritual experience, which should not be undermined by these comparisons, we will nevertheless arrive at similar conclusions. Spirituality is naturally important in the life of the believer and it is equally dangerous if it does not exist and everything becomes rational, however, we maintain that it is exactly for this reason necessary that both be balanced, or as the old theological rule would say: Lex orandi, lex credendi.
In this way, we come back to the above-mentioned contradiction, in which for Ivica Šola it is not vital that Medjugorje is based on lies, but that only the good fruits are important. We wonder whether it is dangerous or theologically immature to think in such a way and to encourage this to others, because according to this logic, many things contrary to the teachings of the Church can become completely acceptable. For instance, according to this same principle a person can say that one feels complete peace in exercising yoga, performing sungazing or practicing and using some other Eastern techniques, arguing that it helps to better understand the Catholic faith, yet of course this cannot be true, because the Eastern spirituality is irreconcilable with the teachings of the Catholic Church. By following this logic, one could very quickly conclude that all religions are the same and thereby neglect the truth that only Christ – the Son of God, has redeemed us. In the same way, the purest devotion in Medjugorje that has blossomed through lies cannot be acceptable, because it also leads to the undermining of the greatest Christian truths, especially the proper devotion of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this reason, this argument is unacceptable.
Here we also want to briefly reflect on the introductory part of the column, in which the author defends the touristic and hospitality development of Medjugorje, by stating that pilgrims have their human needs, so it is normal that they are satisfied in a decent manner. We would like to say that his statement would be acceptable if the whole situation did not have its own dishonorable background. This refers above all to numerous groups that have found much more material than spiritual gain in Medjugorje. For example, we are thinking of a well-known one, seemingly protected by the Holy Spirit (i.e.: one that has good connections at the top levels of the Church) involving an Italian humanitarian and charismatic lady, whose spiritual and touristic activities in Zvirovići near Čapljina is being examined by the criminal police. We are also thinking about other people and their activities, especially those who were being investigated under the codename “Pelegrino”. We are additionally thinking of all the dishonorable activities that the public does not know anything about yet. In view of this, Šola’s defense of the Medjugorje infrastructure appears undefendable.
Finally, we want to comment on the words of Dr. Mato Zovkić, retired professor of the New Testament at the Catholic Faculty of Theology in Sarajevo and member of the First Commission investigating the authenticity of Medjugorje, mentioned in a positive light, but in a completely different context by Ivica Šola. A very interesting interview with him published three years ago in the weekly publication Globus, shows that he is one of the few who clearly, articulately and unchangingly claims that there is no miracle in Medjugorje and that for this reason he has many times personally felt the intolerance of the proponents of the Medjugorje apparitions. However, what we want to specifically draw attention to are the words he spoke in this interview and those given during a lecture at a Marian congress, published in the text: Problematični elementi u fenomenu Međugorja (Problematic elements in the phenomenon of Medjugorje). In these texts, he remains surprised and scandalized, because on several occasions he had opportunities to present to some esteemed and learned theologians, arguments which prove why they should not believe in the Medjugorje apparitions, particularly stressing the irrationality of the doctrinal side of Medjugorje. But they listened and simply answered: I still believe. Mato Zovkić asked himself afterwards and we do the same regarding Šola’s article referred to here, if an esteemed and informed theologian thinks in such a manner and if he is willing to accept Medjugorje even though nothing goes in its favor except for the sacred atmosphere, why should one be surprised then when uninformed people do the same, to whom feelings of peace are more important than Our Lady herself.