ROME – For the second time, Pope Francis is sending a special envoy to the famed site of Medjugorje, in this case to care for a local parish that sees millions of pilgrims arriving each year because of what some believe are apparitions of Mary Our Lady Queen of Peace at the Bosnian-Herzegovinian location.
The Vatican announced Thursday that Archbishop Henryk Hoser, now retired as the Archbishop of Warsaw in Poland, has been appointed Apostolic Visitor “for an undetermined time” to the Saint James parish of Medjugorje, which is run by the Franciscan friars.
His missions, according to a statement released by the Holy See’s Press Office, will be to “guarantee a stable and continuous accompaniment of the parish community of Medjugorje and the faithful who arrive in pilgrimage, whose demands require special attention.”
It also says that the appointment is “exclusively pastoral,” and a continuation of the mission Hoser began in February 2017 and which concluded in recent months.
Hoser was appointed by the pope in February 2017 to study the pastoral care given to the town’s residents and visiting pilgrims.
The original mission entrusted to Hoser was not to determine the veracity of the alleged apparitions, and he has said it has a “supplementary character” to a study conducted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was led by Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini in 2010-14.
Last year, Hoser told Poland’s KAI Catholic news agency that “from a pastoral point of view, there is a very positive result.”
“My mission was not to make a judgement on Medjugorje, but to evaluate whether the pastoral ministry was proper and consistent with the doctrine and teaching of the Church, and effective and well-organized. I concluded that this is the case,” the archbishop said.
He said the site had the same character as Fatima, Lourdes, Lisieux and Czestochowa.
“The biggest phenomenon is confession,” Hoser told KAI.
There are over 50 confessionals in the Saint James church, with priests from all over the world hearing confessions and continuous lines of penitents, even if it’s raining.
The archbishop also said last year that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has provided all the documentation surrounding the alleged apparitions to the Secretariat of State, where officials are now working on it.
He said at the time that “every indication” is that the apparitions will be approved, “specifically, I think it’s possible to recognize the authenticity of the first [seven] apparitions as proposed by the Ruini commission.”
By “Ruini commission,” Hoser was referring to a study made by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith led by Ruini. It was called by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 to study the Medjugorje question, and it concluded its work in 2014. On June 6, 2015, Francis told reporters that “we’ve reached the point of making a decision and then they will say.”
The alleged apparitions began in June 1981, and they are often divided into two: the “originals,” which took place during the period of June 24-July 3 of that year, and all the ones that followed. Some of the six alleged seers claim that they continue to receive apparitions on a regular basis.
Speaking to journalists May 13, 2017, on his way back to Rome from a two-day visit to Fatima, Portugal, where according to the Catholic Church the Virgin appeared to three shepherds in the early 1900s, Francis said regarding the Ruini report, “three things need to be distinguished.”
“About the first apparitions, when (the ‘seers’) were young, the report more or less says that the investigation needs to continue,” the pope said.
“Concerning the alleged current apparitions, the report expresses doubts,” he said. Furthermore, “personally, I am more ‘mischievous.’ I prefer Our Lady to be a mother, our mother, and not a telegraph operator who sends out a message every day at a certain time – this is not the mother of Jesus.”
Francis said his “personal opinion” is that “these alleged apparitions have no great value.”
The “real core” of the commission’s report, he said, is “the spiritual fact, the pastoral fact” that thousands of pilgrims go to Medjugorje and are converted.
“For this there is no magic wand; this spiritual-pastoral fact cannot be denied,” he said.
According to a report from Vatican Insider, that came three days after the pope’s words to journalists, the commission voted overwhelmingly to recognize as supernatural the first seven appearances of Mary in 1981. For the ongoing alleged apparitions, two of the 17 commission members and consultants thought the visions were not supernatural, while the other members said it was not possible to make a judgment.
The city is a pilgrimage hub because of the reported apparitions, with millions arriving each year to climb Mount Podbrdo, a steep and rock-strewn path that ascends to the actual location where the Virgin allegedly first appeared, and at times is believed to continue to do so.
In 1981, Medjugorje was an unexceptional farming community of some 400 Croatian families in the former Yugoslavia, and most believe it would still be had it not been for the Marian messages.
Local bishops of the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno have been skeptical about the phenomenon since it allegedly began, back in 1981, when Our Lady Queen of Peace first allegedly appeared to a group of seers, and continues to do so.
The current bishop, Ratko Peri, reiterated his belief the apparitions were not genuine in February of last year, after Hoser’s appointment was announced.