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Is the Vatican preparing to restore shrine status at Medjugorje?

When the latest commission to investigate the Medjugorje phenomenon was jointly announced in Rome and Mostar on March 17, 2010, Fr Frederico Lombardi outlined the outcome of previous commissions and stated that the bishops of Bosnia Herzegovina had asked the CDF to take over investigations. What he didn’t remind anyone of at the time was that the Holy See had commissioned the B+H bishops to give further study to the phenomenon two years earlier, and particularly to the question of shrine status


The shrine status question was a legitimate query. It was in August 1993, two years after the Yugoslavia bishops conference’s declaration on the Medjugorje phenomenon, that its president Cardinal Franjo Kuharic (right) stated: 


“We bishops, after a three-year-long commission study accept Medjugorje as a holy place, AS A SHRINE. This means we have nothing against it if someone venerates the Mother of God in a manner also in agreement with the teaching and belief of the Church.” 


From then on, the Medjugorje parish was referred to as a shrine, even on parish literature and notices. However, with the breakup of Yugoslavia and its episcopal conference in 1993, the question of Medjugorje’s “national” shrine status was raised. Under which national episcopy does the status exist? It could only fall to the newly formed conference of bishops for Bosnia & Herzegovina. 


Vatican protocol would provide the Bosnia Herzegovina bishops the opportunity to address this anomaly. 


Unfortunately, the commission given in July 2006 to the B+H bishops conference – made up of three bishops – was scuttled when Mostar’s Ratko Peric, jumped the gun two weeks before any official announcement. In a Sunday morning homily delivered from St James church in Medjugorje, he vehemently proclaimed that Medjugorje was not a shrine. It took two years of dust-settling before Cardinal Puljic (right) admitted that his bishops’ conference was not up to giving any answers that Rome was seeking, even on the question of shrine status. In March 2008 he admitted: “Our Bishops’ Conference has not discussed this matter (Medjugorje), because the phenomenon of Medjugorje does not come within our competence.” 


Monsignor Matko Zovki, spokesman for Cardinal Puljic later confirmed to Michael Brown of Spirit Daily that the matter of Medjugorje had been handed back to the Vatican and the national commission no longer planned to take action and would wait until it received direct instructions from the Vatican. “I can confirm it. This is our viewpoint.” said the Monsignor. 


Some months later Cardinal Puljic said in an interview with, “What is happening in Medjugorje is the responsibility of the Bishop of Mostar, Monsignor Ratko Peric, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF).” 


The Sarejevo archbishop tellingly added: “Praying in Marian shrines is part of the identity of the Catholic faithful. Throughout history our people have been found in various shrines in the region, seeking comfort, light and hope, and the Madonna is a sign for our faith.” 


Vatican spokesman Fr Frederico Lombardi also confirmed the hand-back when he announced the international commission in 2010: “...the bishops of Bosnia and Herzegovina have asked the CDF to take over investigations.” 


The Vatican communique also stated that the commission “will work in a reserved manner, subjecting the results of their studies to the authority of the Dicastery.” The Dicastery refers to departments of the Roman Curia – various groups that administer the Catholic Church. The Congregation of Faith is just one of nine congregations, a main group which forms part of the Diecastery. Other groups include Tribunals and Pontifical Councils. So the question of shrine status may not be decided by the CDF but by another Congregation within the Diecastery.


The push for answers on the question of shrine status and Medjugorje phenomenon has come from Rome all along the way. 


In 2009, Cardinal Puljic said: “We look forward to suggestions and proposals on how to accompany this phenomenon, and I think the Holy See wants us to work in this area.” 


The cardinal also said that he expected that the Holy See would give indications on Confession and Eucharistic celebrations, and then added “and maybe even set up a Committee to follow the phenomenon by recording contents of the apparitions and messages, in view that there are over 30,000.” 


It was the Holy See wanting answers in 2006 when it commissioned the B+H bishops to give further study to the phenomena and shrine status. 


Former papal nuncio to B+H, archbishop Alessandro D’Errico (right), said in May 2010 that the Holy See is known for the careful attention to which she looks at Herzegovina because of its high number of Catholics and added that that for this reason the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, continues to personally follow some questions concerning the future of the Church in Herzegovina, as confirmed with his important decision to set up an International Commission to study the Medjugorje phenomenon. 


In an earlier interview with Radio Mir the papal delegate had this to say about the Holy Father’s interest in Medjugorje. 


“Whenever I would meet Holy Father, he was always very much interested in Medjugorje. He was involved in everything, starting with the time when he was Head of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is aware that this is the issue of special importance, and he, as supreme authority of the Church, needs to give his precise statement about that matter. Holy Father is very much familiar with Medjugorje phenomenon; he even mentioned that to me personally. He is aware of huge amount of positive and good influence of local priests, religious, Franciscans, lay people, and therefore, it is very difficult for him to perceive that there can be so many opposing information about the same matter. 


“That is why he wanted to establish this Commission that is on really high level. He wanted to establish this Commission in order for him to have a broad picture about this matter, but according to the people who have highest qualities and skills. That is why he invited Cardinals, Bishops and experts from different parts of the world to be part of this Commission.”


There are three levels of shrine status. All can be granted independently of each other. The local bishop can grant shrine status at ‘local’ level. The episcopal bishops can grant ‘national’ status, or the Holy See can step in and give ‘international’ status. 


The Code of Canon Law (1983) includes the following Canons relating to Shrines:


Canon 1230 The term shrine means a church or other sacred place which, with the approval of the local Ordinary, is by reason of special devotion frequented by the faithful as pilgrims. 


Canon 1231 For shrine to be described as national, the approval of the Episcopal Conference is necessary. For it to be described as international, the approval of the Holy See is required. 


Canon 1232 (i) The local Ordinary is competent to approve the statutes of a diocese and shrine; the Episcopal Conference, those of a national shrine, the Holy See alone, those of an international shrine. 


Canon 1232 (ii) The statutes of a shrine are to determine principally, the authority of the rector, and the ownership and administration of its property. 


Canon 1233 Certain privileges may be granted to shrines when the local circumstances, the number of pilgrims, and especially the good of the faithful would seem to make this advisable. 


Canon 124 (i) At shrines the means of salvation are to be more abundantly made available to the faithful: by sedulous proclamation of the word of God, by suitable encouragement of liturgical life, especially by the celebration of the Eucharist and penance, and by the fostering of approved forms of popular devotion.


Canon 124 (ii) In shrines or in places adjacent to them, votive offerings of popular art are to be displayed and carefully safeguarded.


No reference is made to apparitions, visionaries or messages in these canons as criteria for defining shrine status. The criteria can be viewed in a pastoral sense and as to most likely why Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Henryk Hoser as his special envoy to Medjugorje. 


It is also not without significance that the Vatican announced the Pope’s choice on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11. 


Heaven’s envoy, the Blessed Mother, also arrived in Medjugorje on a significant feast day – that of the Nativity of John the Baptist, June 24, 1981.


A man came sent by God. His name was John. (Jn 1 : 6)

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