The Medjugorje movement is very much in tune with the Second Vatican Council. Devotees are prone to uplifting guitar music borrowed from charismatic Protestant revivals. They go in for those warped, El Greco-style crucifixes. They photoshop images of the Virgin Mary over the small Herzegovinian town where she has allegedly been appearing for four decades. The visionaries who claim to consort daily with Our Lady return with messages of peace, tolerance and equality. Is Medjugorje an apparition for our time?

The Vatican seems to be leaning in that direction. In May, a commission established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to study the apparitions handed in its findings. The document, known as the Ruini report and as yet unpublished, reportedly recognised the validity of the first six apparitions. Then, in August, Archbishop Henryk Hoser said that “all indications are that the revelations will be recognised, perhaps even this year”. Hoser was appointed by the Holy See to assess whether the pastoral practices in Medjugorje were in keeping with Church teaching.

Of course, the Ruini and Hoser reports are by no means conclusive. Just this May, the Holy Father appeared to dismiss the apparitions out of hand. Asked by reporters if he believed they were authentic, he said: “I prefer Our Lady as Mother, our Mother, and not Our Lady as head of the post office who sends a message at a stated time. This isn’t Jesus’s Mother. And these alleged apparitions don’t have much value … Who thinks that Our Lady says, ‘Come, because tomorrow at this time I will give a message to that seer?’ No!”

Yet for Church authorities – both supporters and critics – the emphasis tends to fall less on the visions themselves and more on the remarkable ministry that’s emerged around Medjugorje. “This movement will not stop and should not be stopped, because of the good fruit that grows out of it,” said Hoser. “It is one of the liveliest places of prayer and conversion in Europe – and has a healthy spirituality.”

Two pavilions in the village square at Medjugorje house 50 confessionals, which are constantly inundated by pilgrims. Hoser spoke to one local priest who said that “it was enough to listen to Confessions for an hour to witness real conversions”.

Pope Francis agrees, saying that the “real core” of the Ruini report is “the spiritual fact, the pastoral fact” that thousands of pilgrims have been converted in the town. “For this there is no magic wand,” he said, “this spiritual-pastoral fact cannot be denied.” The tension between the dubious nature of the apparitions and the astounding efficacy of the site is driving Medjugorje’s halting progress towards recognition.

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