Pope to Recognize Medjugorje as Shrine, Vatican to Control Money Flows?

Total Croatia News

Latest report on the fate of Medjugorje.

A recent visit by special papal envoy Henryk Hoser to Medjugorje has introduced a great deal of optimism among the local faithful and intensified their hopes that the Pope will eventually and officially recognize Medjugorje as a shrine, reports Globus on April 25, 2017.

Of course, until Pope Francis announces his official decision (if he ever decides, because theoretically there is a possibility of leaving the final decision to his successor), everyone in Medjugorje continues to interpret in their own way and from their own angle the latest events, depending on their own perception of the Medjugorje phenomena which began 36 years ago, after the first (and currently only alleged) apparitions of Virgin Mary.

According to Darko Hudelist, Globus’ correspondent, one of his sources said that Pope Francis had already made his decision, which will be a positive one for Medjugorje as a shrine, but that he would wait with it for a while. That might be the first step towards recognizing the apparitions of Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, but that will probably not happen anytime soon.

Another rumour is that the intention of the Vatican is to exempt Medjugorje from the Diocese of Mostar and to proclaim it as some kind of prelature, which would be governed directly by the Vatican. That would also, in its own way, be a recognition of Medjugorje as a shrine, without solving the issue of whether the visionaries of Medjugorje are right or not, but would bring financial flows in Medjugorje under the control of the Vatican. Medjugorje is not only a place of prayer and confession, but a mass-visited pilgrimage destination which turns over large amounts of money, for which it is not yet clear where they eventually end up.

The conclusion is that the authenticity of the apparition is not so important for now. More important is that pilgrims in Medjugorje have religious and pastoral care, while the money being made may be put under a certain level of Vatican control. Of course, all of this is just a hypothesis and there are still no firm signs, from the Vatican or somewhere else, what Pope Francis will eventually decide.

Jozo Zovko is one of the symbols of Medjugorje and he is relatively optimistic about the status of the site. He says the Hoser’s statements about Medjugorje were encouraging. The key part in Hoser’s sermon was that the greatest miracles of Medjugorje are individual confessions, which in many Western countries do not exist anymore. Therefore, the Vatican has very good reasons to protect Medjugorje, to which pilgrims from all over the world come for confessions and prayer.

On a recent Sunday in Medjugorje, there were 51 priests receiving confessions (31 in Croatian language and 20 in other languages). This might seem a lot, but even that was not enough all the faithful who came. The lines were long and people were waiting for more than an hour for a confession. This means that Medjugorje has become a place of confession and that, as far as religion and organization is concerned, Medjugorje works perfectly like a well-oiled machine.

On the other hand, there is a lot of business going on in a purely material (economic) sense, as seen in numerous restaurants, hotels and souvenirs shops. Compared to 2013, a lot has changed. There are significantly more restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops.

The only person in Croatia who systematically follows and analyzes economic aspects, in addition to religious-pastoral dimension of Medjugorje, is economist Vencel Čuljak. He received a doctorate in 2014 with the thesis “The phenomenon of Medjugorje as a global brand and top destination of religious tourism”.

He says that the Church is not looking kindly on what he is doing, accusing him of not minding his own business. Many refused to talk to him when he conducted his research (he talked with about 200 people from Medjugorje and the surrounding areas). He says that the official claims of the Church about 2.5 million pilgrims per year in Medjugorje are exaggerated. He believes that around 850,000 pilgrims come to Medjugorje annually, and that the number of visits has fallen in recent years.

The decline, according to Čuljak, began in 2015, when about 650,000 people visited Medjugorje, while fell further to about 500,000 pilgrims in 2016. According to his estimates, 80 percent of pilgrims in Medjugorje are foreigners (mostly Italians) and 20 percent are locals. The decline in the number of pilgrims is explained in two ways. One is the attitude of Pope Francis about the apparitions of Virgin Mary in Medjugorje (and his humorous comparison of Virgin Mary as not being like a mailwoman), and the second is a decline in purchasing power of Italians, who are the most numerous among foreign pilgrims. In general, according to Čuljak, Medjugorje was visited by 28 million pilgrims, or religious tourists, from 1981 to 2014.

Regarding the ownership structure of businesses in Medjugorje (in 2014, there were 500 companies operating there), Čuljak estimates that 50 percent are locally owned, while another half has foreign owners. In 2014, there were 18,500 beds in accommodation facilities in Medjugorje, and that number has now grown to about 25,000.

According to Čuljak, there is a clear contraction between the fact that in the last two years the number of visitors in Medjugorje has been decreasing while the investments are still growing. Economically, he describes the situation in Medjugorje as “organized chaos,” which is particularly manifested in the area of construction, where no spatial and zoning plans exist. “All the interest groups in Medjugorje know about it, but no one will take care of it, including even the Church, which has a very strong influence.”

Regarding the Church’s finances, the local parish collects around 10 million euros a year, not taking into account major donations. “Big money is circulating in Medjugorje and it would be quite logical to expect the Vatican would take control and institute some measure of order.”

Čuljak says he wants Medjugorje to be “the second Lourdes” in all aspects, including in terms of finances and business. “It is normal that big money is being made in Medjugorje. I just want it to be done in a legitimate way, and that all businesses issue invoices, so that everyone can benefit from Medjugorje. After all, that is in the interest of the Church itself,” said Čuljak.


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