Thirty years after the beginning of the Medjugorje phenomenon, the village in Bosnia Herzegovina, where since June 1981 a group of young people claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, reports of the communist secret police that have come to light, show the extent of the regime’s intervention. The authorities regarded the apparitions as "an instrument of enemy counter-revolutionary action directed against the fraternity and unity of the peoples of Yugoslavia" and sought to stifle what was going on through interceptions, blackmail, threats, and the production of fake dossiers, particularly against the Franciscan monk Jozo Zovko, who followed the visionaries. Eventually the opinion of various members of the local Church was also adversely affected.
The documents were disclosed by the journalist Žarko Ivković, author of a section of the book "The mystery of Medjugorje" published by the leading Croatian daily, Vecernji List. Ivković worked in the archives of the Information Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, consulting the papers of the Yugoslav secret police, the powerful Security Service SDB (Služba državne bezbjednosti).
To scare people and prevent gatherings in Medjugorje, the Communists of Čitluk, firstly organized conferences for local units of Herzegovina, who were instructed to present the Franciscans as enemies of communism. Father Jozo, in particular, as director of the “invented apparitions” deceived “the population and the children.” The pilgrims, however, continued to increase and so the government declared a state of emergency: they began searching the faithful and priests; the special police arrived from Sarajevo that forbade access to the mountain of the apparitions. Lastly, the Secret Service was also involved. The documents show that one of the main objectives was to “render” the protagonists of the events “passive.” SDB agents began spying on them, to gather information on their “hostile activities” in order to put together a dossier that would compromise them.
Particularly striking is a report dated November 1987, dedicated to the operation called “Crnica” (original name of the hill of the apparition, now known as Podbrdo). The author of the document describes to his superior the steps taken to compromise some monks considered to be the originators of the apparitions. The main tool used appears to be the Bishop of Mostar, Monsignor Pavao Žanić, who, after appearing initially open to the possibility that this was a supernatural event, had become the most determined enemy. It has now become apparent that his hostility was fed by a series of documents put together by the men of the SDB, which were circulated among the Mostar, the Vatican and some European countries. In particular, Father Jozo Zovko was said to have had a number of love escapades, closely monitored by the secret police even before the apparitions of Medjugorje because of the effect his homilies had on the young, he was also arrested and beaten.
The second part of the plan, using the ancient conflict that exists in Herzegovina between the secular clergy and Franciscans, foresaw creating chaos in the local Church by turning everyone against everyone. The report shows how the Bishop Žanić was willing to accept any document against the Franciscans and against the apparitions, even if of dubious origin. “From this document - Ivković observed – it appears that the secret police were aware of the positions of the Bishop and directly influenced his actions.”
These documents will also be scrutinized by the Holy See committee called upon to pronounce itself on Medjugorje, which two years ago Benedict XVI entrusted to the leadership of Cardinal Camillo Ruini.
“Even at that time it was not hard to guess that the Communist regime had tried to interfere heavily with the Medjugorje facts. These documents should make the Church reflect on the difficult and certainly not peaceful conditions under which the Bishop of Mostar had to work,” said Antonio Socci, a journalist and writer, author of a book titled almost in the same way as that published by Vecernji List (“Medjugorje Mystery” Piemme editions). The revelations that emerge from the archives of the secret police do not surprise him.
“In the beginning - explains Socci - the Franciscans of Medjugorje were very hard with the visionaries, they feared that it was a trap, an invention of the regime. While the bishop of Mostar, Pavao Žanić, was more understanding and open. He also went to celebrate Mass in Medjugorje and defended the young people. Then from January 1982 his position completely changed. The Church should reflect on the fact that certain decisions were certainly not made serenely, but were heavily influenced.”
“The young people- adds the writer - were intimidated, threatened. Their poor families who were in danger of losing their jobs were also threatened. The visionary Mirjana told me that the police came to pick her up at school and questioned the friends she had gone out with. At that time nobody thought that communism would fall: the prospect for these children was that of a life always under the control and pressure of the regime. Yet they did not move an inch, continuing to tell of what they had seen and continue to see.”
How much did this intervention by the regime weigh on the initial opinion of the local ecclesiastical authorities? Socci says, “In the Vatican there was a man who was well acquainted with certain methods having experienced them personally and he never gave in. This man was Pope John Paul II. But the attempt to destroy Medjugorje may have had some influence on those who did not know how the communist police worked, and so the mud thrown by the regime on these young people and on those who followed them in the parish did have some effect.”
Žanić, who was the Bishop at that time, was opposed. But also his successor, the current pastor of Mostar, Ratko Peric, is of the same opinion, in other words very much in contrast with the apparitions. “I respect the position of Monsignor Peric - Socci concluded - but I ask myself how he can be so firmly opposed without ever having wanted to meet or interview the visionaries. The fact that he was not called to be part of the commission appointed by the Pope seems eloquent to me.”
By Andrea Tornielli