Oct 10, 2009


I've posted another sane and balanced article on the Shroud by Professor Barrie Schwortz (see post below), because, apart from my own personal reverence for the Shroud, the sacred icon tends to be 'owned' by the ultra-orthodox who use it to assert that Christianity in general, and Roman Catholicism in particular, are the exclusive channels of divine grace and salvation in this world. So apart from Jewish folk and agnostics who believe in the Shroud's authenticity, I felt we needed a few radical gay fairies to come forward and express their support as well,  just to shake up those ultra-certain-dox persons of the right.

Barrie Schwortz was the Official Documenting Photographer for the Shroud of Turin Research Project, the team that conducted the first in-depth scientific examination of the Shroud in 1978.  Today, he plays an influential role in Shroud research as the editor and publisher of the internationally recognized Shroud of Turin Website (www.shroud.com), the largest and most extensive Shroud resource on the Internet, with visitors from more than 160 countries.  Mr. Schwortz has conducted Shroud lectures around the world and is frequently called upon as a leading imaging expert.

I don't know who this Bishop is warmly greeting Barrie Schwortz, but I like his hat! They even look like they might be related. (In fact, this is Archbishop Gewargis Sliwa, of the Assyrian Church of the East (Apostolic Church) of Baghdad, Iraq)

And on another front, Pope Benedict and his 'new' inquisitor, Archbishop soon to be Cardinal Levada, have finally cracked down on the spectacular but unruly Marian shrine of Medjugorje. Before I get into the complications of this issue (and it's so complicated that I dare not get in too deep), let me just say that I feel the restrictions applied to the shrine and village as of September 5, are probably healthy for all concerned. A little distance, silence and solitude will no doubt benefit the last remaining 'visionary' to be receiving 'visitations and messages,' all those tours from Ireland promising a personal interview with a visionary will have to think up a new selling point, and the Franciscans will have to get back in touch with their original charism and practice some measure of detachment regarding the vast sums of money generated by the shrine in the past. Of course, the distance and solitude will only be relative, since ways will be found to make the 'monthly' visitations accessible to the public off of church property. However, there will be a general cooling of the atmosphere and this seems like a spiritually sane turn of events. Things were becoming just a little too weird. This doesn't imply a negative judgment on my part (not that my opinion matters a whit). The whole phenomenon strikes me as an apt metaphor for the whole Roman Catholic Church - at it's core a mystery of inherent sacredness that defies explanation, but surrounding it are whorls and whorls of strangeness, weirdness, fanaticism and deceit. So I think it's time to take the visionary out of the storm and tell everyone to go home (they won't). One look at any of the videos of this woman available on You Tube and I defy anyone to claim that this women is 'faking it.'


And in fact - surprise! - that was the judgment of a commission of scientific experts convened by the diocese of Mostar a year ago to examine Mirjana.  The commission expressed their opinion that Mirjana was not faking her visions, but was in fact seeing something of 'supernatural beauty,' at least from her own subjective point of view (repeating the judgments of earlier investigations of all of the visionaries). The commission concluded - very wisely to be sure - that they could not make a judgment about the objective nature or authenticity of Mirjana's visions.

So why the present judgment from Pope Benedict and Levada, stating, not implying, that it's all fakery and hokus pokus? Here are a few clues.

Medjugorje and its vast sums of money are not controlled by Opus Dei, which does control the tourist trade at Lourdes and buses tourists from Lourdes to its own shrine of Santuario de Torreciudad in Spain.  As a possible motive, does this surprise anyone?

The Gospa of Medjugorje (The Lady of the Visions), whoever she may be, has proven to be tolerantly ecumenical from day one. Search through all of the statements over the years, remarkable for their blandness, and you will not see any statements that assert the superiority of Christianity or the Roman Catholic tradition. Quite the contrary, when the visionaries asked the Lady for an example of a truly prayerful person, the Lady referred to the one Muslim woman in the village. And there have been repeated statements from the theologically unsophisticated visionaries that the Lady of the Visions asserts that 'all religions are the same' in so far as they lead their adherents to a prayerful connection to the sacred. Well, I'm sorry, that is a position that is anathema to the present Pope, so for this reason more than any other, the crackdown is not a surprise.

We seem to have forgotten over the years the simple fact that these six young children saw a mysterious woman on the hillside, weeping and crying out for 'Peace', six months before the outbreak of the horrendous Yugoslavian war that pitted Christians against Muslims in the most savage example of ethnic cleansing in Europe since the Nazi death camps. This was a barbaric outbreak that took everyone by surprise, because you will search in vain through the commentary of the time to find any political analyst who saw it coming. No matter how 'obvious' the breakup of Yugoslavia after Tito might have seemed in hindsight, no one anticipated the sheer murderous savagery of the war, even in light of Yugoslavia's tragic past.  Except six children on a hillside and a weeping Lady in White. Anyone confused by the phenomenon of Medjugorje should rest in contemplation of this simple fact. And let Pope Benedict and Archbishop Levada be the first.

And to offer a more inspirational thought (maybe, maybe not), the roads from the main road up to the mountain top village of Garabandal in Spain are now being repaved and widened in anticipation of a massive influx of pilgrims who will be coming 'soon' to witness the anticipated 'miracle.' "Ahem....excuse me...," you say, "what the hell are you talking about?" To which I reply - You don't remember Garabandal in the 1960's, the site of the Marian apparitions to four young peasant girls that started the craze and which was so quickly overshadowed by its younger sister, Medjugorje?

How quickly we forget. Yes, Garabandal, which has not been condemned by Pope Benedict, is showing signs that it's anticipated consummation may be at hand (whatever that may mean). I visited Garabandal in the 90's also and was immediately impressed by the palpable spirituality of the place.  A hilltop of genuine holiness and radiance with a peace that rivals that of Assisi. Is there something providential, then, about the Vatican restrictions on Medjugorje or is it by (sinister) design? Probably a little bit of both. After all, Bishop Jose Vilaplana Vasco, the Bishop of the diocese of Santander until 2007, where Garabandal is located, and its strong supporter,  is a known member of Opus Dei, and Garabandal itself is a hundred miles or so away from the Opus Dei Marian shrine of Torreciudad. Let us see what the future may bring.

The Pines of Garabandal

However, to offer a counterbalance, Pope Benedict and Archbishop Levada also cracked down on a visionary of dubious merit (me opinionating here),  Father Geno Burresi of the Fatima shrine of San Vittorino outside of Rome. This is old news from 2005, but in fairness to the Vatican watchdogs, it bears mentioning. Father Burresi was (is?) a renowned stigmatist who founded his own religious order and seminary together with a shrine devoted to the Virgin of Fatima at San Vittorino outside of Rome. The story is rather unsavory, so I refer any readers to John Allen's report in the NCR. But the gist of it is that Father Burresi was accused by several of his young seminarians of having lured them to his room at night where he then sexually molested them ("to the point of consummation", says the report!).  Here we go again, you say, and you would be right (echoes of Marcial Maciel). This is not the accusation that is at the top of the list, but it probably should be. How wearisome it all gets, especially when you learn of the efforts of Pope John Paul II to protect this man, even to the point of dismissing his accusing superiors from their positions of authority.

I visited San Torrino sometime in the 90's and was sitting alone in the large circular gathering area outside the shrine, when  Father Burresi emerged from one of the seminary buildings supported by two very young seminarians and proceeded to take an afternoon stroll around the circle.  His wrists were clearly visible bound with black stips of cloth. He cast one brief glance in my direction, but the two young boys (15-16?) watched me carefully like young hawks. At five o'clock, I attended his 'sold-out' Mass in the church and I have to say it was impressive. The Father possessed a demeanor of great dignity and gravitas and the moment of consecration was the most powerfully reverent I have ever witnessed. At this point, I don't quite know what to make of it all.  Surely he was not faking his devotion, no one could be that good of an actor, because it was a reverence that seemed seared into his very bones. And yet, call it instinct, but I trust the reports of the dazed and damaged seminarians who charge him with sexual abuse. And so it reminds me of some of the renowned Indian gurus of evident spiritual gifts, but not fully enlightened, who took their spiritual advancement for granted, whose sexuality was not yet fully integrated and who then used their spiritual fame as an excuse for indulging their not yet purified passions. The shock and scandal caused by such behavior is far greater than the abuse committed by a quite ordinary priest or minister. And Father Burresi was no ordinary priest. Every Good Friday, or so the story goes, he underwent the agonies of the Passion, his heart came to a stop and he remained clinically dead for up to 3 minutes, with two doctors on hand to revive him, just in case, which has never been necessary because his heart always resumed beating on its own.  Is this story a hoax, just a piece of propaganda, spread by his deluded followers? Who knows? But it does serve as a stern warning where extraordinary phenomenon in the mystical life are concerned. And so I tip my hat to Pope Benedict and Levada for removing this man from the public eye and confining him to a life of penance and contemplation (It's my understanding his victims were of legal age at the time of the incidents, but who can be sure.).

Why does life have to be so complicated with so many signs of contradiction?

But to end on an inspirational note which takes us back to the mystery of the Cross, the Shroud and the witness of Redemptive Suffering in the Church:




William D. Lindsey said...

Fascinating, Jayden, insightful, horrifying by turns, and funny as all get-out--as really good writing about the spiritual life should be.

I'm struck by something I never thought about, in your account of how Medjugore got going as a pilgrimage site. You say that the children saw a mysterious lady in white on the hillside.

And you had just noted that the Gospa of Medjugore praised the sole Muslim woman in the village as an exemplary woman of prayer.

This makes me wonder about everyone's certainty that the Lady/Gospa is the Virgin Mary. I understand the identification of the person the visionaries saw/see with Mary.

But implicit in that identification is a whole set of assumptions about the "kind of" Virgin Mary that people see when they encounter Mary, which may not be true to the original experience at all. As an example: was the lady with roses whom Juan Diego encountered the Virgin Mary of European iconography, or someone completely different, an Aztec maiden with a different form and message?

These stories can be told in many different ways, and you're doing a wonderful thing when you probe the way they've gotten pushed into one official set of meanings, which belies what those who originated the story saw in them when they first told them.

In a class I was teaching years back, a student brought a picture of Jesus sitting on an airplane wing. I think the point was to prove to us that 1) yes, Jesus does exist and is divine (and must like sitting on airplane wings), and 2) when we fly on an airplane, we fly with Jesus.

My response was to ask him how he knew that was Jesus.

That question stumped him and the class.

It's the kind of question we might need to ask about the lady in white in Medjugore, vis-a-vis the Virgin Mary.

William D. Lindsey said...

P.S. I'm all for letting a few radical gay fairies loose with our sacred stories :-).

Jayden Cameron said...

Bill, thanks so much for this. I'm going to incorporate it into a more formal reflection in the blog proper - since you've really hit on something. Another example of synchronicity!