Well, after the lull of yesterday (though the church was packed all through the day and night) the crowds have returned to Medugorje,the streets are bustling and the cafes are, well, at least half full. I've yet to find a quiet moment alone in the church this visit, which wasn't the case a year ago.
My final reflections on this pilgrimage will have to wait until I return to Prague this Wednesday. Some observations of a critical nature, however, are in order. I browsed through the various "Catholic" bookstores, which have a very narrow range of selections, most of them characterized by a very traditional mindset. This includes the largest English language bookstore in the village, whose shelves are filled with old classics of the most traditional piety and many editions of Tan Books, Visions of Catherine Emerich, etc. I found one book advocating Catholic home schooling, and immediately thought of my blogger friend, William Lindsey, of the blog On Bilgrimage, and the family of his partner, Steve. The woman author of the book boasted that she had seven sons and not one of them turned out to be a rebel son, because we all followed 'the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church." My heart sank at those words, what kind of an upbringing must these boys have endured? The woman also described the rooms of her house in detail, with holy pictures, icons, crucifixes, statues filling the walls and cabinets in every room, it was oppressive just reading about it, like being locked in a mad house. But here was her book - alongside many others of a similar mindset - prominently displayed on a bookshelf in Medugorje. There were old, old biographies of Catherine of Sienna, St. Martin de Porres, Margaret Mary Alacoque, with prefaces written by priests whose theological formation took place in the 1920's. This is very much old time Catholicism and it dominates the bookstores of Medugorje, leading me to believe that far from needing another restaurant with a decent wine list, what Medugorje most needs is a contemporary, updated theological Catholic bookstore to offset this dominance of the religious right. No wonder progressives feel uncomfortable about coming here! However, in one small corner of the store, I did come across (shock, horror) a selection of writings on devotion to the Sacred Heart by the saintly, socially progressive Father General of the Jesuits during my stay within the order, Pedro Arrupe. In Him Alone ... Our Hope, the book was entitled and I grabbed it immediately, together with a pair of fairly decent, trustworthy collations of Medugorje testimonies, gathered together by Sister Emmanuel of the Beatitudes Community. Inspiring works on Medugorje that do not offend a more liberal outlook do exist but one must search for them carefully. Generally, all the works of the saintly Father Slavko Barbaric can be trusted, though even his theological outlook can seem somewhat quaint and outmoded. Not so his personal holiness, however, which is of a profound nature. He died, fittingly, of a heart attack on Holy Cross Mountain in the year 2000, at the age of 54, after having led a group of pilgrims on the arduous Stations of the Cross to the summit of this very sacred spot. His death, however, left a profound vacuum at the heart of the village, when it comes to truly discerning spiritual fathers. Father Jozo Zovko, however, whose books figure very prominently in all of Medjugorje's bookstores, is another matter. While undoubtedly a good and sincere man, there is something of the cult figure about him and his followers and a brief dipping into his writings has always left me with a very queasy feeling. Just not quite right. Disturbing. On a similar note, I opened at random another book of reflections on Medjugorje by another friar and found a rant against uppity women who rail againts the 'proper order of nature' by seeking greater authority in the church, etc. etc. The Friar was presenting the Madonna of Medugorje as the perfect antidote to such uppity female heretics. Well, this is when I want to stand on a pedestal/soap box in the main street of the village and give a rant myself against the co-option of the Medugorje charism by these right wing extremists. Quite simply, because progressives are simply not interested in reflecting theologically on this phenomenon, the right wing has taken over, which is a shame. There is nothing, nothing at all, in the 'messages of Our Lady themselves which support any kind of right wing agenda. The messages scrupulously avoid taking sides in any of the most partisan, controversial issues in the church today - be it women's rights, ordination, contraception, gay marriage. There isn't even a suggestion of which direction the heavenly lady might bend on these issues, except her evident good sense and tolerance. All that can be said is that she is issuing a gentle call for a return to the some of the old devotional practices, but even these are limited to fasting, prayer, confession, the Eucharist, and contemplation upon the passion of Her Son.
And on the same note, I purchased a copy of the magazine, Medugorje Tribune. In its pages is an article entitled "Holy Mass for the Martyred Friars," and it describes the ceremony which takes place every year in the village on the feast of 'Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac.' Oh dear, I thought. Here is where Medugorje needs some profound and critically responsible theological reflection, of the kind that would most likely disconcert a great many people (and might finally cause the Vatican to shut the whole place down). The very simple, uncontroversial messages themselves call for repentance and conversion. But there can be no true repentance and conversion unless the Church in Croatia recognizes and repents of its own complicit crimes committed during World War II by the Ustashe and by many Franciscan religious themselves - horrific crimes of which Cardinal Stepanic was the pre-eminent enabler. Where is the Mass for their victims? As long as this denial exists and as long as Medugorje itself is used as some kind of holy screen or filter, then it's essential message and experience will not be acceptable to a great many thoughtful, informed persons. Medugorje, in a phrase, has been co-opted and its message of peace and reconciliation is only very selectively applied. The profound experience of that peace, however, is a reality, which can only lead truly prayerful, discerning people to a full uncovering of 'the truth.' There can be no true reconciliation and peace without it.