May 28, 2011

++ Off to Medjugorje

A few days ago, I returned from the international book exposition in New York, after promoting my new Spiritual thriller as well as the other books that Vero House has published. Within 24 hours, however, I was committing to a bigger trip. A strange set of circumstances converged to put me on the path to Medjugorje, perhaps the world's most controversial site for alleged miracles.

Unwinding from my New York trip, I felt moved to check out one particular group trip to Medjugorje, even though I knew that my circumstances made my participation extremely unlikely. I prayed that God would lead the way if He wanted me to go. Then, within hours of when I first considered the trip seriously, every barrier had fallen and I found myself overnighting my payment, at the very last minute.

Medjugorje is a tiny town in Bosnia-Herzegovina (the former Yugoslavia, near the Adriatic Sea) in which countless miracles have been claimed since 1981. The details are far too numerous for this blog but, for those who want to learn more, a great book on the subject is by the former "Rolling Stone" reporter, Randall Sullivan. "The Miracle Detective" is a wonderful read for the Spiritually curious of any faith, but especially for Catholics. (I should warn, however, that two consecutive bishops of that diocese have refused to accept the supernatural nature of the events, even though vast numbers of clergy, including Pope John Paul II, have highly praised them.)

Anyway, three decades ago, six children started claiming that they were seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary. At first the communist leaders of Yugoslavia tried to bully and threaten the children and their families into changing their story. That didn't work.

Since then, as the visions have persisted, they have become the most scientifically investigated "visionaries" in history. The seers have been repeatedly and extensively studied during their ecstasies by experts from all over the world, including psychiatrists, neuro-psychiatrists; cardiologists; neurologists; eye, ear, nose and throat specialists; and numerous other doctors. During the visionaries’ ecstasies, these children had no physical response to shouting, jabbing and pinching. Their highly dilated pupils would not constrict even when a 1,000 watt bulb was shone into them. There was no response to pain even when one of the girls was stabbed repeatedly in the shoulder with a long leather-working needle. In fact, one psychopharmacologist concluded that the children were experiencing "complete analgesis," in other words, the total inability to feel pain. While in ecstasy, their electrocardiograms and electroencephalograms all indicated they were not in any known state of consciousness. Based on the EEG beta and alpha cycles that were monitored, it appears the best term for their state of consciousness is "hyper-awake." Repeatedly, scientists and doctors have concluded that they could find no hint of deceit and no scientific explanation.

I personally know of many people of profound Christian faith who have witnessed and experienced miracles there. Rosaries turn golden, the sun dances, the giant cross on the mountain spins or lights up, the entire landscape becomes visually golden, the large bronze Crucifix mysteriously exudes a holy oil, physical and Spiritual healings are proclaimed.

I will paraphrase one of my favorite stories from "The Miracle Detective." A neurophysiologist from Milan, named Dr. Marco Margnelli, went to Medjugorje to expose the phenomenon as a fake. He was an avowed atheist. After his studies, he returned home with a lot of ‘unscientific’ questions in his head. He concluded that the ecstasies were extraordinary phenomena that he could not understand. But, more importantly, he could not explain the synchronous eye movements of the children, within one-fifth of a second of each other, or the healing he saw of a woman with leukemia. Finally, what affected him the most was watching the hundreds of wild birds that showed up each afternoon and noisily chirped, that is, until the apparition began. The "absolute silence of the birds" haunted him, the doctor admitted. A few months after returning to Milan, Dr. Margnelli became a practicing Catholic.

Still, for my Protestant friends who inaccurately believe that the Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary is idol worship that diminishes the focus on Jesus Christ, I strongly disagree. The Blessed Mother's words have the sole purpose and effect of bringing us closer to her Son. Just as we are nothing without Him, she is nothing without Him. The visionaries say that the Blessed Mother affirms - in addition to her constant request for more prayers to God - that, "There is only one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ."

Still, regarding apparent miracles, the true test is not how much our senses are dazzled or our bodies are healed. The true test is whether these phenomena bring us closer to our Lord and Savior. On that issue millions of pilgrims say a resounding, "Yes!"

I was pleased and excited to learn that I will be staying at the home of the lead visionary, Mirjana. Also, I have been informed that ABC News' NightLine will be joining our group and filming for an upcoming show.  Please join me in praying that they will report much more than mere facts and, instead, reveal truth.

For my part, after years of research, I have confidence in the validity of these apparitions. However, I pray for wisdom, discernment and truth when I travel there. I will accept whatever truth God reveals, even if it is uncomfortable.