VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ surprise announcement he will visit Sarajevo on June 6 has led to speculation he might sneak in a quick excursion to Medjugorje, little more than a 15-minute helicopter ride away.
But despite many anticipating a papal pronouncement on a five-year Vatican investigation into Marian apparitions alleged to have taken place at Medjugorje, the brevity of the trip will probably make even a short visit impossible.
Following his Angelus address on Sunday, the Pope revealed his plans to visit the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where ethnic and interreligious tensions persist after the Bosnian civil war, which ended 20 years ago this year. His visit will also fall less than a year since the July 28 centenary of the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that precipitated the outbreak of World War I.
Addressing pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square Feb. 1, Francis asked for prayers so that his visit “to those dear people is one of encouragement for the Catholic faithful, fosters seeds of good and contributes to the consolidation of fraternity and peace.”
The Pope has a “great desire” to meet the people of Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, said Archbishop Luigi Pezzuto, the apostolic nuncio to Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to the Croatian daily newspaper Vecernji List.
But Francis’ schedule is expected to be intense and will therefore limit the Pope to the Bosnian capital. Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Vrhbosna told reporters the Holy Father planned to meet with the country’s bishops and local authorities, but the cardinal also said the Holy Father will “consider the possibility of organizing some other meetings.”
“One day is not much, and so it will not be easy to arrange a large-scale program in one day,” he said.
Speaking to CNA in June, Cardinal Puljic underlined the difficulties Catholics face in Bosnia, saying they are “in a grave position” and suffering injustice. “There is no equality in the Serbian republic, there is no equality in the federation, [and] where there is no equality, it isn’t possible to live in peace,” he said.
Although a papal visit to Medjugorje is unlikely, it would have been timely, coming 18 months after an international Vatican commission completed its investigation into apparitions there. The findings, currently being examined by officials at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), will then be passed to the Holy Father for his final say.
Asked about the speculation of a visit, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told the Register Feb. 2 that the trip to Sarajevo “has no connection” with issues surrounding the pilgrimage site.
“The Pope has said he is going to Sarajevo and did not say that he’s going to Medjugorje,” he said.
Donal Foley, a leading expert on the pilgrimage site and author of Medjugorje Revisited: 30 Years of Visions or Religious Fraud?, also believes that, since it is only a one-day visit, a trip “is unlikely,” especially as it “seems to be more of a pastoral visit.”
He noted “some significance” in the choice of date, as June is the “anniversary month of the Medjugorje visions,” but he also pointed out that the bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina will visit Rome some time next year on their ad limina visit, making it “possible there may well be some sort of announcement about Medjugorje around then.”
Father Lombardi said he had “no idea if and when there will be a statement about Medjugorje.” He stressed that the CDF now has responsibility for it, and “they will take care of it in their own time and by their working methods.”
Intense speculation often surrounds Medjugorje, and this isn’t the first time reports have emerged of a possible announcement on the results of the investigation. Some reports predicted it would appear last November.
It also follows an instruction from CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who said priests and laity are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations “during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.”
Some believe Pope Francis has a low opinion of the frequent apparitions and refer to comments he made in 2013, when he said the Virgin Mary “is not a postmaster, sending messages every day.” However, to date, the Pope has never made any public statements on the issue.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.