IVAN Dragicevic feels very close to Our Lady for a good reason. He says that for the past 21 years, the Mother of God has been appearing to him at the same time each day.
Ivan is one of six children, who in 1981 witnessed something unusual in Medjugorje, a village which is no more than a tiny speck on the map in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the heart of the Balkans.
The Catholic Church has still not officially recognised the apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje, but that has not stopped many thousands of pilgrims travelling to the village each year to discover the mystery.
Ivan remembers vividly his first encounter with Our Lady.
‘I was 16 years old. I was like a child,’ he said during a whirlwind tour of Australia which included a packed celebration of more than 800 people at St Vincent’s Church, Surfers Paradise on February 3.
‘I lived in the time of Communism. Life was really hard. I worked in the fields from morning to night and went to school.
‘I always asked my parents when a particular feast day was coming so that I could have a day of rest and play soccer.’
It was June 24, 1981, the feast of St John the Baptist.
Ivan remembers sleeping in on that morning. ‘I did not have a great desire to go to Mass, but my parents came into my room and told me I had to get up.
I remember I couldn’t wait for Mass to finish.
‘Afterwards I came home and had lunch with the family. Then, at about 2 o’clock, some friends came over and invited me to come and play soccer.
‘We played until about 5.30pm. After that we headed back home slowly. On our way we met three girls. They said they were going to look for their parents’ sheep.
‘I didn’t ask them anything. As a young person I was pretty shy. I didn’t have many conversations with girls.’
On the way back, Ivan dropped by the house of one of the friends he had played soccer with and they started watching a basketball game on television.
At half-time, they went to Ivan’s house for something to eat and then headed back to the friend’s house to watch the second half of the match. But they never got there.
On their way, Ivan heard a voice saying, ‘Come and see Our Lady’.
He couldn’t see anyone so he went on a little further. The voice became louder. He then saw one of the three girls from earlier that day.
‘I could see something miraculous happening to her. She was full of light,’ Ivan recalls.
He then noticed Our Lady’s image. After that he ran home full of fear.
Ivan says he fled to his room and stayed there all night. ‘That night was one full of fear. My biggest fear was if Our Lady came into my bedroom. Where would I go?’
In Communist times, people were not allowed to talk about such phenomena, said Ivan.
His parents and priests didn’t believe the children at first but they protected them.
On the second day of the apparition, thousands of people came to witness the unusual phenomenon. Mary and the baby Jesus appeared 20 metres away from the children. ‘That moment will never leave my memory. I couldn’t move,’ said Ivan.
Ivan said Our Lady then placed her hands on their heads and shoulders and said: ‘Dear children, I am your mother. Don’t be afraid of anything. I will protect you, I will lead you’.
‘(One of the visionaries) Vicka asked, ‘Who are you?’ The radiant figure replied: ‘I am the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace. My Son is sending me to help you. Peace must reign between man and God and amongst men. Humanity has within itself the capacity to self-destruct’.’
Ivan says Our Lady’s greatest desire is peace. It is a message that she has been repeated to him many times over the past 21 years.
Ivan once asked Our Lady why he had been chosen to see her. ‘She said, ‘Dear child, I am not looking for the best’. ‘
He says being a witness to Our Lady is a great gift, but also a huge responsibility.
‘I know God has granted me a lot and I know he expects a lot as well. It is not easy being with Our Lady every day for five minutes, 10 minutes or half an hour and to have to return to this earth and live on.
‘To be with Our Lady means to be in the life of heaven – to look at heaven. Sometimes I need many hours to be able to return to the reality of the world.’
The night he spoke at Surfers Paradise, Ivan said Our Lady came to him with three angels, with the greeting, ‘Praise be to Jesus’. ‘She then prayed over all of us gathered, with outstretched hands.’
Ivan said Our Lady particularly prayed for the large representation of young people who were in the congregation, which spanned every age group.
He says Our Lady’s overarching message is of peace, conversion and a return to God. ‘It is a message of praying with the heart, a message of fasting, prayer and penance.
‘She says the biggest crisis today is faith in God because we have gone away from him.’
Prayer, in particular the Rosary, and taking part in the Holy Mass are essential, Ivan says. ‘Don’t talk about prayer, live prayer. We are not going to change today’s world with words, but with works.
‘This is a spiritually sick world and Our Lady comes with Godly medicine and to release us from our pain, to protect us and to lift this sinful humanity.’
Ivan says Our Lady is concerned that so many marriages are falling apart. ‘Love has ceased in the family. There’s no getting together at the family table where families can chat with their children, where these problems that we encounter every day can be solved.’
Ivan, who is married to an American and has three children, says everything that Our Lady has given, he wants to bring to his family.
The family spends six months of the year living in Medjugorje and the other six months in Boston. He continues to give talks and give witness to his visions.
Although, still essentially a shy person, Ivan says it’s a lifestyle he believes Our Lady wants him to lead.
“I would not like for you to look at me as a saint but I am trying to be better. This is my desire, it is sown into my heart. I know my conversion is a process open to the Holy Spirit. Be open to Christ.”
Asked about the apocalypse, Ivan says Our Lady does not talk about the second coming of Christ. ‘She wants to bring hope to the world. She does not want to talk about the end of the world. She says this world has a hope and a future.’
What Church says about apparitions
FR DAVID PASCOE puts private revelations into perspective from a Church viewpoint
APPARITIONS are events that belong to the types of experiences that the Church calls ‘private revelations’.
This phrase is key for how the Church views the meaning and importance of apparitions in the life of faith. We will look to its meaning in what follows. But first, a short definition of apparitions. We can say that they are, ‘events where a person (or persons) believes that they have seen a ‘vision’ or received some sort of special message from God’.
These sorts of events are not new to the Church. For example, some incidents in the Bible might be considered apparitions; like, where angels appear at the beginning of Luke’s gospel (1:11-38), the apparition of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration (Mk 9:4) the tongues of fire at Pentecost (Acts 2:3), or Stephen’s vision (Acts 7:56).
However, as much as the Church acknowledges that apparitions might continue to occur in history, it considers that they are very rare. The Church certainly recognises that God is ever present among us in creation through the presence of the Spirit of Christ and particularly in the Church though the Scriptures and the sacramental life of the Church. And yes, manifestations of God’s power and presence can occur as private revelations to particular people.
But, in regard to the latter, as one source points out, of the 386 sightings of Mary investigated by the Catholic Church in the 20th century, only eight are acknowledged as having some form of approval.
I think some explanation of what ‘approval’ by the Church means is helpful here for understanding the significance of apparitions as private revelation.
On February 25, 1978, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued ‘Norms of the Congregation for Proceeding in Judging Alleged Apparitions and Revelations’. This document notes that when an apparition is alleged to have taken place the bishop of the area has the responsibility for making the judgment for its authenticity. This is because he has responsibility and oversight for the public worship and religious teaching in the local Church.
In the case of an alleged apparition the bishop sets up a commission to determine the following:
First, that the apparition is in complete agreement with what has been revealed in the Gospels and with the tradition of the Church. The apparition must be consistent with Scripture and the Church’s tradition as these are the foundation of Catholic understanding of our Christian faith.
Second, the content of any message resulting from the apparition must be faithful to Christian attitudes such as prayer, penance, conversion of heart, love of God and other people. The message must be consistent with Christian principles of living and must draw people closer to God.
Third, the person or persons alleged to have had the vision are examined in regard to their truthfulness. The examination looks at their personality, conditions of life, level of maturity etc to ascertain that they are mentally sound, honest, sincere and able to return to the normal practices of the faith (such as participation in communal worship and reception of the sacraments).
In a commentary on what might be considered authentic apparitions, Rene Laurentin also notes that for an apparition to be authentic it will not cause division in the Church. He offers the following further characteristics that could be considered aspects of a genuine apparition. They (1) manifest the hidden presence of God, (2) renew community life, and (3) lead to the conversion of heart, (4) promote the reawakening and stimulation of faith, and (5) help renew hope and dynamism in the Church.
However, even if the above criteria are met and a particular apparition is considered to be authentic, it does not have to be believed. Numbers 66 and 67 of the Catholic Catechism are helpful here. The Catechism explains that because Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s revelation, no new public revelation is to be expected. It acknowledges that throughout history there have been ‘private revelations’, but even when authentic these add nothing to what has already been revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
In conclusion I found the following helpful with regard to positioning the meaning of apparitions as private revelations in our Christian faith.
Our faith cannot rest on private revelations and apparitions. Even with properly approved apparitions, we must maintain a proper perspective – viewing them as an assistance to nourish our faith in the central dogmas of the Incarnation, the Trinity and the Eucharist. In their 1973 pastoral letter, ‘Behold Your Mother: Woman of Faith’, the American bishops called authenticated appearances of Mary ‘providential happenings’ (which) serve as reminders of basic Christian themes, such as prayer, penance, and the necessity of the sacraments.
I have used a number of sources for the above, helpful among them are the following:
- Apparitions – Believe Them or Not? http://www.workingfaith.org/t_09082002.htm
- Norms and Practices for Judging Private Revelations http://www.udayton.edu/mary/resources/newsltr.html
- Rene Laurentin, Pilgrimages, Sanctuaries, Icons, Apparitions: An Historical and Scriptural Account.
Fr David Pascoe is the academic dean of St Paul’s Theological College, Brisbane.