By Colleen Kochivar-Baker
Editor’s Note: This article was first published at Colleen’s blogsite, Enlightened Catholicism.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading in my time off. A lot of that reading has been in books I bought from seven or eight years ago and I’ve found it surprising how things I was taken with back then are not the things I’m taken with now. I’ve always done this, reread things years later as a way to track how much I’ve changed and learned – or how much I haven’t.
I reread John Cornwall’s Hitler’s Pope about Pius XII. Part of my desire to reread the book was motivated by the current push to canonize Pius XII and part of it was because Cornwall has backed off from some of what he’s written.
I came away with different points of emphasis this time. This time the part of the story which really hit home was Pius’ failure to reign in the Catholic Ustache in Yugoslavia. He had ample reason to do so, but instead allowed this movement to engage in genocide with nary a peep in opposition. I’ve done more than a little research into the Ustache and their campaign of horror against the Serbian Orthodox. That particular region of Central Europe has been a thorn in European politics for a long time, precipitating World War I and continuing it’s hate well into this current century.
Part of that research had to do with the Marian appearance at Medjugorge. The Medjugorge area was the site of Franciscan led Ustache atrocities in World War II, but it also has a history that predates World War II in this category of mob atrocities in the name of religion. The ground is soaked with the blood of Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic adherents and has been for a millenia. It’s a piece of land that testifies to the atrocities mankind is capable of committing in a selfish understanding of God’s will. I’ve always thought this was quite the area for an appearance from the “Queen of Peace.” Her appearances are now causing more than a bit of a battle within the Vatican itself. The message of Medjugorge is as always about the need for conversion, but it’s not always about conversion to Catholicism. It’s about conversion to the way of love promulgated by her son. This Mary calls for the end of sectarian strife in the name of God and conversion to the love for all of mankind.
However, it was not Mary at Medjugorge which influenced Pius XII and then John Paul II. It was the Marian apparition at Fatima. Just as the Marian apparition at Lourdes influenced Pius IX. In all three popes Marian apparitions seem to influence these papacies to greater levels of centralized control for the papacy. Pio Nono and Pius XII announced the Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. John Paul II was seriously considering declaring Mary as Co Redemptorix. These seem to be calculated attempts to equate the standing of the Papacy with Mary’s standing with Jesus. As Mary is in the heavenly kingdom so the Pope is in the earthly kingdom.
This final notion of John Paul’s ran into serious opposition from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, but it now seems to be gaining favor with the same man as Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict is now scheduled to visit Fatima in May and say Mass at the Basilica on May 13th, which is the 93rd anniversary of the first vision. Perhaps he too has had a conversion, if not to the truth of the Fatima, at least to it’s historical importance to papal notions of centralized Papal spiritual authority.
It seems this papal need to identify with Marian appearances has coincided with the papacy’s forced redefinition of itself from a secular political power to the single spiritual authority for Catholicism. Pius IX saw this potential in Lourdes and used the message of Lourdes to embark on his redefining Papal infallibility. This trend continued more or less unabated until the Papacy of John XXIII. John refused to release the third secret of Fatima in 1960 as Fatima legend has he was supposed to have done. He said at the time it didn’t apply to his papacy. Instead he opened Vatican II and according to Fatima die hards, “let the smoke of Satan” into the Vatican. (Or the Holy Spirit depending on one’s point of view.)
When Ali Agjca attempted to assassinate John Paul on May 13th, 1981, I suspect this was an attempt to undercut not just his papacy, but some of the spiritual authority Fatima had given the papacy. If Mary couldn’t protect the Pope, as the third secret prophesied, it would have been a major hit to pious Catholics. That it didn’t turn out that way was a major hit to communism. John Paul lived and the Iron Curtain fell. Mary triumphed against communist Russia without another shot being fired. Instead, those shots were once again fired in Medjugorge.
Maybe it’s because the message of Medjugorge is not always about conversion to Catholicism that the Papacy is disinclined to take these visions seriously. The Vatican is wrong. They need to take these visions very seriously because they are missing the point. Mary is not talking about a conversion to a set of religious beliefs or intellectualizations, she is talking about a conversion of the heart. The very same conversion Jesus came to show us. She is talking about the power of love. That power is not bound in any dogma. It’s boundaries are self imposed by love’s very nature and those boundaries are much more open than those of religious dogma.
If Fatima was about Mary’s view of communist Russia as the biggest threat to individual freedom and love in the twentieth century, Medjugorge is about the biggest threat in the twenty first century. That threat is religious dogmatism and that threat is as much a core part of Catholicism as it is in the Islamic or Christian evangelical movements.
This may be a message the Vatican does not want to hear. I admit Fatima is a much more Vatican friendly message. Unfortunately for Benedict, Fatima is a finished message. Medjugorge is not.