Outside of the physical signs, the dancing sun, the supernatural occurrences with the Cross on Mt. Krizevac, the word “Mir” written in red across the sky, the miraculous healings, etc., the visionaries themselves are a sign, the most studied sign of the entire Medjugorje phenomenon. It is their testimony that they see the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ. This testimony has been challenged by countless individuals over the years, from the Bishop of Mostar, to Catholic theologians, to medical and scientific doctors of every specialty.
Whereas, multitudes of pilgrims received the faith to believe in the apparitions through a personal experience with God and Our Lady, others played the role of Thomas. Their approach was looking at the experience from a purely human point-of-view and studying the phenomenon scientifically. “Let me place my fingers in His wounds, and then I will believe.” Not that all the scientists approached the visionaries in this manner, but as a group, they certainly represent this mentality. This opened a very fascinating chapter in the history of Medjugorje and the visionaries. For just as we learned something important about the character and love of Jesus in the face of Thomas’ human reasoning, so too has today’s man something to learn from the approach of the scientists to the visionaries, and even from Our Lady’s own response to the testing undergone by Her specially chosen witnesses.
Though apparitions would not be considered commonplace in the history of the Catholic Church, there has been an increase in this type of supernatural manifestation, especially throughout the past century. The Medjugorje apparitions brought with them something exceptional that was not present in the other apparitions. It brought longevity. No other time in the history of apparitions have visions, of this type, lasted for such a long time, and on a daily basis. Some saints have had daily mystical experiences, but Medjugorje is not personally for the visionaries, rather for a plan to save the world in the context of Revelation, chapter 12, the Woman doing battle with the dragon. This phenomenon provided the opportunity to study not only “these” apparitions, but apparitions and the state of ecstasy in general.
For example, before Medjugorje, those who were experts in the study of the ecstatic state, such as what the visionaries experience, had two categories in which ecstasies fell into: the first describes a person who is unaware of their surroundings, who becomes rigid or even what is called cataleptic*; the second describes a person who remains aware of the world and is able to act as an intermediary between the people who are present and the supernatural being. This was actually the state of the Medjugorje visionaries at the beginning of the apparitions.
However after the initial excitement of conveying Our Lady’s requests and Her responses to questions by those in the crowd who came to witness the visionaries while in an apparition, the visionaries began to perceive that the Virgin Mary desired to convey to each one of them information of great importance. At that point, their concentration became total to the point of being completely unaware of their surroundings. This state of being had not beforehand been observed in other cases, and because of this, there was an ongoing debate whether the Medjugorje visionaries were truly experiencing the “ecstatic state”, according to the specific definition of psychology. The dilemma was solved when an expert in the field, in 1985, added a third category for ecstasy. He described the ecstasy of the Medjugorje visionaries as “invincible and spontaneous…a state in which the person is temporarily insensitive to anything but the apparition on which their eyes are fixed, yet who is socially well integrated and in a condition of perfectly normal mental and physical health.” (1) This was a significant finding, and one that history had not been able to give to science before now because the short duration of the apparitions prevented any long-term observation. This observation gives weight to the authenticity of the testimony of the visionaries, for those who, like Thomas, need to see in order to believe.
Added to this intrigue was another element that pressed both theologians and professors of science to arrange a battery of tests for the visionaries to undergo that would record in any and every conceivable way their experience. Our Lady had made a startling claim to the visionaries. She said that these Medjugorje apparitions would be the last apparitions on earth. In effect, there would never be another time when the Virgin Mary would appear to individuals where they can see Her, hear Her, touch Her and communicate with Her. From the vantage point of those responsible for studying the apparitions, if this ended up being true, this would be the only opportunity left to man to study the phenomenon of ecstasy in this way. To lose this opportunity would be to lose forever anything that we may be able to glean from the experience that would help us to understand God in our own time, and for all future ages, that may be helpful to man’s salvation in a world that is turning more and more secular, and in the future when the time comes to face the anti-christ.
Also, the technology available today in the field of psychology and physiology had never been available during apparitions of other visionaries, such as with Bernadette in Lourdes, or the three children of Fatima. Medjugorje was among the first opportunities to utilize a host of new scientific techniques and procedures to study every facet of the human being’s experience in the midst of an ecstatic state. This was intriguing not only from the view point of science but for the Church as well.
Before looking at what was discovered within the testing, it is important to state that the scientists were not trying to prove the apparitions to be real. This was beyond their capability. Whether or not Our Lady was appearing would always, ultimately, be a matter of faith. What they hoped to accomplish first, was to determine whether or not the visionaries were psychologically fit or if there was evidence of disorder in them. There was a whole array of psychological tests each of the visionaries was asked to undergo to determine this. Secondly, they were able to measure, during the time of ecstasy, eye movement, breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, the function of the larynx and auditory canals, etc. The data they collected helped define the state of being of the visionaries during ecstasy, comparing their findings to normal physiological functioning of humans.
From the view of science, the visionaries stumped the professors. They could not come up with any scientific explanation for what they observed. Most of those involved over the years admitted that the only explanation they could come up with, through their scientific testing, was that it was a supernatural phenomenon. There were even some nonbelievers among them who came to believe in the reality of the supernatural. For them, figuratively speaking, putting their finger into the wounds of Christ led them to faith. One impressive testimony comes from an Italian neurophysiologist, Dr. Marco Margnelli, a specialist in ecstasy and altered states of consciousness. He was part of the group of Italian doctors who tested the visionaries in 1985. He was unprepared of how the visionaries’ testimony would impact him personally.
*A symptom of certain nervous disorders or conditions, and includes rigid body and limbs, staying in the same position when moved, loss of muscle control and slowing down of bodily functions
“I am a non-believer and therefore I went to Medjugorje in a critical spirit, ready to welcome any evidence of what would contradict it or show up a fake. In so far as I am concerned, that is from my studies on change in states of consciousness in the children, I must say that I have, with my instruments, verified and documented a genuine state of ecstasy.
“Certainly, as far as my opinion goes, there is no lying, and certainly the children enter a different state of consciousness, that which is scientifically called the ‘alfa’ state. If they then really see the Madonna, or if it is a case of suggestion phenomenon inexplicable to us, is a matter for theological competence, on which I cannot express myself.
“Certainly, we were in the presence of an extraordinary phenomenon. Since my return from Yugoslavia, I continually think of it, and I confess that I also ask myself questions which are not scientific, and I question myself on the meaning of all that.
“As a man the events surrounding this phenomenon also surprised me. There is the videotape of a colleague which records our work, in which one can see the absolutely synchronous movement with which the children act, their looks which all together follow the apparition; there are films taken by people I know and who appear to be honest, of the cross which dominates the hill nearby, which disappears; there is the absolute silence of the birds which gather before sunset in the square and they go silent, all together, suddenly as soon as the apparition begins.
“A lady living in Milan, and who seems to me to be a very responsible person told me a curious fact. Gravely ill with leukemia, she had gone to Medjugorje, wishing to be embraced by the Madonna; at the end of the ecstasy, one of the children ran to embrace her, among hundreds of people present, saying to her: ‘That’s the embrace you wished from the Madonna.’ She is now healed of her illness. Another doctor from the Mangiagalli of Milan, Luigi Frigerio, to whom we were indebted for the organization of our journey, tells that he was singled out in the same way by one of the visionaries who asked in a loud voice, in Croatian: ‘Where is the doctor from the Mangiagalli in Milan. The Madonna asked me to tell him that she is pleased with the work he is doing.
“If anyone had told me these things before my journey here, I would have laughed at it. We are certainly in the presence of an extremely interesting phenomenon. Whether we are dealing with an authentic apparition or something else that we cannot explain, I cannot say; it is a question I prefer not to put myself.’(2)
As Dr. Margnelli confessed, he continually thought of all the things, asking questions that were not scientific, but pondering the meaning of what was happening in Medjugorje. His ponderings led him out of his unbelief. He is now a practicing Catholic.
Jesus’ words come alive again, in this day of reason and rationality: “Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe.” John 20:27
1. Spark from Heaven, Mary Craig
2. Corriere della Sera, Viviana Kasam, November 1, 1985