by Richard Foley SJ
THE ban on pilgrimages to Medjugorje issued by the Yugoslav bishops and reported in the Catholic Herald (February 20) is not a new ban, but a restatement of a previous, specific ban on "official" pilgrimages to the shrine.
In May 1986 the bishop's commission investigating Medjugorje was dissolved on Rome's instructions. Last month it was succeeded by one comprising nominees from each Yugoslav diocese.
To mark the occasion, the hierarchy reaffirmed its original 1984 ban on bishop-led diocesan pilgrimages, the technical label for which is "official." Nor is this without sound reason. Such pilgrimages could be construed as public progessions of faith, premature and presumptuous alike, in matters still awaiting the Church's verdict.
But no ban whatsoever applies to pilgrimages of lesser status all the way from individual doit-yourself efforts to group pilgrimages organised at parish or even inter-parish level with priests as spiritual guides.
Incidentally, several thousand priests are included among the five million-plus pilgrims who have been to Medjugorje to date. So they too would be relegated to the ecclesiastical dog-house were there a ban overhanging all pilgrimages as such. Indeed, they would also have for company there those many prelates that have likewise pilgrimaged, in a private capacity, of course, to Medjugorje.
An important proviso in the 1984 statement was again affirmed last month by the Yugoslav hierarchy. It makes the point that, while pilgrims are free to believe in the supernatural character of the Medjugorje package, they must always bear in mind that the Church still has to deliver its final judgement.
The Vatican has not discouraged all organised pilgrimages to Medjugorje. This is a distortion of the fact that in 1985 a Roman official suggested to the Italian bishops that they might consider taking steps to curb the sensationalism and worse, attending the publicity and advertising to do with Medjugorje pilgrimages.
To support his contention that the Pope is "noticeably distant" from Medjugorje devotees, one commentator cites the case of the Verona ones. What may have been their indiscretion serves to underline how necessary it is for the Pope to display, at all times, the most immaculate discretion particularly as regards so sensitive an unfinished symphony as Medjugorje.