A Special Media Moment

Who wouldn't raise an eyebrow over an organization featuring victim newsgroups like alt.food.waffle-house, and whose members' home pages feature passages such as "We see the bride-to-be tonight wearing a wide-brim sombrero and sunglasses, a shredded shirt with the words on it WHO FARTED?, and a pair of Dingo cowboy boots."
Five years ago today in Suck.


Something About Mary


Like the U.S. State Department, the Virgin Mary has had difficulty plotting a course in the post-Cold War world. Mary continues to make public appearances at a brisk pace. But there's a certain cohesiveness missing. If nothing else, the decadence of Veronica Lueken's visions indicated that the steam was going out of the Fatima phenomenon long before the flurry of Y2K activity briefly put it back on the map. The Millennium clock has turned over without incident, the Soviets are more or less put away, Sister Lucy appears likely to go up to Heaven without revealing any more Marian secrets. The Miracle of Fatima is now essentially a told tale, and despite the efforts of the Father Gruners and Suns of the world, the story will linger on only in something like the Blue Army version — a mild, chuch-approved message of good will for humanity. The Baysiders can't even muster a strong response when you ask them if the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk was Mary's doing.

Policy drift is one of the side-effects of victory, and the Virgin Mary is suffering from it now. If there's a common sensibility uniting Fatimans, it's a vague sense of having been cheated, of having fought the good fight and gotten bupkes in return. Contemporary Fatima literature is rife with tales of China's oppression of Catholics, of Rwandans butchered in their churches, of the sufferings of the faithful in contemporary Vietnam — and more than anything else of the crisis of secular America. They're putting a name to their pain. The Fatimans plunged into the fight against Godlessness and emerged to a world of sniveling "spirituality," abortion on demand and Temptation Island.

So what will be the next step? There's certainly no shortage of Mary appearances, from Vietnam to Kibeho, Rwanda, to Yakima, Washington. "What varies," says Professor Carroll, "is the Church's willingness to give such reports legitimacy, and that seems to be at a low ebb."

Indeed, since the vast de-emphasis of Mariology that followed Vatican II, only one apparition — the living statue visitation of Sister Agnes Sasagawa in Akita Japan — has been approved.

That's bound to change. The hierarchy may find the people's superstitions embarrassing, but Mary remains the Catholic Church's most popular export item: The beneficiaries of her message include a Conquest-era Mexican Indian, several hundred thousand Egyptian Muslims, and Liverpool Oratorio composer Sir Paul McCartney. More important, she's the only member of the Christian pantheon anybody actually seems to like. Mexican Catholics rise before dawn and perform Aztec dances ( 1.3 MB) in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our Lady of Lourdes receives several million visitors a year. Even more telling is a casual survey of which statues get prayed to in any church. When Catholics have problems, real problems, the kind of problems that make people go to church in the first place — when the marriage is breaking up, when the kid gets diagnosed autistic, when somebody in the family is sick beyond all hope — it's Mary who hears about it first.

It's inevitable that the Church will again tap into the force and popular vigor of Mary visitations in its own mortal agony. New candidates for the priesthood are at an all-time low. New nuns are practically non-existent. In South America, Protestant evangelism is making rapid inroads into the most Catholic continent on the planet. US cities with long Catholic pedigrees can't even keep their churches open. In France it's rare to find a church that hasn't been closed or consolidated into a regional parish. John Paul II in many ways is in the same situation Mikhail Gorbachev occupied in the 1980s, using pure charm to try and stave off the creeping irrelevence of his institution.

It's the kind of situation that calls for divine intervention. So for the real in-crowd, the big question isn't who will be the next pope, but which Marian apparition will next pass the rigorous testing process and be awarded the "Worthy of Belief" stamp. And the smart money is on Our Lady of Medjugorje.

On July 24, 1981, six children ranging in age from 10 to 16 spotted the Virgin Mary on a hill near the town of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The next day she returned at the same spot, and began a process of daily visitations that continues to this day. Efforts to prevent the Medjugorje kids from gathering for their daily rendezvous proved fruitless, as Our Lady began appearing to them in the woods, around town, in their own homes, finally settling on a spot in a local church. Four of the six continue to hear from Mary every day. More than 20 million people have made the Medjugorje pilgrimage since 1981. Sequel apparitions have been reported in Scottsdale, Ariz., Conyers, Ga. and other places.


In her book Meetings With Mary, Janice T. Connell even credits Our Lady of Medjugorje with the rescue of Serb-bombing, God-thanking pilot Captain Scott O'Grady; the downed flyer's own statements somewhat support her claim. (Air Force personnel in need of future interventions need not worry about Our Lady's claim that Medjugorje will be her last visit to earth; Mary has done more farewell tours than The Who.)

Our Lady of Medjugorje is the front-runner for a number of reasons: Her messages can be a chore to read through, but they generally fall within the acceptable "be not afraid" safe zone favored by the Pope. As was the case at Fatima, she's in a fairly strategic geographical area where Catholics can readily view themselves as embattled. Perhaps most important, the popularity of Medjugorje has been a mostly grassroots phenomenon, with the enthusiasm of believers eventually forcing the Church to relent on its initial opposition: Non-affiliated Medjugorje pilgrimages are now approved, and the gift shops at most Catholic churches now sell Our Lady of Medjugorje prayer cards.

Even if it happens somewhere else, Mary's next official visit will serve many purposes — fighting enemies and reviving a fading institution among them. It's just a matter of time before she settles on an enemy worth her trouble, and as Medjugorje visionary Jacov Colo told an interviewer, "God never loses." That's why we've got one last prophecy to make, and this time you don't have to wait 80 years to hear it:

No matter what happens, Mary will be kicking some ass.



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Bartel d'Arcy