By Stephen Ryan
“Here we have the “author” of the Catechism -the greatest single reference work on Catholic doctrine today and close friend of the Holy See- outright telling the World that the Blessed Mother is here offering “messages” to the world. You can’t make this stuff up. This is 60 minutes worthy. ”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the official text of the teachings of the Catholic Church and Cardinal Schönborn the Archbishop of Vienna has gained international prominence for his work as Director of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – the greatest single reference work on Catholic doctrine today.
So who could have imagined that on September 23, 2010 this great intellect, the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Schonborn, would host two “visionaries” of the Blessed Virgin Mary in his grand cathedral – St. Stephen’s in Vienna. This singular event in Austria has now pushed Medjugorje, the place known for the spiritual mystery of the Blessed Mother appearing to six children, now adults, for nearly thirty years, even further onto the world stage.
Watching the event on television and according to reports, electricity shot through the Church and goose-bumps poured forth when the Archbishop, in his opening statement, turned to the Bosnian visionaries and said:
Praised Be Jesus and Mary!
Praised be Jesus Christ! (a common greeting from Medjugorje)
Dear Marija, dear Ivan, thank you first of all that you
came. Thank you that you came
again! [applause] Thank you for your service across so many
years. For your work, for your service of being messengers of the Gospa
Our Lady. You bring us children of this
world, children of humanity, her love and her presence and may God pay you
back 100 fold for what you¹re doing tirelessly. read transcript here
After the Mass and after the Adoration of Our Savior the crowds thinned and as the broadcast equipment was being gathered and put away, Cardinal Schonborn, still milling around the Cathedral, thanked Tom Matasso, the Mary TV technical expert who had broadcast the event around the world, for his work. Tom Matasso then thanked Cardinal Schonborn for standing by Medjugorje.. – the Cardinal replied, “It is my duty!” – more electricity, more goose-bumps.
It was an extraordinary moment. Perhaps soon, perhaps in time, but we wonder if the moment will be remembered as historic or simply a footnote in the Catholic Church’s mysterious dance with visions of the Virgin Mary.
So why do we ask if Medjugorje, which was recently described by the BBC as the fastest growing Marion shrine in the world, will soon become the biggest Catholic News story in America?
First of all it is important to understand that the Catholic “blogosphere” and leading Catholic voices have been very active reporting on Medjugorje and have recently come out strongly against Cardinal Schonborn’s very public support for the Queen of Peace and the events taking place in Medjugorje. But with the decidedly negative spin attached to Medjugorje by these Catholic commentators the events of Medjugorje are quickly dismissed and so the idea of the Virgin Mary appearing today remains a remote and fringe issue for many Catholics – perhaps even “dangerous”. But again we think this is about to change. Something must change, in fact, as we explain below.
Over the past two weeks ministryvalues.com has held intense and at times uncomfortable dialog with leading voices in Catholic Media including Deacon Greg Kandra at Beliefenet.com, Patrick Madrid and Mark Shea ( a few months ago). Each of these esteemed men have been active and persistent critics of the apparitions of Medjugorje. The tone of these important America Catholics writers in their columns and blogs have not only mocked the events at Medjugorje but quite frankly have questioned the behavior of the Archbishop of Vienna himself. Greg Kandra writes in a headline – “Someone should alert Cardinal Schonborn” and a few months ago Greg Kandra in another article against Medjugorje he writes of Medjugorje – “Medjugorje: Lies, contradictions, promises, uncertainties”
In an e-mail we asked Greg Kandra about his views on Cardinal Schonborn’s recent activities including hosting the Medjugorje visionaries in his Cathedral and why it bothered him so much -we asked why he was willing to take on the Archbishop so directly. Greg wrote back saying ” I think the Cardinal is being irresponsible in his very public support for an “apparition” that has not been approved by the Church, and I would caution all faithful Catholics to tread carefully on the issue of Medjugorje. It is a place to be approached with great skepticism and, in fact, caution.” We thought to ourselves “Greg Kandra thinks the Editor of the Catholic Catechism is being irresponsible -Wow, thats a pretty strong statement.”
We then asked him if he would be willing to invest a little time trying to understand the Archbishop of Vienna’s point of view and his actions towards Medjugorje. Mr. Kandra wrote back: “Thank you for your insight and kind offer, Ryan. But I’ll decline. I’m really not interested in promoting the Medjugorje “apparitions” at this time.”
We then asked Greg Kandra “Without this (trying to understand Cardinal Schonborn’s views) Greg you are effectively waging a quite battle against the Director of the Catholic Catechism. You have put yourself at odds with the man who wrote the book that speaks officially for the Church. This is not a sustainable position to be in.” Deacon Kandra finally offered that to him Medjugorje was cult like in most of its manifestations and he felt the proper approach for Catholics was to be “cautious” until the Catholic Church has ruled on the matter.
Patrick Madrid, though recognizing the great “fruits” of Medjugorje , also holds negative views on the unapproved apparitions but the trouble he finds in Medjugorje stems from issues of disobedience among supporters of Medjugorje, including Cardinal Schonborn. Mr. Madrid believes Medjugorje and its followers, from beginning to end, have been disobedient towards the Bishop of Mostar who oversees Medjugorje. He believes this is reason alone to consider the events at Medjugorje as “Not supernatural”
“From very early on, you see an incitement to disobedience in the messages,” Madrid said. “If this really is the Mother of God urging disobedience to the bishops, that seems at odds with her messages to people like St. Faustina, where she urged obedience even in the wake of disbelief and disapproval.”
Mr Madrid has a cornucopia of intellectuals that tend to do his bidding including one of his most zealous “sources” who has accused Cardinal Schonborn of “slapping” the Bishop of Mostar “in the face” for hosting the Medjugorje visionaries. We have gone back and forth on the question of dissobediance with Patrick Madrid but like Greg Kandra in the end, he feels his postion and views on Medjugorje are correct and that Archbishop is wrong in his public support of Medjugorje.
Cardinal Schonborn without apologies or nuance greeted the visionaries of an unapproved apparition in his Diocese in the grand and ornate Catholic setting of St Stephen’s Cathedral and it certainly begs the question from skeptics and believers “Why and why now” Why would the good Cardinal embrace the visionaries in such a public way knowing the controversies surrounding Medjugorje and how Medjugorje creates divisions among the Catholic faithful? What are his motivations? Certainly he could show his support towards Medjugorje without sending the Catholic blogosphere in to such a state of dismay as to feel compelled to criticise a great intellectual of our faith.
We think part of the answer to these questions can be found in a lecture Cardinal Schonborn gave to students at Catholic Universtity almost a year ago.
Ministryvalues.com was in attendance and the lecture was titled “The Identity of Christianity – Alien Presence or Foundation of the West”,. The lecture presented a stark assessment of Christian faith in Europe and suggested that the revitalization of faith among its citizens would be arduous and uncertain. He said Europe is “ignoring its Christian roots” and he went on to say Europe was now the least religious region in the world.
Clearly Cardinal Schonborn sees Christianity and Catholicism under attack. He made reference that Christianity was dying in Europe. Perhaps he sees that we need the hand of Our Lady now more than ever. Perhaps he sees we need the spirituality of our faith to be deepened by reexamining the supernatural, a unique and important aspect to the Catholic faith that is often overlooked by so many today. Pope John Paul II once said “We have lost our sense of the supernatural” Our Lady at Fatima the great prophetic “approved” apparition said in one of her messages “In the end my heart will triumph” Perhaps Cardinal Schonborn sees that the time is now – now is the time for Our Lady’s heart to triumph.
Without referring to Medjugorje directly Pope Benedict XVI, last week gave a talk on the importance of pilgrimages and shrines and said “In these historic moments in which we are called, with greater force if possible, to evangelise our world, the riches offered to us by the pilgrimage to shrines should be highlighted” We were left pondering what the Holy See meant as he spoke of “these historic times”