Thursday, 28 January
“I am convinced, as is also Pope John Paul II, that the time of the Jubilee is a time of special grace, as John Paul II has said several times, that is preparing a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church. That which I am expecting from Medjugorje is that it contribute to the preparation of that new outpouring of the Holy Spirit which the Church and the world need.”
Just over a week ago, Msgr André-Joseph Léonard was appointed Archbishop of Brussels by Pope Benedict XVI, on January 18, 2010, and so became Primate of Belgium.
When he was first made a bishop in 1991, Msgr Léonard added the name Mutien to his first name, in honour of his brother. On becoming Archbishop of Mechlen-Brussles he changed the name Mutien to Joseph, in honour of St Joseph, patron saint of Belgium.
Archbishop Léonard was born in May 1940 and is one of four brother who all became priests. He was ordained a priest in July 1964. Twenty years later he made his first ever visit to Medjugojre. On a second visit to Medjugorje when he was bishop of the Belgian city Namur, Msgr Léonard gave this interview to the late Fr Slavko Barbaric OFM which was published in the Medjugorje parish magazine Glas Mira:
Bishop Mutien: “I met Medjugorje through my seminarians. When I was rector of the school of theology at St. Paul in Louvain-la-Neuve, 1982 and 1983, some of my students of theology went to Medjugorje. That was at the very beginning of the apparitions. I had never heard it spoken of before. Some students of theology came to me seeking permission to go to Medjugorje during their vacation. I knew nothing about it and asked them if there existed a position of the Church on Medjugorje. They told me no, that it had only begun a couple of years earlier, and that the Virgin seemed to be appearing there. They gave me an article to read and I told them, “Go and see; go and see!” They spoke to me several times about it, and in 1984 I decided myself to go and see. Four of us priests came with the students of theology to Medjugorje in June1984. I must say that what I saw in the parish church in 1984, that folk piety, the manner in which the rosary was prayed, the Eucharist celebrated, the meeting that I had with the visionaries twice during the “apparitions” in the sacristy – all that seemed to me very positive, especially the manner in which they prayed here.
SB: How many times have you already come to Medjugorje?
Bishop Mutien: This is my second time. The first time I came in 1984. I kept a very positive impression about what I saw here. Later I kept up being informed. I read the books of Fr Laurentin, not all, but a few. I read some articles and , accordingly, took an interest. Especially while I was a professor at Louvain, I saw among the students some who had been to Medjugorje and who from there had discovered prayer, confession, Eucharist, fasting, and I remember that in the theologate I began fasting Fridays quite regularly, following the example of some of my students of theology or other students whom I met at the university and who had fasted after pilgrimage to Medjugorje. When I became a bishop I met some believers of my diocese who fasted every Friday, who discovered the sacraments, thanks to their encounter with Medjugorje.
I established the fact that regularly among the students of theology there were those who experienced conversion and received a vocation via Medjugorje. Now I have thirty students of theology, among whom there are some who have undergone a spiritual experience here in Medjugorje which has marked their vocation. Such fruits are of interest to me. I know that from false premises according to logic we can draw exact conclusions. But still, the fact that so many positive discoveries take place, just with thanks to Medjugorje, is positive evidence in favor of Medjugorje. Accordingly, I continued to inform myself and said that some day I would be able also to return to Medjugorje.
In the year 2000 I thought I might be able to take advantage of the Jubilee for a short pilgrimage. The fact that at the present time in France and in Belgium there exists much opposition to the Medjugorje events, books which criticise Medjugorje, moved me to come and see with my own eyes. I do not wish to judge things, situations, and persons from a distance, or only from books. I would rather take a little more personal look. After I informed the bishop of Mostar about my coming, I came here as a pilgrim to pray, but also personally to convince myself, and I must say that what I see in the parish church on the pastoral level seems very good: praying the rosary, the Eucharist, adoration, solid devotion, balanced piety and cultivated devotion.
As far as the Medjugorje events are concerned, it is not up to me to decide about that. It up to the local bishop, the bishops of Bosnia-Hercegovina, after a detailed study of the situation, to formulate a judgment about the authenticity or non-authenticity of the apparitions. That is not my business! In every case, I will accept the official judgment of the Church.
SB: Why does the Church hesitate when good fruits are visible?
Bishop Mutien: I think that the Church in her wisdom, with these kinds of phenomena, wishes first to investigate the facts, and only then the fruits. I think that is the rule that Cardinal Seper already formulated when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. First the facts are studied, and only then the fruits. Investigating the fruits is not enough. The facts have to be investigated; but the abundance of positive fruits is in itself a positive evidence, even if it seems to me that there are, as in every human affair, also negative fruits. Wherever there are people, there are also human moments, sometimes far too human. As also among the twelve apostles!
SB: From where does the opposition come?
Bishop Mutien: I understand why questions are asked about the phenomena of Medjugorje and why there exist objections against the apparitions in Medjugorje. I understand why, for example, questions like these are asked: the multitude of apparitions, the fact that in some manner they are foreseen, known for a certain day. I understand why there is opposition. Personally there are not many a priori thoughts about what the Most Blessed Virgin would need to do, or what she would not need to do. I prefer to accept things, even if they disturb my personal ideas, but I understand why questions are asked and I believe that, according to what I have been able to see, there are in this phenomenon of Medjugorje essential things, but there are also parasites.
I believe there exists that which is fundamental, but also accidentals. One is more positive, and the other is more negative. In Lourdes the testimony of Bernadette impressed me very much, I would say 100% pure. It seems to me that here there were parasites surrounding the central events. I understand why questions are asked. I keep informed also on the questions that the opponents of Medjugorje are asking. One has to hear them, and therefore I read the book of Joachim Boufflet from beginning to end. It is written in a polemical tone which does not seem to me to be in place, but there are real questions which are asked and which one day have to receive a clear and historically established answer. Accordingly, I accept those questions, but I wish to stay open to the event.
I know bishop friends whose rule of behavior is to say: “Look out, if we are open to the events of Medjugorje, we can perhaps encourage something that is not authentic.” There exists a risk. I am more sensitive to the opposite risk and say: “Just the same, it is possible that Heaven has spoken to people at that place and I do not wish to take the risk of a priori being closed to that grace.” Two risks exist: the risk that we are being deceived in Medjugorje and the risk that we are bypassing a gift of grace.
SB: A gift from Heaven?
Bishop Mutien: My desire is that those who have the grace and the competence for that, the local bishop, the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia-Hercegovina, a theological and investigative commission, continue to study this phenomenon, to formulate one day the judgment of the Church about what has happened here. Until then, between the two risks, I prefer to take the risk of being open rather than the risk of a priori being closed to the grace of God which can be operating in this place. Accordingly, therefore, I take the position of openness and prudence.
SB: Some say: “Where there is prayer, there is grace and miracles.”
Bishop Mutien: That logic does not seem to me completely correct. It is true that in the place where there is prayer, Eucharist, confessions, fruits do come. But there are many other places in the world where there is prayer, where there is confession, where Eucharist is celebrated, but there are not the same kind of evident fruits!
SB: You, then, think that this dimension can be attributed to the apparitions?
Bishop Mutien: I believe that it is an indication which has to be studied, an indication that leads to consideration. I regularly meet young people who think about the priesthood or who have had a profound experience of conversion coming here, much more so than in relation to other places, and that makes me question. I cannot accept without reservation that the fruits of Medjugorje are connected only with the living of the sacraments. They are also lived in other places. Here there exists something that presents a special question. It is not up to me to pronounce about the reality of these fundamentals, but there is a question that cannot be avoided.
SB: Finally, is it your wish to give some message here to the world?
Bishop Mutien: I think that on the spiritual plane we are living in a period that demands urgency. I am convinced, as is also Pope John Paul II, that the time of the Jubilee is a time of special grace, as John Paul II has said several times, that is preparing a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church. That which I am expecting from Medjugorje is that it contribute to the preparation of that new outpouring of the Holy Spirit which the Church and world need. Therefore I think that it is more useful to concentrate on the most fundamental, as you are doing here in this parish: to concentrate on the Eucharist which is the source of Christian life, and for the rest I think we need to cultivate the grace of peace and seek for the discernment in connection with Medjugorje to be done in the best possible climate, for the good of the Church.