The name Međugorje literally means “between mountains”. At an altitude of 200 m (660 ft) above sea level it has a mild Mediterranean climate. The town consists of an ethnically homogeneous Croat population of 2306. The Roman Catholic parish (local administrative and religious area) consists of five neighbouring villages: Medjugorje, Bijakovići, Vionica, Miletina and Šurmanci.
To the east of Medjugorje in the Neretva valley, the Serbian Orthodox Žitomislić Monastery has stood since 1566.Gravestones erected in the Middle Ages have remained to this day in the Catholic cemetery Groblje Srebrenica in the hamlet of Miletina as well as in the hamlet of Vionica. In the area of the cemetery in Miletina, structures from the Roman era stood, whose ruins have not yet been fully excavated.
19th and early 20th centuries
In 1882 the railway line between Mostar and the Adriatic coast of Dalmatia was built, with a station in the hamlet of Šurmanci, through which the village gained access to the railway network.
The Catholic parish of Sveti Jakov (“Saint James”) was erected in 1892 by the Bishop of Mostar Paškal Buconjić. The twelve-metre tall crucifix on the mountain called Križevac (Cross Mountain), completing the parish’s Stations of the Cross (križni put), was completed in 1934.
Second World War
In 1941, when Medjugorje belonged to the Independent State of Croatia, the Serbian Orthodox Žitomislić Monastery was plundered by the Ustaše, and its refectory was burned down. On 21 June 1941, in the immediate neighborhood of Medjugorje, the Ustaše buried alive seven Serbian monks from the Žitomislić Monastery.
On 4 August 1941, 600 armed Ustaše, led by Ivan Jovanović–Crni from Mostar, massacred 559 unarmed Serb civilians from the nearby village of Prebilovci in the hamlet of Šurmanci. Along with 1,300 Serbs from Čapljina and Mostar, the Serbs from Prebilovci were thrown alive into deep natural pits. Medjugorje is located in the immediate vicinity of the Golubinka pit, the most notorious site of mass execution of Serbs. The massacre led Mostar bishop Alojzije Mišić to write a letter of protest to the Archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac. The communist government of Yugoslavia had the pit containing the bodies sealed with a concrete slab after the war; hence, corpses were only exhumed and reburied at the cemetery of Prebilovci in the neighboring town of Čapljina in 1989.
From 24 May 1942 until the beginning of June 1945, in Herzegovina, 66 Catholic friars of the Franciscan order were killed by the communists. Some were burned in the garden before their monastery.
This was the place where, some 40 years after these atrocities took place and exactly 10 years before the Bosnian War broke out, residents began reporting apparitions in Medjugorje, which called for prayer, conversion, fasting, penance and peace.
Statue of Virgin Mary at Podbrdo, place of apparition
Since 1981, when six local children claimed they had seen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Medjugorje has become an unapproved destination of Catholic pilgrimage.
“Our Lady of Medjugorje” is the title given to the apparition by those who believe that Mary, mother of Jesus, has been appearing from 24 June 1981 until today to six children, now adults, in Medjugorje (then part of communist Yugoslavia). “Most Blessed Virgin Mary“, “Queen of Peace” and “Mother of God” are words the apparition has allegedly introduced herself with.
The visionary Marija Lunetti (Pavlović) claims to receive messages from the Virgin Mary on the twenty-fifth of every month, while Mirjana Soldo (Dragičević) reports receiving messages on the second of the month.
The messages attributed to Our Lady of Medjugorje have a strong following among Catholics worldwide. Medjugorje has become one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for Catholics in the world and has turned into Europe’s third most important apparition site, where each year more than 1 million people visit. It has been estimated that 30 million pilgrims have come to Medjugorje since the reputed apparitions began in 1981. Many have reported visual phenomena including the sun spinning in the sky or changing color and figures such as hearts and crosses around the sun. Some visitors have suffered eye damage while seeking to experience such phenomena. Jesuit Father Robert Faricy has written about his own experience of such phenomena, saying, “Yet I have seen rosaries which have changed colour, and I have looked directly at the sun in Medjugorje and have seen it seem to spin and turn different colors. It would be easier to report that it is just hysteria except that I would then have to accuse myself of being hysterical, which I was not and am not.”
Official position of the church
As is typical for all claims of private revelation the Catholic Church follows a standard criterion for evaluating apparitions. There are two possible judgments: constat de supernaturalitate (“It is confirmed to be of supernatural origin”) and non constat… (“It is not confirmed…”).
The Catholic Church has made successive comments on the status of the Medjugorje apparitions. Each has declared non constat; that is, it cannot confirm the supernatural nature of the apparitions and that more study of the apparitions would be needed. This declaration is still binding.
On August 21, 1996, Vatican Press Office spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls declared that Catholics may still travel on pilgrimage to Medjugorje and that priests may accompany them. Navarro-Valls declared: “You cannot say people cannot go there until it has been proven false. This has not been said, so anyone can go if they want.”
A Vatican commission set up in 2010 to study the Medjugorje question was reported on 18 January 2014 to have completed its work, the results of which it would communicate to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Speaking to journalists on 13 May 2017, Pope Francis expressed serious doubts regarding reported daily apparitions of the Virgin at Medjugorje. The woman they saw is not the mother of Jesus, he said, adding that an investigation under way by the Church had thrown up doubts regarding the Medjugorje apparitions. These supposed apparitions don’t have much value – I’m giving my personal opinion, he continued.
Development of the pilgrimage site
On 24 June 1981, reports began of Marian apparitions on Crnica hill in the Bijakovići hamlet, and shortly thereafter confrontations with Yugoslav state authorities began. Pilgrims were forbidden from coming.Pilgrims’ donations were seized by the police and access to what was called the Apparition Hill was largely blocked.
In October 1981, Father Jozo Zovko, then the parish priest of the town, was sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment with forced labor for allegedly participating in a nationalistic plot. After Amnesty International, among others, appealed for his release and a judicial appeal was made, the sentence was reduced in the Yugoslav Federal Court in Belgrade to one and a half years, and the priest was released from prison in 1983.
In the last yearsbreakup of Yugoslavia, travel of pilgrims was no longer hindered by the state.
Medjugorje during the Bosnian War
During the Bosnian War, Medjugorje remained in the hands of the Croatian Defence Council and in 1993 became part of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia. By the Dayton Agreement in 1995, Medjugorje was incorporated into the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, populated mostly by Bosniaks and Croats. It lies within the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, one of ten autonomous regions established so that no ethnic group could dominate the Federation.
On 2 April 1995, at the high point of conflict within the local diocese, Bishop Ratko Perić was kidnapped by Croatian militiamen, beaten, and taken to a chapel run by one of the Franciscans associated with Medjugorje, where he was held hostage for ten hours. At the initiative of the mayor of Mostar he was freed without bloodshed, with the help of the United Nations Protection Force.
The Dutch professor of anthropology at the Free University, Amsterdam, Mart Bax, wrote in several publications that there had been mass killings due to a vendetta between clans during the beginning of the Bosnian war in 1991 and 1992. After much investigative research by journalists in several newspapers and comments from other scholars it turned out beyond reasonable doubt in April 2013 at latest that these mass killings never occurred.
Development after the war
After the ending of the Bosnian War, peace came to the area: UN peace troops were stationed in western Herzegovina. Efforts by a politician, Ante Jelavić, to create a Croatian entity were unsuccessful, and Medjugorje remained part of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The town and its environs boomed economically after the war. Over a thousand hotel and hostel beds are available for pilgrims to the town. With approximately one million visitors annually, the municipality of Medjugorje has the most overnight stays in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Mostar International Airport, located approximately 20 km (12 mi) to the northeast, which was closed in 1991, reopened for civil aviation in 1998 and has made air travel to region easier since then. The road network was expanded after the Bosnian War. In addition the hamlet of Šurmanci in the lower Neretva valley has a train station on the route from Ploče to Sarajevo.
On 6 April 2001, demonstrations occurred in the region, with some violence, after the NATO-led Stabilisation Force had closed and searched the local branches of the Hercegovačka banka (“Herzegovina Bank”), through which a large part of the currency transactions in Herzegovina, including international donations intended for Medjugorje, were carried out, on suspicion of white-collar crime. The Franciscan Province responsible for the parish was a shareholder of the bank.
On 11 February 2017, Pope Francis named Bishop Hoser his special envoy to Medjugorje, tasked with assessing its pastoral needs