The Miracle Hunter  

Discernment of Apparition Claims

Official Church Statements


Jean-Marie Guenois

Father Jesus Castellano Cervera, a Discalced Carmelite from Spain, is a specialist in Mariology who works as a consultant at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome.

It is this Vatican agency that investigates reports of the alleged supernatural apparitions of Mary.

Father Castellano, who is also president of the Pontifical Theological Faculty Teresianum, the Discalced Carmelites' school in Rome, spoke to Our Sunday Visitor recently.

Visitor: The Vatican recently said that official pilgrimages to Medjugorje could not be authorized. How should Catholics interpret this?

Father Castellano:
This came as a response to a question from a French bishop. While waiting for other official studies in the case, the CDF simply repeated that which had already been said in a communique. Nothing more.

It discourages official pilgrimages, which might beheaded by bishops, until we have a greater clarification about the situation of Medjugorje and the alleged extraordinary phenomena there.

This response was also due to the local episcopal conference [in Bosnia-Herzegovina], which has still not pronounced definitively on these events. One can never encourage people to lay the foundations of their faith, of their own Christian life, on the events or messages on which the Church has not pronounced.... The number of alleged messages and their content are such that these events cannot receive an immediate approval.

It seems clear to me that one can go to Medjugorje, just as one goes to any sanctuary, to deepen one's Christian life by reading the Word of God, by prayer, the sacraments, the Eucharist and also with a specific intention of Marian devotion, in search of conversion and personal sanctity.

The Church, however, would like that this search be based on the true elements of the faith, and not on doubts or on interpretations that might later be discovered to be false. The Church tries in this way to put the faith of the people on sure footing. They have in the Word of God, the magisterium of the Church and the spirituality of the saints the sure criteria for an authentic Marian devotion, without having to go to some precise place on which the Church has still not made an official pronouncement.
Visitor: How do you account for the abundance of these extraordinary phenomena?
Father Castellano: Some believe that in this era, in which thinking about God is problematic, there is a kind of "Marian offensive" taking place to remind everyone of the presence of the mystery of God, the revelation of Christ and there fore the call for personal and social conversion.

Others, however, think that the large number of diverse phenomena, the messages and appearances of Mary should be dealt with prudently, since this could be a collective phenomenon.

They note that this increase is not something exclusive to the Catholic faith. It is found, they say, under other aspects, in non-Christian religions or, for example, in the search for the sacred connected to spiritism, Satanism and communication with the other world. It seems that there are more of these kinds of phenomena today than ever before.

As for the "Marian offensive," we can't forget that Mary, on account of her singular presence in heaven, can still accompany the life of the Church. She can make herself present on earth. But this is a theological statement. It is not a reason for all the
apparitions. As for those who doubt, they maintain that the Virgin of the Gospels has another way of being, of speaking, of acting. They strongly encourage people to return to the simplicity of the Gospels.

Visitor: What are the criteria for discerning alleged apparitions?

Father Castellano: The first criterion is cordial communion with the Church and her magisterium. So, where the Church has not pronounced on the events, the messages, it is necessary for the faithful to keep their distance, so as not to be shocked in any way by those who want, in using these phenomena, to influence their religious sensibility.

The faithful should remain always in the freedom of the faith, linked to the word of God and the magisterium of the Church.

In the second place, through these events, messages can arise. Even if they are simply human in nature, they can coincide with truths of the faith, of Scripture, of the magisterium.

In this case, it's clear that the faithful can receive these messages-not on account of their source, because that's doubtful—but by reason of the truth contained in them. Such is the case of so many calls to prayer, to conversion, to penance, etc.
It is still necessary, obviously, to reject those messages that are contrary to the faith. But when they are in accord with the faith, it's very dangerous to use these messages pretending to add, clarify or deepen something that is already contained in the deposit of the faith.

It is equally necessary to refuse all the propositions that have a Messianic character, according to which the Church would be renewed or saved only by these messages, which are held exclusively by certain people or in certain places. And, unfortunately, this kind of situation is quite frequent.

Visitor: Does the year 2000 not risk bringing with it some tendency toward millenarianism?

Father Castellano:
Yes, but I fear something else: that all these phenomena be due to economic reasons or other reasons of a social or pseudo-religious nature, as a way of exercising a certain influence on people. The end would be to make use of the masses as a way to make money or bring them under political submission.
Visitor: There has been some talk about a new dogma declaring Mary "coredemptrix."

Father Castellano:
In the United States, there's a movement called <Vox Populi> that wants to propose the dogma of Mary as "co-redemptrix, mediatrix and advocate." I have several things to say about that.

First of all, it's not easy to be precise about what could be the content of such a new dogma, associating three titles, which in reality say different things.

Lastly, it seems hardly likely that the Pope will define a new Marian dogma now that he himself has formally asked in the encyclical <Ut Unum Sint> ["That All May Be One"] for a way of theological research with other Christian brethren, and specifically in that which concerns the role of the Virgin Mary and her place in the Church.
Visitor: Is Mary an obstacle for ecumenical efforts?

Father Castellano: Absolutely not. An honest examination of the Word of God helps us to understand that which God has revealed about Mary, for the economy of salvation.
Moreover, all the Christian churches and ecclesial communities—Anglicans, Reformed, Lutherans—have in their cult remarkable expressions concerning the Virgin Mary. So, through the Bible and through the liturgy, one can reach a great ecumenical consensus about the Virgin Mary.

Guenois writes from Rome
This article was taken from the September 8, 1996 issue of Our Sunday Visitor. To subscribe write Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, In 46750. Our Sunday Visitor is published weekly at a subscription rate of $36.00 per year. Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN Online Services.
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