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Medjugorje and Emmitsburg
From the Frying Pan into the Fire

Michelle Michaels

"Dear children, I beseech you, especially those from this parish, to live my messages and convey them to others, to whomever you meet. Thank you for having responded to my call."1

"Dear children, today also I am calling you to prayer. Your prayers are necessary to me so that God may be glorified through all of you. Dear children, I pray you, obey and live the Mother's invitation, because only out of love am I calling you in order that I might help you. Thank you for having responded to my call."2

It was during a family visit in the late 1980s when I heard my family abuzz about a curious phenomenon taking place in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia-Herzegovina). "They say the Blessed Mother is appearing there to a group of peasant children!" exclaimed my sister, a devout Catholic. My mother and father chimed in as well, cautiously optimistic that the rumors they heard among some of their fellow parishioners were true.

At the time, I was a typical thirtysomething year old, working full-time by day, running and working out several times a week, racing around most evenings with a social life bursting at the seams, and trying to be a good daughter visiting my ailing father every weekend. His leg amputated due to complications from diabetes, my once strapping, athletic father was rapidly faltering and becoming feeble as he suffered the ravages of his unrelenting illness. It was a grueling time for our close-knit family, but we soldiered on each day taking care of Dad and trying not to succumb to the exhaustion and despair that can befall devoted caregivers.

But something was different during that family visit in the late 1980s. In Dad's eyes I detected a glimmer of hope, an expectancy that something good might be happening. I noticed the same thing with my mother and sister. "We bought some books about what's going on in Medjugorje. You should read them. It sounds like it might really be the Blessed Mother!" Their spirits were lifted in a way I hadn't seen in the months throughout Dad's ordeal. I perked up because they seemed genuinely moved. Normally cautious about such matters, they were not ones to "jump on the bandwagon." This seemed significant.

Devout Catholics, Mom and Dad always had a crucifix and statue of the Blessed Mother situated in their bedroom. Mom prayed the Rosary every day without fail, and Dad had always felt a special devotion to the Blessed Mother ever since he chose to be baptized into the Catholic faith as a young boy. Having grown up in a poor coal-mining community, he prided himself on having worked hard to earn a college scholarship for an education that allowed him to move up and out of the coal mines into the healthcare field. Meeting my mother, the love of his life, and raising three pretty decent kids, my father was always grateful for his blessings. Even when his retirement was derailed by the leg amputation and worsening diabetes, he never railed against God or became bitter. The Blessed Mother always held a special place in his heart.

Was the Blessed Mother really appearing at Medjugorje? My curiosity was peaked, and I left that day with a stack of Medjugorje books to try and figure out the answer. Certainly, it was not like my family to "follow the herd." I respected their opinions enough to look into the matter.

"Dear children, today I call you to open yourselves more to God, so that He can work through you. The more you open yourselves, the more you receive the fruits. I wish to call you again to prayer. Thank you for having responded to my call."3

Juggling reading with my busy daily activities, I slowly worked my way through the Medjugorje books. Dad's health was deteriorating rapidly and we all pitched in to take care of him at home. He never lost hope or faith even when his other leg had to be amputated and blindness from multiple strokes left him unable to see our faces. Eventually, his kidneys failed and we gathered together around his hospital bed one last time before God took him peacefully the next day. How wrenching for our emotions and spirits as we witnessed so much suffering and deterioration, yet experienced so many blessings throughout Dad's ordeal. Such, it seemed, was the mystery of faith.

Having eventually read through all the Medjugorje books, I cautiously decided there might be something to the Blessed Mother phenomenon taking place there. I even thought that perhaps one day I might travel there to see for myself. In the meantime, I bought a rosary and how-to book and set about learning to say the rosary. I even occasionally rousted myself from bed early in the morning to attend 7:30 a.m. Mass. Or I would walk to church to light candles and pray during my lunch hour. Whether or not the Blessed Mother was appearing at Medjugorje, it felt good to rediscover my Catholic faith and spirituality. I went to Confession, prayed regularly, and just tried to be a good person living mindfully in my faith. Remaining humble, I did not feel a need to proselytize or push my spirituality on anyone. It was quietly personal, but far-reaching in its effects on my heart and soul.

Years later, post 9/11 and my mother's eventual passing, my Medjugorje consciousness waned but my overall Catholic faith and spirituality remained intact. However, during a difficult time period in 2005, I found myself wondering again about Medjugorje as I had heard about Gianna Talone Sullivan, described in local newspapers as a visionary seeing the Blessed Mother in Emmitsburg. Curious, I purchased and read a copy of a book about her called, "Our Lady of Emmitsburg - The Center of Her Immaculate Heart" by Dom Forker. Not sure what to think, I made no immediate decision about my opinion. The tone of the messages and unfolding of events did seem reminiscent of Medjugorje, almost predictably similar. I wasn't sure I felt comfortable with that - something about it seemed a bit odd.

Since I felt more comfortable about Medjugorje, I pulled out all the old books to re-read. I also ordered some new ones. Surprisingly, I learned that the phenomenon was still going on, though it seemed unusual to be continuing over 20 years later. Previous Church-approved Marian apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima only lasted a few days. But now, ongoing events at Medjugorje were accompanied by large-scale international tours and a flourishing local tourist industry built upon the ongoing appearances of the Blessed Mother. Unfortunately, "the sign" that had been promised "soon" (within six months) by the Blessed Mother back in 1982 still had not manifested.

As I read the books once again, this time the Medjugorje phenomenon took hold in my spiritual psyche even stronger than before. The more I read about it, the more I found myself praying. As "requested" by the Blessed Mother, I started fasting on bread and water on Fridays. As my fervor increased, I started saying the rosary every evening. Following the exhortations of the Medjugorje messages to "pray, pray, pray" two to three hours a day, I started praying an additional hour-and-a-half every morning. Even that didn't feel like enough. I read that Vicka, one of the visionaries, said that one should pray even when cooking or doing activities. So, I started praying in the kitchen and even while driving the car. For awhile, it all felt good, like a spiritual high. "Pray, pray, pray" became my personal mantra. Later I read that the Blessed Mother encouraged fasting two days a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays. So, I increased my fasting to twice a week. The increased deprivation actually intensified the spiritual high as it increasingly informed and infused all my thoughts and actions throughout the course of the day. The spiritual high had become a tidal wave. But the wave was starting to feel strange.

At a certain point, several things started happening that signaled something was wrong. First, I found I would rather "pray, pray, pray" than do anything else, i.e. I wanted to pray to the exclusion of just about everything and everyone else. "Pray, pray, pray" had become compulsive almost to the point of being addictive. The "high" started to be replaced with a feeling of obligation - it was becoming a repetitive chore with less and less joy. The sense of spiritual exhilaration had disappeared. But the worst part was realizing that I didn't like the Blessed Mother any more. The Blessed Mother, whom I had loved as dearly as my own mother over the years, whose tender, comforting, protective love I had cherished and depended upon, had now become transformed into someone unapproachable and distant. Now, she was a demanding, critical, taskmaster for whom nothing seemed ever to be enough. I didn't even like her anymore.

Throughout this time, I started noticing an overlap between those believing in the visionaries of Medjugorje and Gianna Talone Sullivan. There appeared to be an urgency and fervency among their devotion - a singularity of purpose. At first, their zealousness felt inspiring, but over time the inspiration turned to discomfort. The "still small voice within" - my internal "red flags" - urged caution. I also found I didn't like the cult-like atmosphere that seemed to be taking hold of the Medjugorje and Gianna followers I knew. The Church and any priests who questioned or rejected the apparitions and their messages seemed to be regarded as enemies or subversives undermining the Blessed Mother. The Church, which ruled that it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparitions or revelations, became viewed as a sort of imposter or charlatan, while the visionaries and messages were regarded as genuine. The focus shifted away from faith and Catholic spirituality to endless debates and battles over the authenticity of the messages and visionaries - drama playing out more like a soap opera.

Increasingly, something about it all felt wrong. I have always tried to be attuned to "the still small voice within" but I was having great difficulty hearing the voice except for the realization that everything felt wrong about the too-intensive focus on the messages and visionaries. Something was terribly wrong. It felt like I was having to choose between allegiance to the Catholic Church and the messages/visionaries. There seemed to be a schism, a chasm developing within the Church, an "us versus them" mentality - so antithetical to the unity sought in Christianity.

The increasingly all-consuming nature of the Blessed Mother's "demands" drove me away. Instead of love for her, I felt revulsion and resentment. I didn't even like her anymore. I wanted her to just leave me alone. Enough was enough. She was too demanding and was making things too complicated. And why was all the focus on her anyway? What happened to Jesus? Since when did everything become about her? And why was there such a show-down mentality being played out between the apparition followers and the Catholic Church?

Drama, schisms, accusations, chaos, turmoil - the antithesis of "the peace that surpasses all understanding." I couldn't stand it anymore.

So, I rebelled and did a spiritual about-face. No more fasting, no more rosaries, no more praying several hours a day. I felt totally alienated from the Blessed Mother. It felt strange after so many years of loving her. But the messages and pronouncements of the visionaries had distorted her into some sort of grotesque, devouring monster and transformed the Church into the anti-Christ. Suddenly, up was down, right was wrong, good was bad - like wandering through a house of mirrors.

What on earth was going on?

And then, one day it hit me - Satan. The anti-Christ. The road to perdition. What if the so-called "good fruits" that are said to be born of the Medjugorje and Gianna movements are, in fact, "bad fruits" - pitting Catholics against one another and splitting the Church in two? Would the real Blessed Mother advocate a course so destructive to the Church? Would she actively foment such a schism? I always loved the Blessed Mother and felt such tenderness, but I no longer recognized her. Would the real Blessed Mother be so demanding and off-putting? Would she be inciting masses of the faithful to reject the Magisterium? I wondered: Is anyone else experiencing the same doubts, concerns and fears that I am?

One can find a plethora of books, websites and articles extolling the virtues of the apparitions and messages at Medjugorje. Quite a marketing bonanza and industry has emerged. But one must look far and wide to find one of the four or five volumes (somel of which are out of print) critical of Medjugorje. It took several months to find them, but once I started reading them, things started making sense, though much of what I read was at times disturbing and chilling.

"Coincidental" similarities between Medjugorje and Emmitsburg jumped out at me the more I read, revealing a disturbing copycat mentality among these and other visionaries. Signs that were supposed to appear, but didn't. Secrets and doomsday prounouncements provoking a constant atmosphere of suspense, fear and drama. Creation of divisions among Catholics, the Church and clergy. Private revelations superceding Church doctrine and resulting in subversive activities, disobedience among laity and clergy, and broken marriages. As I continued to read, I grew increasingly disturbed by the predictably similar parallels between the apparition experiences of Vicka, one of the Medjugorje visionaries, and Gianna.

"Paolo Apolito lists the following individuals as being amongst those claiming to have started to receive their own revelations either following a visit to Medjugorje, or through some more general contact with it: … Fr. Jack Spaulding [Gianna's former pastor in Scottsdale, Arizona]; Gianna Talone [Sullivan]…. And he also makes the very pertinent point, that whereas prior to the modern era, with its explosion of visionary claims, individuals claiming such experiences would almost certainly have been shunned by the average Catholic, now they could expect be treated as celebrities."4

"Gianna and Vicka are kindred souls. Both of them have suffered tremendously. In June of 1988, Gianna was the rookie and Vicka was the veteran. In time, their absolutions have probably balanced out. On the eighth of June, Gianna visited Vicka [in Medjugorje], who was standing on the steps of her porch, surrounded by a host of admirers. But as Gianna approached, the people parted, like mere mortals making way for sainted souls, and she easily approached her counterpart.

'The Blessed Mother sent me,' Gianna said."5

"Vicka [one of the Medjugorje visionaries] tells us that [on June 27, 1981] she took along blessed salt and water, as a way of testing the Vision to see if it really was the Gospa [Blessed Mother], on the assumption that the devil would be driven away by such sacramentals. After invoking the Trinity, she sprinkled the Vision while saying: 'If you are the Gospa, remain with us. If you are not, get lost.'"6

"On December 19, 1989, Our Lady appeared to Gianna, while she was praying, for the first time. Gianna, fearing illusions, became frightened. She knew that Satan sometimes appears to people as an Angel of Light. She ran for her holy water, sprinkled it on the Blessed Mother, and said, 'Go away if you are not of God.'"7

Though I was disturbed and sometimes sickened by what I read, I felt a sense of vindication as the writings confirmed my gut feelings and reservations about the Medjugorje and Emmitsburg apparitions. It all started making sense, and for the first time in months, I began to feel a sense of peace.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)

This peace was in stark contrast to the disturbing spiritual upheaval I had felt when immersed in the spurious messages and exhortations of the apparitions - the "bad fruit."

"Msgr Farges [author of "Mystical Phenomena"], however, has this to say on the difference between divine and diabolical visions: The divine vision produces at first a feeling of fear and astonishment in the soul that is conscious of its unworthiness, but it ends by bringing peacefulness and heavenly joy. The diabolical vision, on the contrary, begins by bringing joy, a sense of safety and sweetness, and ends in anxiety, sadness, fear, and disgust. The first develops the virtues, especially humility, in the soul of the seer, who will seek to hide such great favours in silence and secrecy. The second, on the contrary, develops feelings of vanity, vainglory, and a wish to parade the visions. The public effects should also be noticed. Divine visions never produce scandal, disorder, or trouble in the Church, while the others inevitably engender these evils."8

Followers of the Medjugorje and Emmitsburg visionaries point to the "good fruit" yielded by the apparitions: conversion, confession, prayer, etc. "How can this be of anything but God?" they ask. Yes, occasionally there has been "good fruit", though not directly attributable to the apparitions. However, it will be of little use or consolation if the Catholic Church is split asunder. A schism is emerging as various groups and individuals ignore the decisions made by the Church's own council of Bishops who scrupulously investigated the events and found them wanting.

"One must also recall that apparitions are always something 'extraordinary', rare, and this is an important element for their discernment. If apparitions were to occur on a daily basis in the life of a believer, or if they were to continue for years, this would obviously create serious problems for the theology of faith.

The fruits which are so often mentioned, are not proof that they result from 'supernatural apparitions or revelations' of the Madonna, but insomuch as they are authentically Christian, they can be understood as a product of the regular workings of the grace of God, through faith in God and the intercession of Mary the Mother of Christ, and through the Holy Sacraments present in the Catholic Church….

In some of the statements made by the so-called seers of Medjugorje published in the last 14 years, there are such contradictions, falsehoods and banalities, which cannot be attributed at all to our heavenly Mother…since there does not exist even a minimal guarantee of credibility…. The talk of a 'great sign', of 'ten secrets', which Our Lady conveyed to the children, resembles the scare tactics which are typical of non-Catholic communities and not the sound teachings of the Catholic Church."9

Part of the "bad fruit" yielded by the apparitions is a certain "mob mentality" which threatens to undermine the Church as an institution. Suddenly, the Church has become circumspect while private revelations assume primacy and run rampant all over the world. The "bad fruit" threatens to shift focus from the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ to roving, disparate cults.

"…if heavenly guidance can be communicated directly through those witnessing the alleged apparitions, then what need is there of a Magisterium? In the years following the Council [of Bishops] a very clear pattern of behavior has emerged among supporters of these apparitions. It is a tendency to make belief in the authenticity of a particular apparition the criterion of orthodoxy. True Catholics believe in the apparitions, and the faith of those who do not is suspect in some way…. Once Catholics become 'hooked' on an apparition, all their efforts tend to be devoted to defending it and propagating it. They have thus been removed effectively from the battlefield for orthodoxy. There can be no doubt that spurious apparitions are one of Satan's most effective weapons in his war against the Mystical Body."10

Occasional "good fruit" isn't always of God, especially if it is outweighed by "bad fruit." Unfortunately, the spate of books and websites trumpeting all the "good fruit" of the apparitions has all but drowned out the Church's voices of reason (the investigating Bishops) and anyone else daring to question the authenticity of the visionaries.

"Pope Benedict XIV warned in the 18th century that evil spirits have at times recommended that which is good in order to hinder a greater good and have encouraged persons to do a particular act of virtue that they may the more easily deceive the unwary and in the course of time lead them by degrees to commit the most horrible sins.

It is certain that Satan does not care if he gets people out of the Church stage left or stage right, as long as they are out. As long as otherwise religious people are separated from Christ, and therefore salvation, he is content to allow what seems at first glance to be a steady stream of spiritual delights.

There can be little doubt that when the time comes for adherents of Medjugorje to choose between the Church and the illusory apparitions, many will choose the apparitions…."11

"The signs of diabolical intervention are well known. The devil's deeds always carry with them at least some ridiculous, unseemly, or coarse details; or even something opposed to faith and morals. If his vices were too obvious his influence would soon be unmasked; they are therefore always disguised under more or less inoffensive appearances, even under deceitful traits of virtue and sanctity. He transforms himself at will into an angel of light. God occasionally allows him to assume the most majestic forms, such as those of our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, or the saints. Nevertheless-for God could not otherwise permit it-the disguise, no matter how bold, is never complete, and he always betrays himself in some particular which cannot escape an attentive and prudent observer. Furthermore, the work of the devil becomes very soon umasked by evil results, for an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit."

It took a great deal of reading, soul-searching, reflection and careful listening to "the still small voice within" to sort through all the spiritual chaos that had been stirred up in me by the Medjugorje and Emmitsburg events. I had to step back and let the dust settle. It was an odd mix of being less "spiritual" (stopping all the compulsive fasting, rosaries and prayer) so that I could quiet down and return to being truly spiritual in the tender, loving way I remembered. It took time, but one day I got down on my knees and said a simple prayer to the Blessed Mother, to the one I had always loved, and asked her to please come find me again - that I missed her so very much. Her sweetness, tenderness, and all-embracing lovingkindness that I had trusted in all of my life. I felt like a child yearning for its mother, afraid I'd never see her again. Would she come back to me?

It took about a week or two, but I started noticing that ever so gently, the Blessed Mother - my Blessed Mother - returned. How did I know? By her familiar sweetness and tender love - the warmth and joy that returned to my heart during prayer and moved me to tears. The indescribable peace that continues to this day. I pray daily and say the rosary, but with a spirit springing from joy, not compulsion, obsession or empty obligation. It feels balanced, true and light - the way I imagine God intended. Like the peace that surpasses all understanding.

What about the Medjugorje and Emmitsburg apparitions? Indeed, what about them? My faith and spirituality are better off without them. The Catholic Church already supplies me with everything I need for spiritual sustenance. I want for nothing more.

"For God hath given it into your hands; a place where there is no want of any thing that is in the earth." (Judges 18:10)

"The Pharisees arrived and began arguing with Jesus. They tested him by demanding from him a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply in his spirit and said, 'Why do those living today demand a sign? I tell you with certainty, no sign will be given to this generation.'" (Mark 8:11-12)

"So the other disciples were saying to him [Thomas], 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.' After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, 'Peace be with you.' Then He said to Thomas, 'Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.' Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.'" (John 20:25-29)

Recommended Reading

  • Davies, Michael, Medjugorje After Fifteen Years, (Remnant Publishing Company, St. Paul, 1997). The updated edition, Medjugorje After Twenty Years, is available as a free download from the late author's website at
  • Foley, Donal Anthony, Understanding Medjugorje - Heavenly Visions or Religious Illusion, (Theotokos Books, Nottingham, 2006).
  • Jones, E. Michael, The Medjugorje Deception - Queen of Peace, Ethnic Cleansing, Ruined Lives, (Fidelity Press, South Bend, 1998).
  • Sivric, O.F.M., Ivo, The Hidden Side of Medjugorje - Volume I, (Psilog, Inc., Saint-François-du-Lac, Québec, 1989).


  1. Blessed Mother's purported message to the Medjugorje visionaries August 14, 1984, Two Friends of Medjugorje, Words from Heaven, (Saint James Publishing, Birmingham, 1990), p. 163.
  2. Blessed Mother's purported message to the Medjugorje visionaries January 16, 1986, Two Friends of Medjugorje, Words from Heaven, p. 182.
  3. Blessed Mother's purported message to the Medjugorje visionaries March 6, 1986, Two Friends of Medjugorje, Words from Heaven, p. 183.
  4. Donal Anthony Foley, Understanding Medjugorje - Heavenly Visions or Religious Illusion, (Theotokos Books, Nottingham, 2006), p. 218.
  5. Dom Forker, Our Lady of Emmitsburg, (Queenship Publishing, Goleta, 2000), p. 13.
  6. Foley, Understanding Medjugorje - Heavenly Visions or Religious Illusion, p. 53.
  7. Forker, Our Lady of Emmitsburg, (Queenship Publishing, 2000), p. 35.
  8. Foley, Understanding Medjugorje - Heavenly Visions or Religious Illusion, p. 49.
  9. Michael Davies, Medjugorje After Fifteen Years: The Message and the Meaning, (The Remnant Publishing Company, St. Paul, 1997), pp. 62-63.
  10. Davies, Medjugorje After Fifteen Years: The Message and the Meaning, p. 1.
  11. Davies, Medjugorje After Fifteen Years: The Message and the Meaning, p. 2.
  12. Foley, Understanding Medjugorje - Heavenly Visions or Religious Illusion, p. 45.

"No one can go off and start up his own church and call it Roman Catholic."

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