Father Svet Writes to E. Michael Jones
Editors' note: In the Spring 1998 editorial we said we would print anything the priests of St. James said in response to the recent accusations against Medjugorje. We now print the following letter and ask that you all join us in praying for Michael Jones and all those he is affiliated with. It is what Blessed Mother said to do when Ivan asked her what to do about the accusations. She said simply, "Pray, pray, pray.
April 26, 1998
Greetings to you from Medjugorje,
I am writing this letter to you simply because, for a long time, I wanted to share some thoughts with you. I trust in your love for the Church, I believe in your love for truth, for the Gospel of Our Lord and I trust your deep desire and commitment for the well being of the world. For these reasons I believe that you may have some use of my thoughts. This Easter season has been very difficult for us because we have been hearing confessions for up to ten hours a day. Of course, in addition, we had all the other responsibilities of the parish. I am writing this letter as I recuperate from a sore throat.
I will comment on the consequences of Medjugorje as you have set them out in your letter:
Accusation: "... let's talk about the fruits of Medjugorje: the broken families, the pregnant nuns, the poor people bilked of their money, the division in the Church, the de facto schism, the worst fighting in Europe since World War II, the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from Gradno, just five kilometers from Medjugorje - all of it followed inexorably from those children on that hill in Bosnia in June of 1981."
1. The broken families. God Himself has given us free will. He does not want broken families and we question why He allows them to happen. Clearly, Our Blessed Mother does not desire for families to break up but to reconcile and live together. I cannot imagine anyone in Medjugorje telling a pilgrim to separate or to break up their marriage because of a desire of Our Lady. Nonetheless, no one is able to control anyone's decision. As for the broken fami-lies you refer to, I believe that, first of all, both the husband and the wife need to be given an opportunity to explain the reasons for their conclusion. We must be careful not to set ourselves out to be "judge and jury".
2. Pregnant nuns. It is true that "a" nun got pregnant by a priest. The priest was Fr. Tvica Vego. The entire time he was in Medjugorje, he was not in pastoral work in the parish because of a suspension from the Bishop. He never heard confessions or celebrated Mass publicly. He rarely wore his habit. He was in charge of the souvenir shop where this sister worked. Human weakness overwhelmed both of them. We know that. Yes, that did happen in Medjugorje.
A Cardinal of the Church (I can't mention his name), said the following to one of our Croatian Bishops: "There will be a great effort in the world to discredit the Church in Ireland and the Church in Croatia." The system is well known. It is to find a priest who has sinned and to speak about him and all of his weaknesses. It is to go public on TV and not to let it be forgotten. In doing this, the plan is to defeat the Church. It is easy and simple and it works.
In the tradition of the Church, sin remains in the confessional, the repentant sinner receives forgiveness and life goes on; but in the world today, sin is encouraged and the sinner is crucified; his sin never to be forgiven or forgotten. The story about a former priest, Ivica Vego and a former nun, who now live in Italy raising their five children in seclusion, is sad, to say the least.
Accusation: "The break-up of these two marriages was one more bad thing that had happened to the world since the Queen of Peace arrived in Yugoslavia in 1981."
Ivica now helps the refugees and helps a priest run a large retreat house. They live a humble life and try to make the best out of the situation. Their suffering is even greater because their fifth child is Mongoloid, which is a cross of its own kind. I do believe that God would want them to be at peace. But the world does not.
I feel that our efforts must be to discourage the sin without condemning the sinner. I am afraid that often the individual and the Church are attacked and not the sin. We need to respect the confessional sacramental way of the Church when sin is no longer committed and when there is no further danger of it being repeated.
3. The people bilked out of money. I know that it is mostly the poor people who come as pilgrims to Medjugorje. They choose to come. They come for God. They know that a pilgrimage always involves a sacrifice. I see the phenomenon of Medjugorje as a continuation of the pilgrimage tradition of the Church. Pilgrims see good coming out of it for them. I know that it is not I who makes their pilgrimage good or fruitful for them. There is the rain, the heat, the cold and people still come. And they pray and sing and confess. They praise God and they climb the mountains regardless. They tell each other to come and they come again. The longer I stay in Medjugorje the more I realize that I am not the one bringing pilgrims here. No one could "make them" come.
4. The division of the Church. I have been a priest for 20 years. My conclusion is that the Church is always being tested and it is always suffering. It started at the beginning when Peter and Paul had some disagreements and it continues up to now. It is beyond me and beyond most of us. I know that Fr. Bonifac Barbaric from Capljina, whom you mention, has been the most outspoken opponent of Medjugorje from the beginning and yet has never come to hear confessions or to (con)celebrate Mass in Medjugorje. Although he has had his faculties removed, in defiance to the Bishop and in opposition to the Franciscan Provincial, he continues to do parish work in Capljina. I fail to understand his motives and intentions.
With regards to our Bishop - everyone knows that we have problems in Hercegovina. but these are not problems of faith as in the rest of the world. We are committed to our faith. to the faith of the Church and to the Holy Father. We live and preach this; we suffered for this perhaps more than anyone else in the world and we stand firm in it. In this way, we stand "with" our Bishop with greater dedication than many may think.
5. The worse fighting since World War II. In the first days of the apparitions, the children spoke of Our Lady with tears in her eyes. She asked for prayer and for peace. Precisely 10 years after that apparition, the war started.
Two days before the war started, Secretary of State for the U.S., James Baker, told Slobodan Milosevic, the president of the Federal Republic of Serbia in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, that the U.S. will not allow an end to "Yugoslavia" under any circumstance. This was seen as the green light for the war to be commenced against Croatia. The war, with all of its atrocities, started just two days later.
Editors' note: Ex-president Richard Nixon, at that time, wrote an article affirming the above and saying this was the first time the United States of America deliberately chose communism over freedom. It paved the way for war because the Serbs understood it to mean that the U.S. would not interfere no matter what they did, except to throw up a blockade that prevented the Croatians from arming themselves. The Serbs already had the arms of the former communist Yugoslavian government. A massacre resulted.
6. The ethnic cleansing of Muslims from Gradska. Gradska is a place near Ljubuski. In addressing this point, the pressure against the Church in Croatia needs to be mentioned. In 1992, in Bosnia and Hercegovina (here noted as "BH") there were 900,000 Catholics. Now there are less than 450,000. Even now, the Catholics are the ones who are being most pressured to leave.
The world is being told that it is the Catholics who are the most non-cooperative and are the ones responsible for the war. This is not true. There are 14 Catholics from BH in the Hague tribunal accused of war crimes. Very few Serbians and Muslims are there. A few days ago, a BBC broadcast from London blatantly accused only the Croatians of causing trouble in BH and bring-ing instability. There was no mention of almost half a million Catholics who are not able to return to their homes. In my former parish of Konjic in central Bosnia, for example, prior to the war, there were 12,000 Catholics. Now there are less than 1,000.
Thousands of Catholics were killed. Ten of thousands were evicted from their homes. As refugees, they were forced to seek refuge in the Croatian controlled areas of Ljubuski. It was these refugees from Bosnia who caused tensions with the resident Muslim community in Gradska. The refugees were angry because they lost everything and they wanted to take justice into their own hands. The local authorities and people were powerless. It was then that the Croatian army, the HVO, decided that it would be best to bring the Muslims out of Ljubuski and out of Gradska. They were not killed like the Catholics in Bugojno. Some went to Croatia, some went abroad and some to Bosnia in Muslim controlled areas. At the same time as this was taking place, most of the residents of Medjugorje were refugees in Croatia, most in Dalmatia.
Today, the remnant Catholic population in Bosnia continues to be under great pressure. For example, Catholics constitute 18% of the population of BH but they receive only 2% of the allotted funding. It is also documented that while Catholics have given and continue to give humanitarian aid to everyone in need, regardless of religion or political conviction, this is not reciprocal. In 1901, 43% of the population of Sarajevo was Catholic. Now it has been reduced to only 3%. Likewise, following the war, the Catholic population in Banja Luka has been reduced to less than 10 percent and would not exist at all if it were not for the bravery of Bishop Franjo Komarica. It was this same Bishop who was told by an EC [European Community] diplomat that it was not in the plan for the Catholics to remain in Banja Luka at all. Whose plan? The situation facing the Catholic community in BH is truly tragic and cannot be expressed in this short letter.
It is in this context that the work of Fr. Jozo Zovko needs to be seen. It is through him and the International God Parenthood Program that 3,730 children, (Catholic, Moslem and Orthodox) who have lost one or both parents in the war, are being helped. 100% of the $50.00 U.S. per month, which a GodParent sends for the child, is deposited into the bank account of the child's legal guardian. Although very necessary, it is not the financial support of the GodParent that is the goal, but the friend-ship for the child and the healing. Without this work of Fr. Jozo Zovko, these children would suffer immeasurably.
Accusation: "I'm tired of seeing money collected for charity being used to wage war... I'm tired of hearing lies put into the mouth of the Blessed Mother."
I have watched Fr. Jozo Zovko, as his superior, for three years at Sirocco Bridge, from 1994 to 1997. He works and prays with the pilgrims for hours on end, day and night. He participates in the prayer of the house and does what he is asked. Everyone sees his work and particularly what he does with the money he receives from pilgrims who are visiting him. I know that Fr. Jozo takes no money for himself. In his God-Parenthood program he coordinates the benefactors and the families who receive help so that no wrong doing is possible. He is building a Renewal Center, which in its first phase will provide for a convent and a school where sisters will educate girls without parents and with no other possibility of education. The land and the entire Renewal Center, named the Holy Family Institute, is not in his name but is legally the ownership of the Franciscan Sisters.
I suppose it is unavoidable, being that he is in the public eye and doing so much good, that there would be gossip, hearsay and various unfounded allegations against him. It is, however, responsible journalism that needs to verify all allegations prior to publication so as not to cause irreparable harm to those who are most in need and need to be helped through him.
Furthermore, I don't understand why you would link Marijan Pehar and Fr. Jozo together. Marijan was my classmate. He went to live in the U.S. and left the priesthood around 1979. I don't believe that the two have ever met. I myself had not met Fr. Jozo until his return from prison in 1983.
When Fr. Jozo was imprisoned on August 17, 1981, the witnesses against him were all local, the judge was local, all were "Catholics". The orders came from somewhere they did not know. The Communist system worked without them ever knowing whom they worked for. Today the orchestration is the same. We must take great care that we ourselves do not form a part of it.
7. Why would Our Lady appear? Why in Medjugorje? The answers to these questions will remain a mystery and rest in the divine wisdom of God. Each of us has his own thoughts.
I believe that Our Lady came to Medugorje to help keep the Church alive in Bosnia and Hercegovina and in the world. As previously mentioned, the very existence of Catholics in BH is in danger. A Bishop from Canada recently told me that the Church in Canada is dying; that there are no vocations. While this has become a concern in nearly every diocese in the world, it is interesting to note that the current Archbishop of Vienna publically stated that most, if not all, of the new vocations in his diocese were a fruit of Medugorje.
I also believe that it is the blood of the martyrs of the Church and the years of imprisonment that brought Our Lady to Medugorje. 69 martyrs from our Franciscan community in Hercegovina were killed in February and May of 1945. Cumulatively, the Franciscans alone served more than 500 years in communist prisons because of their faith. A total of 617 priests were killed by the communists in Croatia and BH since 1945. In the parish of Siroki Brijeg on February 7, 1945 the communists killed 760 parishioners and 30 Franciscan priests and brothers. They burned the school, the library, the archives and the Church records. They ruled by fear. My mother gave water to two of the martyred priests on their way to the parish Church just one day prior to their death.
Accusation: "I'm tired of seeing the Blessed Mother used as a front for the occult."
8. The word "greed" probably has to do with money. I am in the picture in the film so I will speak about money. I will tell you about the money in my life. I have none. My room is a total of 15 square meters. My books were burned in Mostar and I managed to gather enough books now to work with. My car is a 9 year old Volkswagen Golf. Do not get me wrong. I am not complaining, only telling you the facts. The needy, the refugees and victims of war often come to me for help and thank God, there have been those who have come and asked me to give their offerings to them. Such was the case with the people from Liverpool with whom I am in the picture. Besides all those who come to me for help, sometimes I help my brother who has six children and makes $150 a month. The oldest is in the convent.
Despite the great need of my people in their attempt to recover from the war, I have never made the collection of money my mission. I consider my work to be spiritual and pastoral and I would say the same of my brother priests.
I have been told of organizations that have apparently raised millions of dollars, capitalizing on the need of our people, and have given only a trickle, if anything, to the ones they were raising the money for in the first place. We are unable to do anything to stop fraud or misuse of the poor. God alone is their judge.
At this moment, the parish of St. James in Medugorje is building a hall for the pilgrims and paying for it with a loan from the bank. The parish of St. James has no money. True and unbelievable! People may speak about the ''millions'' but that is their responsibility and on their conscience.
9. The investigation of the apparitions continues. There is a famous quote of Bishop Zanic saying to a priest from the Vatican, "What if she is appearing?!"
Accusation: "Can the lady in the Bible who had so little to say really be running off at the mouth for over 16 years now?"
On April 24th of this year, the vis-ionaries Vicka, Marija and Ivan returned from Milan, Italy where they were put under 5 days of scientific observation and investigation. There was a team of 12 university professors, scientists and medical doctors from different fields observing them with the most serious approach and with the most sophisticated equipment which was never done to the visionaries in history before. Their findings will soon be available. We, the priests in Medugorje, want to know and we are doing everything we can to be sure. We invite everyone from around the world with special expertise to help us to know the truth.
Personally I do believe that there is a need in Medugorje for your kind of writing and your approach of investigation. Medugorje must be able to meet criticism. However, my advice to you is that your writing needs to be fair and true. It should not be prejudiced against the Catholics of BH.
Perhaps you are not even aware of the misuse of your recent statements to the "Slobodna Bosna" (Free Bosnia). The headlines of a March 6, 1998, two page article read: Michael Grimes and Jeff Pickett, British Journalists who were arrested during the course of filming a film on Medugorje, in an exclusive interview with "Slobodna Bosna" attest: "WE WILL PROVE THAT INSTEAD OF HELPING CHILDREN, 600 HAND-CUFFS HAVE BEEN SENT BY WHICH "BOSNJACI" (Bosnian Muslims) HAVE BEEN TAKEN TO CONCENTRATION CAMPS."
Most certainly, you are aware of the British Charity Commission's investigation which failed to confirm this allegation prior to March 6, 1998. Most certainly, you are aware of the tenuous, fragmented peace and the attempts of reconciliation after the brutality of the war. The statements you are alleged to have made in the "Slobodna Bosna" cannot be seen in any other way than peace threatening, propagating hatred and inciting further bloodshed. Clearly this could not have been your intention but this is the bitter fruit. Tensions have again escalated. In the name of the children, the wid-ows and the wounded, I invite you to come to Bosnia and Hercegovina and to help. The suffering is overwhelming and there is very little hope. We need peace makers. It is truth that will set us free but we need to keep in mind that truth without love and truth without the desire to bring about peace and recon-ciliation, is not from God. I hope that during this crucial time, we can all serve as instruments of peace.
This letter is truly written to you with the greatest respect and I hope it is received in the same way.
In hopes of hearing from you,
- Fr. Svetozar Kraljevic, O.F.M.
Fditors' note: Father Svet told us that Michael Jones sent him a nice letter in response to this letter.
Feeding the hungry. Fr. Svet drove into the war zone time after time with his car filled with food and medicine for the refugees, whether Croatians, Muslims or Serbs.
Medjugorje Magazine Fall 1998