Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Start of the Juan Diego Women’s Center

Over 25 year ago Fred Martinez had been heavily involved with sidewalk counseling in New Mexico and California. He finished his master’s degree in Public Affairs. Fred had recently been accepted to study phenomenology, a branch of philosophy in the small European country of Liechtenstein.
Only weeks after, Fred was invited by his pro-life ally Angie Mendoza to attend a speech by Bob Pearson. Mr. Pearson had created the first crisis pregnancy center in Hawaii in 1968 in response to the legalization of abortion in that state. Additionally he created a model for the creation of new crisis counseling centers and traveled across the United States inspiring others to follow in his footsteps.
Mrs. Mendoza suggested to Fred to start such a center. With his future in Liechtenstein in mind, Fred declined. Undeterred Angie quietly asked him to pray about it.
Fred went before the Blessed Sacrament and prayed to our Lord Jesus. He then received an answer with 100% certitude from Our Lord compelling him to give up his plans of moving to Europe and start a pregnancy center in San Jose. Fred laughs as he says, “Well, I was only going to say yes because our Lord asked me. Any other person would have received the answer no. How could I say no to our Lord?”
Fred began visiting pastors, asking for their guidance and support. Upon visiting with Monsignor Sweeney of Our Lady of Peace, the monsignor accepted Fred’s request to begin a Catholic crisis pregnancy center. Thereafter Msgr. Sweeney became the first spiritual advisor for the center.
From there others rose up to assist with the immense undertaking. Fred asserts that The Legion of Mary’s prayers to our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph were instrumental in the Juan Diego Women’s Center’s establishment. In answer to these prayers, the location for the center was found. With the assistance of Msgr. Sweeney and Our Lady of Peace parishioners, rent was obtained to secure the office on White Road and Alum Rock. Therein a chapel was created and dedicated to our Blessed Mother. Fred lovingly placed a plaque on the chapel’s door reading, “Directress”. As Fred sees it, Our Blessed Mother was the one really in charge.
Fred continues to pray for the organization that he and others founded. He prays that the original intent of the Society, to save as many children from abortion as possible, carries on far into the future. Fred expresses passionately that he prays that this is kept first and foremost in each and every person’s mind and heart that works at Juan Diego.
Mr. Fred Martinez, we thank you for your service to our Lord and His Mother to open up St. Juan Diego Women’s Center. May the Lord bless you richly today and forevermore.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why did Corapi and Euteneuer Fall?

Stop for a moment of silence, ask God what He want you to do next. Make this a practice. By doing this you are doing more good than reading anything here or anywhere else on the Internet.

Fr Corapi: The New Luther?
Posted on July 10, 2011 by Fr Stephen SmutsFr Corapi: The New Luther?Spero News:

I have never had promiscuous or even inappropriate relations with her…I never paid anyone off to remain silent…I resigned because the process used by the Church is grossly unjust and…immoral…I [will not] commit to the suggestion of the Society [to] essentially crawl under a rock and wait to die. –John “Black Sheep Dog” Corapi, from his latest statement.

What would it matter if, for the sake of greater good and the Christian Church, one were to tell a good, boldface lie?–Martin Luther

While only the avid readers of the “Corapi corrupted” saga might immediately grasp the boldness and baldness of the lies on BS-Dog’s latest blog, any ten-year-old can tell you that the Corapi statement of his innocence and SOLT’s statement of his guilt both cannot be true. Like Luther’s tract on the sacraments versus the teachings of Luther’s one-time hero Augustine, they are simply incompatible, and you must choose one or the other. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that the “Church” championed by the Society of Our Lady and its famous former member (and his followers) might soon be different from each other too.

Corapi’s five denials of SOLT’s charges, while two more than Peter’s three denials of Christ, are still ninety less than Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five ["Trick-or-Treat"] Theses, so we (or any ten-year-old) can easily examine their contents. Now, on Corapi’s refutation of SOLT’s first charge, that the former Father violated his perpetual vow of poverty, we have to concede Corapi at least one point. “At every step of the way,” maintains Corapi, “through the entire past twenty years, the Society of Our Lady’s leadership knew of my financial independence,” so why didn’t they say something sooner?

Few, and even I suspect Corapi himself, would describe a man owning over a million dollars in land, along with several nice cars, boats and motorcycles, not to mention a prosperous media company as living in poverty, but because he was living so long and openly in luxury, I (and many others) were extremely surprised he was bound by this vow. As Father Joe Jenkins said on his holy site, Blogger Priest, “I think that the leadership in SOLT must be faulted for allowing this situation to grow so out of hand. They should have reigned him in years ago. Their passivity has now made for a far worse and more scandalous situation.”

Although Corapi’s situation reminds me much of the downfall of Fr. Thomas Euteneuer, the exorcist priest who roamed the country abusing women until the outcry of the abused (with the help of the Catholic press) forced his bishop to put a stop to it, it is probably more similar (according to Phil Lawler of Catholic Culture) to the case of the late Father Marcial Maciel. “Like…the disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ, John Corapi has worked for years as a celebrity priest: encouraging a cult of personality, setting his own agenda, raising large sums of money that he spent at his own discretion, and—most dangerous of all—accountable to no one.

It was a formula for disaster, and now the disaster has occurred…

… by scoffing at the opportunity of returning to the SOLT community, and declaring the humble but holy choice of celebrating the Eucharist (which as late as June 23, Corapi called “the primary reason a priest is ordained”) and hearing confessions not even an option, Corapi finds himself at the same spot as Luther did after posting his Ninety-Five Theses but before his excommunication and split with Rome…

While thought provoking, it is not one of the best of comparisons it has to be said.

Luther broke with the Church over doctrine and was subsequently excommunicated. Fr. Corapi is seeking laiciaztion so he can pursue his options of debasement against him. Fr. Corapi shuld be compated to Catherine of Siena who had more things to say to Bishops and Popes very directly and they made her a Doctor Of The Church regardless.. That’s who Fr. Corapi should be compared with.

Reply ↓
Mike G on July 10, 2011 at 20:54 said:

Corapi’s statement is carefully crafted to look like he is rebutting SOLT’s accusations, but he does nothing of the kind. Anyone with a brain can see right through this. This is very evasive and vague. He doesn’t directly respond to any of the accusations. Looks like the response of a guilty person.

1. He doesn’t deny the millions he has and the many luxurious possessions, which is a gross violation of the promise of poverty. He merely says he was financially independent. That still doesn’t give him an excuse for his excesses and breaking the promise of poverty.

2. He evades the sexual impropriety accusations by limiting his response to one woman. He avoids the charges of cohabitation, sexting and having a more recent mistress completely. Very slick.

3. He says the reason for the payoff in the non-disclosure agreement was not to silence anyone, which is dubious at best. He does not deny that he paid or offered the $100,000.

4. His explanation about his resignation is lame and rings hollow. He could have had a fair process and given his side of the story if he had released the witnesses from the non-disclosure agreement. He purposely ruined the process and stallled the investigation himself.

5. Then he immediately gets back to business marketing mode, gives a false impression of what his choices are and promotes himself.

6. He doesn’t address the grave charges of sacramental impropriety, he does not address the drunk driving incident of 1999, which is public record.

Perhaps SOLT will feel compelled to release the emails and sexting records, as well as his real estate titles and records of his other luxurious merchandise. He is declared not fit for ministry, but his followers ignore the obvious and blindly follow him over the cliff. He is taking his followers for fools and continues to play them like a fiddle.

Was Father Corapi complicit in Father Euteneuer's downfall?Sunday, March 27, 2011
By Tom O'Toole

On Ash Wednesday I learned that a former employee sent a three-page letter to several bishops accusing me of everything from drug addiction to multiple sexual exploits with her and several other adult women.

There seems to no longer be the need for a complaint to be deemed “credible” in order for Church authorities to pull the trigger on the Church’s procedure, which was in recent years crafted to respond to cases of the sexual abuse of minors. I am not accused of that...[but] I have been placed on "administrative leave"...I’ll certainly cooperate with the process, but personally believe that it is seriously flawed, and is tantamount to treating the priest as guilty “just in case”...The resultant damage to the accused is immediate, irreparable, and serious, especially for someone like myself, since I am so well known. I am not alone in this assessment, as multiple canon lawyers...civil and criminal attorneys [agree]...All of the allegations in the complaint are false, and I ask you to pray for all concerned. --Fr. John Corapi, SOLT, 3-18-11

Father Thomas Euteneuer has performed a valuable service in giving us...Exorcism and the Church Militant. Everyone...can profit from a careful and prayerful reading of this book. Priests especially should profit from this material [as] preparation for this dimension of spiritual warfare is singularly lacking in almost all seminaries, novitiates, or other Catholic institutions of learning. One of the reasons for this is that many such institutions have faculty that...don’t necessarily believe what the Church believes. This leaves a terrible void...Hopefully this fine book will inspire many priests to equip themselves with the necessary weapons to fight for souls in this arena. --Rev. John A. Corapi, SOLT, STD, Foreword, Exorcism and the Church Militant.

The Greatest of these is Love. --1 Corinthians 13:13

The above poster depicts the better (if not last) days of the Church's once-dynamic duo of rock-star padres, Fathers Corapi and Euteneuer. Although in some ways it seems an eternity ago, the date tells us it was just last July when the "rocking reverends" were flying high, topping the preacher pop charts on their ironically titled (at least in retrospect) "The Greatest Event of 2010" tour. Ironic in that, although so far only Euteneuer has crashed and burned, the above statement from Corapi shows that now he too has been accused of things that only true rock stars are supposed to do. And, while I pray that (unlike Euteneuer) Fr. John's word is true and the accusations against him are false, both his dubious dealings with Euteneuer and his own defiant denial of any wrongdoing show Corapi has a ways to go in discerning the difference between a rock star and a saint.

We'll look at the curious connection between the two popular preacher-priests in a moment, but let's start by examining the interesting choice of words Corapi uses to show his innocence. After adopting a rather mocking tone of his accuser in the above quoted statement, he then accuses Church authorities of "pulling the trigger" too quickly in deeming these incredible charges "credible."

Corapi then states that he (not to mention several of his lawyer buddies) doesn't understand why a "flawed" Church law designed to deal with those low-life pedophiles should apply to his case, especially when he is "so well known" and they are not. Finally, although Corapi says he will condescend to go along with his forced "administrative leave," his defiant tone makes his parting warning, that these accusations will cause him "immediate, irreparable, and serious...harm" sound more like the beginnings of a self-righteous lawsuit than a sermon written to save men's souls.

As far as the Corapi-Euteneuer connection goes, JC (even Corapi's initials are ironic!) was TE's spiritual director for several years up until the summer of '09, when an interesting thing happened. It should be noted that Euteneuer, because of JC's heavy preaching schedule, usually got to see Corapi only once a year for several days of spiritual counseling, but Euteneuer stuck with him, perhaps figuring Corapi was one of the few priests who could understand the temptations of the reverend in the limelight. But this particular summer, Euteneuer arrived at Corapi's expansive Montana ranch (funded not only by the fees accumulated by Corapi's wildly successful talks and tapes but by the $2,712,281 JC won in a medical malpractice lawsuit) with a particularly heavy heart.

Not only did Euteneuer bear on his soul the burden of the past year's sexual abuse that he had inflicted on one of his exorcism victims, but he had in his hands this woman's diary, which documented his sin to the world should the public ever see it.

Now we don't know what, if anything, Euteneuer told Corapi of his sins, or if the damning (to TE) diary was even mentioned. But we do know that after that visit, Corapi was no longer Euteneuer's spiritual advisor. We also know that when Euteneuer returned from his trip and the victim, who was tricked by Euteneuer into handing the diary over to TE by his claim that it might fall into the hands of a Satanic cult if she took it on vacation with her (I guess you would have to have been brainwashed by Euteneuer to understand that logic, which at the time she was) asked for her diary back, she was shocked to learn TE had burned it, claiming, "Father Corapi told me to do so."

Again, we don't know if Corapi indeed said this, or if it was just one of the many statements Euteneuer made to save his own rear, at a time he should have been more concerned with his soul. Still, it seems strange that at a time when Euteneuer needed spiritual direction the most, TE left (or was told to leave) Corapi's spiritual direction. Afterwards, Corapi still maintained a professional relationship with Euteneuer (writing a foreword for Euteneuer's exorcism book and keeping the popular pro-life priest on as his warm-up act for the great summer tour event) but little else.

For, by the time Cincinnati rolled around, Corapi, surrounded by bodyguards, didn't give Euteneuer (or anyone else not in the JC posse) the time of day, figuring the fact that he allowed TE — and no other vendor — to sell the Euteneuer books at what would usually be an exclusive Corapi memorabilia event (where, for the record, both JC and TE sold an insane amount of stuff that day) should be consolation enough.

And so, while presuming Corapi's innocence in the sex and drugs scenario until the Church rules on his case, there is at least one virtue we can say the once-pale gray-haired priest, who now sports a jet-black beard and Hollywood tan, lacks. It is one thing for Corapi to question Church authorities for taking these allegations seriously — indeed, the fact that Corapi has made a living by talking about his past debauchery and drug-addiction should be enough for his superiors to give them a second look — but it is quite another to claim that such charges will cause him "irreparable damage."

Rather than damage an innocent man's reputation, the history of the saints (and other recent holy heroes) shows quite the opposite. When a young St. Macarius the Great was accused of impregnating the village virgin, the townsmen "...seized me, led me to the village and hung pots black with soot and other things around my neck and led me through the village and beat me almost to death" (talk about "pulling the trigger"), only to realize his true holiness when he still spoke kindly of her and she finally recanted.

When Padre (now Saint) Pio was falsely accused of wrongdoing, and was no longer allowed to say Mass in public, he merely said, "His will be done," adding, "the will of the [Church] authorities is the will of God." And finally, when Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was falsely accused of pedophilia, and the not-always orthodox priest not only obediently accepted his public humiliation, but refused to in any way demean his accuser, his status grew rather than diminished when his innocence was proven.

In other words, Corapi might not be guilty in what he did in the Euteneuer scandal (or his own case) but in what he failed to do. By being so wrapped up in his effort to reach the masses, Corapi failed to see that the individual souls entrusted to him (not to mention his own) were neglecting "to equip themselves with the necessary weapons" to win the age-old fight against Satan.

It may be too late for Corapi to resume the role as Euteneuer's spiritual advisor, but if he is wise, Corapi will spend this period outside of the public eye in confession and in front of the Blessed Sacrament so that he will regain the grace needed to be a more effective confessor and advisor for individuals in the future. If the accusation has revealed the Corapi pride, let us pray that his time away from preaching is enough to keep him from the fall, and that he learns what really is "the Greatest" event of all.

Tom O'Toole is a proud Notre Dame alumnus and syndicated writer. He is the author of Champions of Faith: Catholic Sports Heroes tell Their Stories. See his website:

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Fr. Corapi's Order Finds Him Not "Fit for Ministry”

Fr. Corapi's order finds him guilty

Robstown, Texas, Jul 5, 2011 / 03:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Father John Corapi’s religious order has found him guilty of substance abuse, sexual activity and violating his promise of poverty.

A July 5 press release from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) said that while Fr. Corapi was involved in public ministry he had “sexual relations and years of cohabitation with a woman known to him, when the relationship began, as a prostitute.”

The investigative team also found that he “repeatedly abused alcohol and drugs,” “recently engaged in ‘sexting’ activity with one or more women in Montana,” and holds legal title “to over $1 million in real estate, numerous luxury vehicles, motorcycles, an ATV, a boat dock, and several motor boats.”

His religious order said it is concerned “Fr. Corapi is now misleading (many) individuals through his false statements and characterizations.”

“It is for these Catholics that SOLT, by means of this announcement, seeks to set the record straight.”

A fact-finding team created by the order “acquired information from Fr. Corapi’s emails, various witnesses and public sources,” in response to a signed letter from a woman who is well known to Fr. Corapi.

The Society said in the news release that Fr. Corapi, under his vow of obedience, has been ordered to “return home to the society’s regional office and take up residence there,” and to “dismiss the lawsuit he has filed against his accuser.”

The order added that its “prior direction to Father John Corapi not to engage in any preaching or teaching, the celebration of the sacraments or other public ministry continues.”

As the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity sought to carry out its investigation into the allegations against Fr. Corapi, it found that its fact-finding team was hindered by a civil lawsuit the priest had filed and by sweeping non-disclosure agreements he had negotiated with his accuser and other witnesses.

The civil lawsuit argued that his principal accuser had committed slander and breach of contract.

Fr. Corapi refused to dismiss the lawsuit and the team discovered many other contracts that prevented “key witnesses” from speaking.

“Many of these witnesses likely had key information about the accusations being investigated and declined to answer questions and provide documents,” the order said.

The fact-finding team was composed of a priest-canonist, a psychiatrist and a lawyer, two of whom were members of religious orders and one a lay Catholic.

The statement notes that two were men and one was a woman, all with a “national reputation and substantial experience in ecclesiastical processes related to priest disciplinary issues.”

Fr. Corapi expressed his desire to leave the Society and the priesthood in a June 17 statement. He said he felt he was being “unjustly accused,” and that “(t)here are certain persons in authority in the Church that want me gone, and I shall be gone.”

Fr. Corapi has not yet been released from his vows.

“Catholics should understand that SOLT does not consider Father John Corapi as fit for ministry,” the statement concluded.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Queen of Profits

Medjugorje Draws Thousands of Pilgrims and Dollars

By James Martinez


Medjugorje. Few topics evoke greater passion than the alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to six visionaries in the remote village of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the effects of these reported visions are not limited to the local region. Medjugorje devotees are found worldwide, most notably in the country known for its rich living and equally rich generosity, the United States.

Medjugorje has local significance because each fall since 1990, the Bren Center at the University of California, Irvine, has been the site of one of the largest annual Medjugorje Peace Conferences in the U.S. The event is sponsored by the Medjugorje Peace Conference Committee, based in Brea. Its chief organizer, Joan Housack, refused to talk with any member of the media, but there's no question that the conference has been large from the start, initially drawing about 3,500 attendees according to a co-owner of Huntington Beach-based Follow Me Ministries, which promotes Medjugorje. It now regularly attracts an estimated 5,000 attendees annually. The 2002 conference took place October 25-27 and conference attendee numbers are expected to be similar to last year's.

For most attendees, the Irvine conference is a much-anticipated event; a spiritual revival of sorts where devotees can meet and mingle with like-minded, devout Catholics and take advantage of adoration and reconciliation, daily Mass, dynamic speakers and singers, and a small booth area jammed with Medjugorje-related products, magazines, tapes and travel arrangements for sale.

"It gives you a spiritual uplifting to be here. It's a peaceful feeling and the speakers are good," said Leo Garcia from Huntington Beach, a six-year Irvine conference veteran. "I've been to Medjugorje three times," added Monica Chin from Upland. "This is my first time at the conference and I came to feel Medjugorje again. So far it's what I expected. I feel the same intensity as I did at Medjugorje."

Another first-time conference attendee, Marie Chyong, agreed. "We're all here because we all are being called to be close to God. I feel like I'm back home [in the Philippines] or at Lourdes here. It's so solemn and peaceful. I feel safe here."

Lori Baker of Ventura came with Iris Reznick of Filmore. "I came to hear what the visionary has to say," explained Baker, "and to be around people with the same feelings as I have of wanting peace." Two years ago she was with one of the visionaries during an alleged apparition. Baker was hoping for the same opportunity this time. "I'm looking for the same kind of peace and spirituality as I experienced last time. Today is a special time for me."

Reznick, a fourth-time attendee, added: "I don't come for the speakers, but more for the adoration chapel and the apparition room. We went into the room, prayed the Rosary and after the Rosary, they said Our Lady was here. Everyone was quiet. We heard and felt something come through the room, some people cried and some passed out. For me, it was a very comfortable feeling. Everyone experienced something individually."

At least one visionary is slated to attend the Irvine conference each year, but last year Ivanka, now married with children, cancelled. The September 11 terrorist attacks had occurred about a month and a half before the conference. When asked why that year's scheduled visionary did not show up, one conference co-organizer at the ticket table explained: "Ivanka is understandably nervous about flying right now."

When conference attendees were randomly asked if they minded the visionary's cancellation, the overwhelming response was "not really, I'm here for the whole spiritual aspect. It would be nice to have had a visionary here, but it's not essential." However, when these same attendees learned that Ivanka cancelled because of her nervousness to fly after the terrorist attacks, their response was vehemently incredulous. "Oh, NO, that doesn't make sense! That couldn't be the reason she's not here!" was the consistent response.

Serious questions about the Medjugorje subculture run deep. For one thing, how many apparitions of now canonized saints occurred at conveniently predictable times? According to the Medjugorje seers, who currently range from age 38 to 31 -- Marija, Vicka, Ivan, Mirjana, Ivanka, and Jakov -- the apparitions of Gospa (as Our Lady is referred to in their native language) are ongoing to this day; 21 years of nonstop messages from Mary, with no end in sight. As one priest who requested anonymity observed, "The Mother of God sounds like a Chatty Cathy doll." Marija, Vicka and Ivan report daily visions from Mary, while the others claim to see her at regular intervals; to Mirjana, Our Lady comes on the second of each month and on March 18, Mirjana's birthday; to Ivanka, on June 25; and to Jakov, on Christmas Day. Medjugorje devotées point to literally thousands of messages from Our Lady to the modern world.

But what of the fruits of Medjugorje? There is no question that lives have been changed at Medjugorje. "The reality of grace-filled response of pilgrims and of those associated with the reported a deeply moving and a genuine religious experience in its own right," writes Father Benedict Groeschel in his book A Still, Small Voice. Not speaking of Medjugorje or of any reported apparition in particular, Father Benedict continues: "I am sure that even in the case of a false revelation -- even if it be fraudulent -- many people have had genuine religious experiences that may even have been a source of healing.The fact is that we cannot judge the reported revelation by its fruits. You would be required to take Joseph Smith and the Mormon doctrine very seriously if you went simply by the effects of his revelation. It is responsible for several billion dollars in religious donations every year -- and yet very serious questions have been raised by Mormon scholars about the moral life of this 'prophet.'"

Medjugorje devotees can't say enough good things about their visionaries. But do their lives exhibit extraordinary holiness and self-sacrifice for God? Were they radically transformed by what they saw and heard?

If we compare the lives of the Medjugorje visionaries with those of Church-approved apparitions, the differences are striking. Newsweek magazine, in its January 17, 2000 issue, ran a short article on Ivan Dragicevic relating to his speaking engagement in Boston. Dragicevic, who makes his home in the Boston area and reportedly drives a luxury car, married a former Miss Massachusetts and still travels about the U.S. speaking of the Medjugorje apparitions. Other visionaries are reported to have connections with hotels and other real estate in the Medjugorje region. Vicka, for example, claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary wanted a "pastoral center" constructed in Medjugorje, consisting of a 100-bed hotel with a chapel for pilgrims. She insisted on its construction in 1995.

According to a well-documented and foot-noted article, "Medjugorje: Old Lies, New Admissions," by Craig Heimbichner, Vicka, Ivanka, Mirjana and Ivan are exposed as having lied -- or at least as having offered boldly conflicting testimony -- regarding serious matters involving the content of various Medjugorje messages.

More widely known are the repeated and scathing investigations and testimonies by the long-time bishop of the area, the late Bishop Pavao Zanic, regarding the blatant disobedience of the seers and the dubious nature of their reported apparitions. His successor has expressed similar concerns, as had a bishops conference in 1991 that declared there was no evidence of anything supernatural at Medjugorje.

On June 19, 1996, Vatican press secretary, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said, regarding Medjugorje, that "a healthy Marian devotion in line with the teaching of the Church" had to be promoted. He stressed that, according to the investigations that had already taken place, it could not be affirmed that there was anything supernatural about the apparitions or revelations of Medjugorje. Rome repeatedly referred to the local bishop as the competent authority in this matter.

Another disconcerting element of the Medjugorje apparitions is the well-documented power struggle between the Franciscans who run the parish where the visions take place -- and who are the recipients of much of the Medjugorje money raised locally and abroad -- and the local ordinaries.

In a letter from the late Bishop Zanic to an inquiring priest from Panama as to one of the more than 20 reasons the bishop claimed to have for denying the authenticity of Medjugorje, Zanic cited the sad ordeal of one Franciscan, Ivica Vego. This priest "was expelled from his order, released from his vows and suspended ab divinis from the Pope," wrote the bishop, "and yet.continued to celebrate Mass and dispense the sacraments." The priest eventually moved in with his girlfriend, although the visionary Vicka's diary cites more than nine times that Vego was innocent and the bishop unjust. When Sister Leopolda got pregnant, Vego left the order. The couple now has two children, yet thousands of this ex-Franciscan's prayer books continue to be sold in Medjugorje.

The Franciscans who run the Medjugorje parish have not displayed a humble and obedient spirit. On May 12, 1996, when the local bishop ordered the Franciscans to hand over the parish and the rectory to the diocese, the Franciscans refused and cinder blocked the church doors in a stand-off. In November 1998, both the current bishop, Ratko Peric, and the general of the Franciscans, Father Giacomo Bini, met in Rome with the prefect for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. As a result of that meeting, Peric and Bini issued a jointly signed letter announcing that the Franciscan fathers would be withdrawn from Medjugorje and other parishes of the diocese as of February 21, 1999 and replaced with diocesan priests. On the same day, the two priests most actively involved in the 1996 standoff were expelled from the Franciscan order per the order's general.

Another such incident was reported in 1988 in a German newsletter, Der Schwarze Brief, published by Claus Peter Clausen of Lippstadt, Germany. Clausen, a German photographer who was familiar with the seers and parish Franciscans, claimed to have observed and photographed the Franciscans in the act of fabricating the messages. When he was observed in this act, he said he was threatened by the seer Ivan, who later came up to the photographer and "made a gesture which indicated that his throat would be slit" if he continued. The photographer said he was later told by a taxi-driver that anyone who opposed Medjugorje would be murdered.

The January 6, 1999 issue of Der Schwarze Brief reported that the former state of Yugoslavia took in $100 million by 1988, seven years after the first Medjugorje apparition. This represented five percent of all tourist income for the entire country and 45 percent of the total income of the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to a Katholische Nachrichten Agentur report filed July 15, 1989, the income from pilgrims in 1989 was estimated at $150 million and at $200 million for 1990. In 1988 alone, more than a million pilgrims, mostly from Western Europe and the U.S., visited Medjugorje.

"Medjugorje used to be a very small town," said Irvine conference attendee Mate Vrdoljak, who grew up 15 miles away from the village and moved to America in 1975 at the urging of his brother. "Tobacco and grapes used to be the big businesses in Medjugorje. There was nothing else. I worked in the tobacco fields after school." When Vrdoljak returned to the region in 1999 to be with his father who was sick, it had been 26 years since he'd been back. "It was very different," Vrdoljak explains. "It was like being in a foreign country, there were so many changes. Now it's a booming town with people coming and going, restaurants, transportation, businesses. There's very little of the tobacco and grape industry left now." Even more interesting is the staggering amount of money raised from various Medjugorje-related activities, such as travel agency commissions, speaker honorariums, magazine subscriptions and advertising rates, U.S.-held conferences and retreats.

Even the most frugal of Medjugorje enthusiasts spend plenty of money in Medjugorje. They buy many religious articles sold locally, stay in rented lodgings, purchase food and use taxis and shuttle services when needed. The small region's economic boon is understandable and its sole cause is the widely reported Medjugorje visions.

What is true of Medjugorje is true of Medjugorje conferences in the U.S. At the Irvine conference, for example, organizers paid $4,100 per day to rent the arena, plus $700 daily to rent the Koll and Stewart rooms, according to Jeff at the Bren Events Center. This means an estimated $14,400 for the three-day conference. Although free to clergy, conference admission otherwise costs between $34 for an adult single, $15 for a youth and $64 for a married couple. An estimated 5,000 average attendance rate would easily generate more than $150,000 for the organizers. This amount does not include the thousands of dollars generated by Medjugorje-specific publications such as Medjugorje Magazine, whose subscription rates are boosted by devoted conference attendees and by numerous large ads paid for by the multitude of Medjugorje-bound pilgrimages and travel agents.

"This is a profitable place," conceded Slavko Barbaric, a Franciscan who has ministered in Medjugorje for more than 15 years. "And of course, we, too, sell our souvenirs and our rosaries and so on. But it hasn't made us millionaires, and it hasn't distracted us from our real mission; the care of people's souls."

Money is raised not only in the name of Medjugorje, but in the name of its various off-shoot and equally sensational apparitions, visionaries and stigmatists. One apparent Medjugorje spin-off, for example, is a young priest, Father Zlatko Sudac, who bears a bright, blood red cross very prominently on his forehead. It is a striking and sensational mark of Christ, so unlike those borne by the Church-approved stigmatists of the recent past such as St. Rose of Lima and St. Padre Pio. The editor of Medjugorje Magazine said that as of Fall 2000 she had already rented one of the largest facilities in the Chicago area to hold a retreat to be given by Father Zlatko. "It cost $50,000 to rent the facility," the editor explained confidently. "But I'm sure we'll more than fill it and have at least $90,000 left over." The expected $90,000 or more profit from the Chicago suburb retreat with the alleged stigmata-bearing priest retreat leader will go to orphanages around Medjugorje. "They wouldn't be able to function if it weren't for all the money we've raised in the States," added the magazine editor. But, according to someone who answered the phone at the DuPage Marian Center in Westmont, Illinois in November 2002, the money from Sudac's conferences does not go directly to orphanages, but to Sudac's bishop. (With Medjugorje Magazine, the DuPage Marian Center is owned by Larry and Mary Sue Eck.) This money is untracked except that some of it goes to fund Sudac's schooling in the United States (to learn English) and to his mission. Some of the money raised also goes to help a priest friend of Larry Eck in El Salvador with his missionary work.

Meanwhile, a local bank founded by several Franciscans and leading local businessmen raises a question as to who has or will have legal title to the financial contributions now sitting in this bank, which have been made by pilgrims.

Any discussion of Medjugorje must include a brief overview of the region's tumultuous history. Our Lady of Medjugorje appeared 40 years to the day after a gruesome massacre of 600 Serbians, who were taken from their villages in Prebilovci and western Herzegovina at gunpoint in June 1941 by members of a group of Croatians who called themselves "Ustasha," "insurgent." The group had allied themselves with the Nazis in a short-lived attempt to run an independent Croatian state. These kidnapped Serbian old men, women and children, who were loaded in train cars, disembarked at the village of Surmanci and marched to the deep pit above the town. They were hurled in, alive, with hand grenades thrown in after them. This massacre site is located just on the other side of the hill now known as apparition hill, where Our Lady of Medjugorje first appeared. The names of the perpetrators of the Surmanci massacre include villagers from Medjugorje, according to a summary of the massacre recounted by E. Michael Jones in a well-documented article, "The Ghosts of Surmanci: Queen of Peace, Ethnic Cleansing, Ruined Lives."

The communists sealed the pit with a concrete lid in 1980, in an attempt to quell chaos in this ethnically diverse region. In 1989, a delegation of Serbs broke through the lid, exhumed the Serb remains and ceremoniously processed the coffins draped with Serbian banners, back to Prebilovci, to be re-interred.

Even so, Surmanci remains the town's dirty little secret. Perhaps Our Lady's timely appearance 40 years later marked a welcome relief for guilty consciences. One thing is certain, the historical and political components of the story are especially significant in considering Our Lady's appearances in Medjugorje (or, now, wherever the "visionaries" happen to be).

But how important are events like Medjugorje to the spiritual lives of Catholics? "The fact is that God does make his presence known to us in innumerable ways," writes Father Benedict Groeschel in A Still, Small Voice. "He gives us his word in Scripture, his presence in the Sacraments, his appeal in the needy. Christ assures us that he is present with us till the end of the world. What we really need is not extraordinary signs of this presence in visions and revelations, but a sense of reverent attentiveness to this religious experience as it comes to us in ordinary ways."