A BISHOP WHO KNOWS OPPOSITION WELL: 'books which criticize Medjugorje moved me to come and see with my own eyes'
‘I HAVE PERSONAL REASONS TO THINK THESE APPARITIONS ARE AUTHENTIC’
‘I know the local bishop is in fierce opposition’
Considered ‘most traditional prelate in Belgium’
‘Understands opposition’ but calls book ‘polemical’
DESCRIBES ‘THE PRESENCE OF VICKA’ – ‘SUFFERING, COMPLETELY DEVOTED, ALWAYS SMILING’
SPECULATES ‘NEUTRAL’ Vatican pronouncement
WORLD FAMOUS conservative Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard has declared his personal belief in the apparitions of Medjugorje since reflecting on a week spent with Medjugorje visionary Vicka Ivankovic who had her daily apparitions in his presence whilst on Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The Primate of Belgium, known as ‘the Belgian Ratzinger’ for his conservative and pro-traditionalist views, shared his reflections with Sabrina Covic, co-foundress of Maranatha. Sabrina organised the International Prayer for Healing of Humanity in the Holy Land with local Charbel Maroun, chairman of the Marian Movement of the Holy Land – an event that attracted over 15,000 faithful.
We were invited by Sabrina and Charbel to join them personally with Mgr Leonard and Vicka throughout the week with our group of 25 pilgrims that we brought, lead by Fr Gianni Sgreva CP.
Mgr Leonard has since reflected on the trip that took place back in September 2013 on the Maranatha website and shared his compelling thoughts on the apparitions that he witnessed:
“I was confronted by a fundamental and delicate fact: The lady who helped me tremendously to organize this pilgrimage, Sabrina Covic, had invited one of the ‘visionaries’ (under reserve), Vicka, to join us. This meant that during the great assemblies the rosary was interrupted at 18h40 by what many believe to be an apparition of the Virgin Mary.”
Mgr Leonard celebrating the Extraordinary Form Mass with
FSSP General Superior Fr Berg and consecrates priests to
the traditional fraternity [Note. Mgr Leonard is not an FSSP
confrère and The FSSP have no affiliation to Medjugorje]
Mgr Leonard praying for FEMEN protesters who douse him with water.
Mgr Leonard is more famously known for being a staunchly catholic, tradition-loving bishop. His appointment to Brussels by Pope Benedict XVI on January 18, 2010 arrived with a vow to restore a more ‘worthy’ liturgy and traditional Catholic values back in the country.
Recently traditional catholic bloggers Rorate Caeli wrote ‘truly traditional Catholics need no convincing of the highly problematic nature and false claims of Medjugorje’. Yet Archbishop Leonard, who actively promotes the traditional movement and regularly celebrates the Tridentine Mass, also speaks in defence of Medjugorje although he says the judgement of the apparitions is ‘not his business’ but the business of the Vatican Commission, so he ultimately waits to hear the official ruling.
Vatican Journalist Andrea Tornelli called him ‘the most traditional bishop in Belgium’ and Rorate Caeli described him as ‘offering breathing space for orthodoxy’ by installing in his diocese the FSSP- the traditional Priestly Fraternity of St Peter established by Pope St John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger and 15 former lefebvrian clergymen – and offered ‘the first Tridentine Mass celebrated by a Belgian Primate in over 40 years’.
In 2007 in an interview for Télé Moustique Mgr Leonard spoke boldly about traditional catholic values on sexuality and declared ”I might face imprisonment in a few years, but it could offer me a vacation.”
In 2013 his opposition brought him to international fame when ‘gay rights FEMEN’ activists doused him with water during a conference.
“Two risks exist: the risk that we are being deceived in Medjugorje and the risk that we are bypassing a gift of grace. I prefer to take the risk of openness and prudence”
The Archbishop, prayed, travelled and dined with Vicka, witnessed her apparitions up close and followed her interaction with other pilgrims. We saw several occasions where Archbishop made sure Vatican guidelines were followed that the event would not ‘take for granted the credibility of the apparitions’ by continually expressing to the crowds in front of Vicka “We await for the judgement of the Catholic Church to discern the validity of these apparitions’.
We sat next to the Archbishop as he sat directly opposite Vicka during the time of the apparition in the Garden of Gethsemani. Mgr Leonard was leading the rosary ‘in Latino’ (as he requested aloud) together with a small group as we awaited the time of the alleged apparition. When the time came, Vicka knees slammed onto stony gravel-like ground as she appeared to be in a radiant ecstasy, facing the Archbishop and looking directly above his head speaking to what she testifies was the Blessed Virgin. The Archbishop observed her during this moment, as her throat muscles could be seen moving in great motion as she spoke yet no sound was heard.
Archbishop Leonard described in his reflections of the visionary as having a presence:
“The presence of a Vicka: suffering from poor health, always smiling, completely devoted to the local Christians, especially the sick, certainly contributed in attracting the crowds.”
“I have personal reasons to think that these apparitions are authentic. I also know that the local bishop on the spot, the bishop of Mostar, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is on the contrary, in fierce opposition. This has not prevented Rome from not feeling tied down by his judgment alone, since an international commission of experts has been appointed to study the phenomena.”
He speculated on the outcome of the commission’s findings commenting:
“According to some, its likely to be neutral, perhaps even lenient, without being able to settle the matter in a peremptory fashion, neither positively nor negatively, since the phenomena are still going on.”
“I do not wish to judge things, situations, and persons from a distance, only from books. I would rather take a little more personal look.”
Archbishop Leonard says he is well aware of all the things said against Medjugorje, has even read books against it and agrees there are questions to be asked. He is also very familiar with his own share of criticism himself, being considered one of the most attacked bishops in contemporary times. Belgian politicians, activists and even fellow clergymen have pounded this archbishop with constant criticism and it is no secret that some have wanted him removed from his position. Leonard’s spokesman Juergen Mettepenningen, quit his job only three months after joining the archbishop’s office slating “Monsignor Leonard at times acts like a motorist driving on the wrong side of a freeway who thinks all the other motorists are wrong.”
Yet most interestingly, Mgr Leonard attributes the criticism of Medjugorje to being the reason that sparked his interest to think twice about Medjugorje and investigate it further. Mgr Leonard had previously shared an interview with the Medjugorje Parish:
“The fact that at the present time in France and in Belgium there exists much opposition to the Medjugorje events, books which criticize Medjugorje, moved me to come and see with my own eyes. I do not wish to judge things, situations, and persons from a distance, only from books. I would rather take a little more personal look.”
“I keep informed also on the questions that the opponents of Medjugorje are asking. One has to hear them, and therefore I read the book of Joachim Boufflet [Medjugorje – Fabricating the Supernatural] from beginning to end. It is written in a polemical tone which does not seem to me to be in place.”
“I believe there exists that which is fundamental, but also accidentals. One is more positive, and the other is more negative.”
Mgr Leonard addressed the criticism ‘where there is prayer, there will be graces and miracles': “that logic that does not seem to me to be completely correct” explaining “there are many other places in the world where there is prayer, where there is confession, where Eucharist is celebrated, but there are not the same kind of evident fruits!”
“Investigating the fruits is not enough. The facts have to be investigated, but the abundance of positive fruits is in itself a positive evidence, even if it seems to me that there are, as in every human affair, also negative fruits. Wherever there are people, there are also human moments, sometimes far too human. As also among the twelve apostles. . .”
But the Archbishop does not deny the opposition completely, agreeing with some points raised:
“But there are real questions which are asked and which one day have to receive a clear and historically established answer. Accordingly, I accept those questions, but I wish to stay open to the event.”
“I understand why questions are asked and I believe that, there are in this phenomenon of Medjugorje essential things, but there are also parasites. I believe there exists that which is fundamental, but also accidentals. One is more positive, and the other is more negative. In Lourdes the testimony of Bernadette impressed me very much, I would say 100% pure. It seems to me that here there were parasites surrounding the central events.”
“I know bishop friends whose rule of behavior is to say: “Look out, if we are open to the events of Medjugorje, we can perhaps encourage something that is not authentic.” There exists a risk. I am more sensitive to the opposite risk and say: “Just the same, it is possible that Heaven has spoken to people at that place and I do not wish to take the risk of a priori being closed to that grace.” Two risks exist: the risk that we are being deceived in Medjugorje and the risk that we are bypassing a gift of grace.”
“My desire is that those who have the grace and the competence for that, to formulate one day the judgment of the Church about what has happened here. Until then, between the two risks, I prefer to take the risk of being open rather than the risk of a priori being closed to the grace of God which can be operating in this place. Accordingly, therefore, I take the position of openness and prudence.”
Msgr Leonard has since affirmed he awaits the Vatican Announcement and is ready to accept whatever they find.
Archbishop Leonard was not made cardinal, which is normally an historic tradition for all Belgian Primates who are usually elevated to the status cardinal, making Mgr Leonard the first Archbishop in nearly 200 years not to receive the honorary title. Sources tell us reasons for this were allegedly to give other Archbishops the chance to be cardinal rather than automatically giving it to a Belgian Archbishop. Earlier this May, Mgr Leonard submitted his automatic letter of resignation that is compulsory for a bishop at age 75 but often gets renewed. Mgr Leonard’s office was not renewed but the resignation was accepted in what the Catholic Herald called ‘swift’ and Rorate Caeli described as ‘record speed’. Archbishop Leonard will remain in office until September and most likely will not be voting in the Synod.sources: National Medjugorje Movement, www.maranatha-conversion.com,