The Silence of the Birds: the Powerful Experiences of an Atheist Doctor and Notre Dame’s Basketball Team in Medjugorje
One of the most fascinating phenomena that people have experienced in Medjugorje is the silence of the birds, an occurrence that has been reported as transpiring at times when the visionaries have their apparitions. This occurrence has been reported by people as diverse as members of Notre Dame’s basketball team, including players who were not Catholic, and an atheist Italian neurophysiologist who scientifically examined the apparitions of the visionaries.
Dr. Marco Margnelli was an ardent atheist who used to travel to various locations trying to disprove claims of mystical phenomena—he traveled, for example, to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1987, trying to disprove the stigmata of Padre Pio. He came to Medjugorje in 1988, hoping to prove the experiences of the visionaries to be false, he admitted.
Author and journalist Randall Sullivan recorded the event in his book The Miracle Detective: An Investigation of Holy Visions. Dr. Margnelli experienced various occurrences in Medjugorje which rocked his beliefs. He met a woman who was miraculously healed of leukemia. He studied the apparitions of the visionaries and came to the conclusion that they do enter into a genuine state of ecstasy, even admitting: “we were certainly in the presence of an extraordinary phenomenon.”
What moved him most powerfully, however, was the behavior of the birds. Before the apparitions of the visionaries would begin in the rectory, there were thousands of birds outside chirping and cooing, being incredibly—at times, deafeningly—loud.
Until the moment when the apparitions would begin: the second that the visionaries would drop to their knees and go into ecstasy every bird outside would go completely silent.
That absolute silence of the birds haunted him, Dr. Margnelli admitted. A few weeks after returning to Italy from Medjugorje, Dr. Margnelli became a practicing Catholic.
This fascinating phenomena has been witnessed by a number of pilgrims, including Notre Dame’s basketball team.
Deacon Brian Miller explained, at the 2016 Marian Conference at the University of Notre Dame last month, that one year in the ‘80s the Notre Dame basketball team was in Yugoslavia for a summer tour playing basketball. They made a side trip to Medjugorje. They made the trip under Coach Digger Phelps, who spent 20 years as head coach (1971-1991) of Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team and then many years as an ESPN broadcaster and analyst.
David Rivers, who was the star point guard on the team, and the 25th overall pick of the 1988 NBA draft, playing professionally for the Lakers and the Clippers, shared a testimony about the Medjugorje trip at Notre Dame’s library. Rivers, it is noteworthy, was not even Catholic.
is noteworthy, was not even Catholic.
“He said it was stunning,” Deacon Miller recalled. “There were all these birds
outside [in Medjugorje, as the apparitions were to begin].” At that time, the visionaries had their apparitions in the rectory of St. James Church, and during the day the basketball team was there, there were thousands of birds outside, making noise, “and then as soon as Our Lady came, boom, it was quiet, until she left,” Deacon Miller said, recollecting Rivers’ testimony.
Here is a video of both Deacon Brian Miller and I sharing these stories at the 2016 Marian Conference at the University of Notre Dame.