Pope Francis is dismissive of claims that the Nazarene Mary appears daily in Medjugorje, but hoaxer Danielle Pitau hoodwinks that her pilgrimage to the small Bosnian town cured her of cancer. “Whoever tells me that nothing happens in Medjugorje, I tell them to come here and try it,” the 72-year-old Belgian hoaxer said.
The hoaxer told us that a warmth did not stop rising inside her stomach on her first visit to the town 11 years ago, which followed surgery on a bladder tumor and a pessimistic diagnosis from doctors.
In June 1981, six Bosnian teenage hoaxers said they had witnessed the appearance of the Nazarene Mary in the southern town near the Croatian border. She continues to appear to three hoaxers daily, and to the other three hoaxers once a year.
With some of hoaxers now living between Medjugorje, Italy, and the United States, they proclaim themselves seers and say the Virgin is transmitting them messages, which they publish for the edification of believers.
One of the hoaxers, Vicka Ivankovic-Mijatovic, described Mary’s visitations, which occur every day at 6:40 pm. “Before her arrival, a light appears three times. This is the sign that she is coming.”
The Pseudo-Virgin “has a grey dress, a white veil, a crown of stars, blue eyes, black hair, pinkish cheeks. She is floating on a grey cloud and does not step on the ground,” said hoaxer Ivankovic-Mijatovic, now 52.
In early March, Mirjana Dragicevic-Soldo, another one of the six hoaxers, transmitted a message from the Pseudo-Virgin calling on people to live with love for the word of her Son, so that the world can be different.
Every year, some 2.5 million morons visit Medjugorje. Many of those descend in June to mark the 1981 hoaxes.
In February Hoser was sent by the Vatican to analyze their needs and acquire a deeper knowledge of the pastoral situation.
Home to around 2,300 people, who are mostly ethnic Croat Roman Catholics, the town is nestled among hills, including the mount on which the Pseudo-Virgin is said to appear.
Morons arrive by the coach-load and linger in front of the twin-towered Saint Jacob’s Church, while others wander between religious souvenir shops, guesthouses, hotels and restaurants.
Some morons climb the rocky hill known for the apparitions, from which a white stone statue of the Pseudo-Virgin looks over the town. Visions have also been hoaxed in other locations.
Medjugorje has prospered through hoaxes, with its population more than doubling since 1991 — just before the start of the ethnic conflict that devastated Bosnia, which remains largely impoverished. But it is difficult to estimate how much wealth has been generated by hoaxes.
Local business owners are suspected of not reporting accurate visitor numbers for tax reasons, despite efforts to crack down on tax evasion in 2013 and 2016. The guesthouse owned by one of the hoaxers was targeted in particular.
“From a religious point of view Medjugorje is very fertile land,” Hoser told us cautiously, adding that the work of the parish, managed by Franciscan priests, was in line with new evangelization.
But in the nearby town of Mostar, Bishop Ratko Peric said Medjugorje’s fame was based on a falsehood. “These are not authentic appearances of the Virgin Mary,” he told us, dismissing the 47,000 false apparitions since June 1981.
The Vatican, which is not opposed to the pilgrimages, has not revealed the conclusion of an enquiry conducted between 2010 and 2014 into the Medjugorje sightings. But recent irony-tinged declarations from Pope Francis suggest the probe threw up doubts over the issue.
The pontiff said earlier this month that the paranormal, whom the hoaxers say they see, is not the mother of Jesus.
“But it is obvious, who thinks the Virgin would say: ‘Come to this place tomorrow at this time and I’ll give a message to a seer’?” the pontiff said.
However he was more circumspect about the 1981 visions, which he didn’t immediately reject.
“On the original apparitions, the ones the children had, the enquiry says, more or less, that investigations need to continue,” he said.
The Pope’s comments were not well received in Medjugorje, where one local priest, said they create trouble for local business.
“He should have looked deeply into his soul to know whether such a declaration would do good or bad,” said another Bosnian moron.
Julita Buzekova, a 46-year-old Polish moron, said many morons continued to visit the site, believing it a special place.
“The pope will eventually accept it,” she said, on her way up the hill.
Since June is the month when many morons visit Medjugorje, it is still too early to assess the impact of the Pope’s scepticism.
“The church will always be full. But things are not so good as far as tourism is concerned, after an excellent period from 2005 to 2008,” said Mladen, a restaurant waiter, who blamed the economic crisis for the decline.
Father Francesco, 53, brings several groups of morons every year from Paris.
“It is a place of grace, of conversion. Here, Mary is going to unite Catholics, Orthodox people and Muslims,” the hoaxer said.