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The Silence of The Birds

Excerpts from
An Investigation of Holy Visions (2004, 450 pages)
   by Randall Sullivan, investigative reporter;
   contributing editor to Rolling Stone
     ....They were joined moments later by sixteen-year-old Ivan Dragicevic. Ivan had insisted earlier that he would not return to Podbrdo; he was obliged to help his parents with their tobacco harvest. During the late afterneoon, though, Ivan had become increasingly agitated and distracted. Finally, at about 5:30, he excused himself from his chores and made his way through the fields to the foothill.
     The older Ivan, Ivankovic, also had refused to return to Podbrdo that afternoon, saying that whatever happened the day before was "something for children." He, too, changed his mind at the last moment and came to the hill, but only in time to serve as one of fifteen eyewitnesses who would provide sworn statements about what happened next
     For Mirjana, Ivanka, and Vicka, the light on Podbrdo had become so intense that they began to imagine the hillside might melt. But then the shining young woman, wearing her silver-gray dress and white veil, seemed to pass through the light, and to stand -- or float (for some reason the one part of her they couldn't see was her feet) -- in the same spot where she had appeared the previous evening. This time she was not holding a baby.
     Again it was Ivanka who claimed to see the Virgin first, Mirjana second, Vicka third. "they were saying, 'There she is!'" Marija recalled. "But I did not see her on the hill." Neither did Jakov. Ivan saw "something," but could not say what. The figure on the hill was beckoning them toward her, Mirjana, Ivanka, and Vicka told the others, but at first none of the six moved. Then, in a few moments, the children began to climb the narrow goat path that disappeared into the [old]  rockslide: Ivanka, Mirjana, and Vicka in front, followed by Ivan, with Marija and Jakov trailing.
     Most astounding to the crowd that chased after them was the speed with which the six ascended the hillside. "We began to run as if we had wings," remembered Vicka, who, like Marija, had lost her shoes. "We went up straight through the brambles. We ran as if borne along. We felt neither stones nor brambles. Nothing. As if the ground were covered with sponge or rubber. Impossible to explain." Even the strongest and most agile young man from the village could not climb to the top of Podbrdo in less than ten minutes. All six of these children made it in less than two.
     By the time they reached the spot where the shining young woman waited for them, in a clearing between three clumps of brambles, Ivan claimed to see her clearly. So did Jakov. Marija, though, saw just "blurred white contours." The five others knelt and made the sign of the cross, so Marija did as well. It was only when she joined the others in praying the Our father, Marija said, that she saw the young woman: "First face, then hands. It was like a haze clearing."
     The young woman smiled at each of them, Mirjana recalled, then said, in a voice more like singing than speech, "Praised be Jesus." Ivanka and Mirjana each fainted briefly. Jakov was so overwhelmed that he reeled and fell backward into a dense bramble of thornbushes, disappearing from sight. The others doubted he could get out without being slashed to ribbons, but a moment later Jakov scrambled out of the brambles without a scratch. All six children went to their knees again, and continued their recitation of the Our Father.
     "We were praying because we did not know what else to do," said Vicka. "We were crying a little and praying a little." The young woman standing before them continued to smile, "glorious and gay," Vicka remembered, "wonderful beyond words." Then she began to pray the Our Father with them, the six said. After they finished the prayer, Ivanka was the first to speak. "Where is my mother?" she asked. "She is with me," the smiling young woman answered.
     By then, their fright was becoming an ecstasy, explained Vicka: "There are no words to tell it. It was as if we were not on earth. Nothing bothered us, heat or brambles. Our Lady was there, we forgot everything else." Mirjana, the one the others thought of as strongest and most mature, began to plead with the apparition: "No one will believe us. They will say that we are crazy. Give us a sign." The young woman responded with a smile, but for some reason, Mirjana looked at her watch and saw that the hands were turning backward.
     All six children made their way down the hill much more slowly than they had climbed it, all of them in tears. The crowd that waited for them on the rockslide seemed most impressed by the fact that none of the six bore even a single scractch or cut, despite having run straight through the thornbush brambles. Several people insisted upon looking at the soles of Marija's and Vicka's bare feet and were astounded to find them unmarked.
     On the evenig of June 25, mechanic Marinko Ivankovic was arriving at Podbrdo just as the six children were returning to the base of the rockslide. The first words he heard were Ivanka's as the girl told her grandmother, through sobs, that the Virgin had said her mother was in Heaven. The tone of the girl's voice and the intensity of her tears affected him deeply, said Marinko, who decided at once that he should tell the clergymen at the church in Medjugorje.
     The priest Marinko hoped to find was Father Jozo Zovko, the new pastor at St. James's. An impassioned preacher, Father Zovko's lengthy sermons had aroused -- and exhausted -- parishioners ever since his arrival in Medjugorje [Medge-ju-gorjia "between the mountains"] nine months earlier. The priest was away, however, ministering to a congress of Franciscan nuns in Zagreb. His first assistant, Father Zrinko Cuvalo, was an older man, simple and staid, who did not appreciate Marinko coming into the rectory smeared with sweat and dirt, wearing no shirt under his overalls. Father Cuvalo chuckled when the mechanic told him that the Virgin had appeared to a group of children in Bijakovici. "I took it as a joke," the elderly priest would explain, "because people used to talk about apparitions on windows and such things, here and there. I thought it was a child's game, and I told that to Marinko." The mechanic felt disappointed and confused: "Father Zrinko acted as if he couldn't care less if the Madonna had appeared. I couldn't understand it -- it didn't seem possible."
     Back in Bijacovici, the six young seers were no better met than Marinko, even by their own families. Ivanka's brother had seen her trying to touch this invisible woman she spoke to, and told his sister she was insane. The girl's grandmother wept, begging her to come to her senses. Mirjana's aunt and uncle were beside themselves as well, phoning Sarajevo to tell the girl's parents they believed she had suffered a nervous breakdown. Ivan's mother and father were furious with him, asking again and again how he was able to see what others were not. Of all the parents, only Vicka's mother was open to the possibility that the six children might be telling the truth. "My child, don't lie -- that is a mortal sin," she told her daughter. "But if you have seen Her, say, 'I have seen Her.' Don't be afraid."
     She and the other five hurried through their chores the next day, Vicka recalled, "impatient" as they awaited the evening. late in the afternoon, the six set out from the village together, joining a crowd of nearly three thousand that had gathered at the base of Podbrdo, arriving in donkey carts and aboard tractors. The sun was still high at that time of year, and the sweltering heat of the Balkan summer became nearly unbearable amid the hundreds of perspiring bodies that encircled the seers.
     Vicka again led first the other visionaries, then the assembled crowd, in the prayers of the Rosary: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. It was during their recitation of the Apostles' Creed that the six young seers began to shout, "See the light! See the Madonna!" A pure white light had "shot forth" three times, Vicka would explain later. She knew -- and so did the others -- that the Madonna had sent it "to show us the place where she would be standing."
     Many in the crowd would say later that they, too, observed these flashes of light, though not the young woman whom the visionaries saw emerging from it. The spot where the light had flared was nearly four hundred meters higher up the hill than the location of the previous day's apparition. The six visionaries began to run toward it, trailed by a crowd that clambered over the boulders and through the thornbush thickets behind them.
     Among those in the first group that followed was young Jozo Ostojic, only twelve at the time, but well known in the parish because he recently had set a regional record for the hundred-meter dash; people said he would be on the Olympic team someday. Jozo had heard about the alleged appearance of the Virgin earlier that afternoon from a hitchhiker he and his older brother picked up on the road from Citluk to Medjugorje. He knew the alleged visionaries were six children from Bijacovici, Jozo later said, but no one had told him their names. Little Jakov Colo was the one who astounded him: "Jakov was two years younger than me, and not really athletic; normally I can outrun him by a huge distance. But on this day, I can't come close to keeping up with him. He and the others seemed to be flying up that hill. There is no path, just rocks and thornbushes, but all six of them are moving at an incredible speed, bounding from rock to rock, taking enormous strides. I am running as fast as I can, but falling further and further behind, and so are the grown men running with me. We are gasping for breath, almost in tears, unable to believe what is happening."
     Ivan was the first of the seers to reach the apparition site that day, Vicka recalled; one by one, she and the others arrived at the spot, sank to their knees beside him and began to pray. When the shining young woman appeared, the six later agreed, she spoke just the words "Praise Jesus" before Mirjana and Ivanka again fainted. The apparition disappeared for a minute or so, while Vicka and Marija revived their friends. When all six knelt together and resumed their prayer, "She returned," Vicka said, "as on the previous day, only still more joyous. Wonderful, smiling."
     Jozo Ostojic was among the first few witnesses to reach the spot where the six young people knelt. "They all had red faces and damp eyes, staring at the same spot. Just by the way they looked, I knew at once it was true; I went to my knees and began to pray also."
     Marinko the mechanic was in the next group to arrive at the apparition site. He carried a jar of holy water, which he pressed into Vicka's hands, urging her to sprinkle it on the figure of the woman she saw, "to see what she is, whether the Madonna or a devil. Those in the gathering crowd watched Vicka flick the water with her fingers at a spot just above her head, shouting, "If you are Our Lady, stay with us! If you are not, begone!"
     In response, the young woman smiled, Vicka reported: " I think she was pleased."
     Vicka and the other seers knelt again and began to pray the Apostles Creed, over and over. Ten minutes passed before the apparition spoke another word, telling the children, "Stand. Do not kneel anymore."
     "Why have you come here? What do you desire?" those in the crowd heard Ivanka ask.
     "I have come to tell you that God exists," all six children reported hearing the apparition answer. "I am here because there are many true believers. I wish to be with you to convert and to reconcile the whole world."
     "Did my mother say anything?" Ivana then asked.
     "Obey your grandmother and help her, because she is old," the six heard.
     "How is my grandfather?" asked Mirjana, whose mother's father had died earlier that year.
     "He is well," was the answer, audible to only the children.
     Some in the crowd began to shout, asking for a sign. Several of the young visionaries joined in, pleading, "Give us a sign which will prove your presence."
     The apparition smiled but remained silent for some time, then told them, "Blessed are those who have not seen, and who believe."
     Who are you?" inquired Mirjana.
     "I am the Most Blessed Virgin Mary."
     "Why are you appearing to us?" Mirjana asked. " We are not better than others."
     In response, the Madonna smiled again, then told the seers, "I do not necessarily choose the best."
     The six all knew then, but could not say how, that the vision was coming to an end. "Will you come back?" the crowd heard Mirjana ask.
     "Yes, to the same place as yesterday," the children heard the apparition answer. "Go in God's peace." She disappeared then, the six said, just as she had the day before.
     The entire event had lasted less than half an hour, though the six visionaries would say that to them it had seemed much longer. "Those six kids looked -- I wouldn't know how to describe -- lost," recalled the factory worker Grgo Kozina, who, with his brother Ante, had arrived at the apparition site almost the exact moment that the visionaries shouted, "Ode!" ("She's gone!"). In the suffocating heat, surrounded by the sticky bodies of the crowd that had followed them up the hill, the seers looked as if they were about to swoon, Grgo observed. Marinko was fanning the children and sprinkling them with water. Mirjana, Ivanka, and Vicka each needed help to walk back down the hill. Marija Pavlovic, was for some reason able to go on ahead of the others. He and Grgo were about fifteen feet behind Marija, ante Kozina recalled, when suddenly the girl turned right and looked at the sky. "She stretched her arms and she was moving very quickly -- suddenly she knelt down." Those in the crowd behind her stopped, riveted. Ten minutes passed before Marija stood, her face bathed in tears. "Where are my friends?" she asked, then continued down the hill.
     A crowd of people followed the girl, among them several who accused her and the other children of taking drugs brought from Sarajevo by the city girl, Mirjana. A larger group insisted that Marija halt and tell them why she had stopped halfway down the hill. Others demanded that the girl show them her feet, which again were bare. Marija lifted the soles of her feet to show that neither the rocks nor the brambles had cut them. Marija explained that she felt as if she had been carried up the hill, and then part of the way back down. Midway in her descent, however, she began to feel that she was being restrained. When she stopped, Marija said, the Madonna had reappeared to her: This time, above Her head was a cross that seemed formed from a rainbow in which the most vivid shades were blues. The Virgin then began to weep, Marja said, and called to her in a plaintive voice, "Peace, peace, peace. Be reconciled. Only peace. Make your peace with God, and among yourselves."
     His heart felt as if it would burst in his chest as he listened to Marija speak, Ante Kozina later said: "I am one hundred percnt sure that something supernatural happened to that girl."
     It was after eight when Father Cuvalo returned from the monastary in Siroki Brijeg, where he had spent the day at a Franciscan retreat. Outside the rectory in Medjugorje, he was met by four priests from neighboring towns, one of whom was the secretary to the bishop of Mostar, all begging to meet the six young seers. Escorted by this group, the elderly priest arrived minutes later in Bijakovici, but was overwhelmed by the crowd that still lingered in the village, tramping back and forth along its one dirt road, angling for a glimpse of the visionaries and an opportunity to hear wht they claimed the Virgin had told them. The priests found their way to Marinko's house, where dozens of people stood pressed shoulder to shoulder, shouting questions at the visionaries. It was obvious that those who had been present during this supposed apparition were deeply moved, weeping and praying, begging the priests to hear their confessions. Exhausted and confused, Father Cuvalo was unable to determine even which were the children who claimed to have seen the Virgin. Too many people were talking at once, he said, it was too late, everyone was tired, they should all go home, rest and try to sort this out in the morning.
     Even after Father Cuvalo returned to Medjugorje, hundreds remained in Bijakovici. Among these was the beekeeper Ivan Dugandzic. He had come to Podbrdo that evening as a skeptic, the beekeeper later explained, and to him what seemed most remarkable were the heat and crowd. Unable to breach the press of humanity around the apparition site, he and his friends climbed on one another's shoulders to see, but were so far away that they couldn't distinguish the visionaries from those gathered around them. The entire spectacle had seemed to him an enormous lark, at once bizarre and amusing, the beekeeper said, until late that evening, after eleven, when he chanced upon the only one of the six visionaries he knew personally, Vicka Ivankovic, as she returned from Marinko's house to her parents' home. The moment he looked at Vicka's face, the beekeeper recalled, "I knew it was true. From that moment, I have never doubted, the intensity of it was so enormous."
     Early on June 27, Father Cuvalo asked the parents of the alleged visionaries to bring their children to church so that he might speak with them privately. Four of the six arrived at St. James's that morning: Ivanka, Vicka, Marija, and Ivan. He would speak only with the two who had seen fit to make their confessions before Mass, the priest announced, then led Ivan and Vicka into his office at the parish house. He kept the pair with him until noon, a tape recorder running throughout the interview.
     The old priest made little effort to conceal his annoyance with the artless account provided by the two teenagers. "Did you lie?" he demanded of Ivan at one point. For the only time during the interview the boy responded with vehemence: "I don't lie!" Finally, sounding more exasperated than intrigued, Father Cuvalo dismissed the teenagers, then left the church himself for a meeting in nearby Capljina, determined not to let this matter preoccupy him so completely as it had the rest of the parish.
     Father Zovko would arrive back in Medjugorje during his assistant's absence. He was startled to find the church surrounded by cars, trucks, tractors, donkey carts, and a huge crowd. Inside the rectory, the priest saw the tape recorder sitting on the table in the meeting room, turned it on and listened to Father Cuvalo's interviews with Ivan and Vicka. Father Zozko was chuckling when his elderly assistant arrived back at St. James's a short time later. It was no joke, the latter said, but a serious matter that must be dealt with at once, before this frenzy got out of hand. All six of the childreen had promised to return to the church that afternoon, the older priest explained, so that Father Zovko could question each of them.
     Zovko was not nearly so conservative as his assistant. The claim that the Virgin Mary had appeared to six children on Podbrdo was dubious at best, he said, and at worst actually dangerous. Religious gatherings outside a church were illegal in Yugoslavia, and those involved could be arrested on criminal charges carrying significant penalties. He and Father Cuvalo agreed that the most prudent course would be to question each child individually, and to record every interview, so that their stories could be compared and the discrepancies noted.
     Father Zovko began with Mirjana. His tone at first was equally curious and skeptical. The priest's interest palled rather quickly, however; like his assistant, he seemed infuriated that the six children described their ecstatic experience in such simple, even pedestrian, language. His skepticism had turned to irritation by the time he spoke to little Jakov: "You did not see her!" he sternly told the boy at one point. "I saw the Madonna," an adamant Jakov replied. " I saw Her as if She were in front of me. I saw Her like I see you."
     Truthfulness was the one quality with which those who knew them would credit each of these six children. Otherwise, they seemed an unremarkable group. Only Mirjana was of above-average intelligence. It seemed to Father Zovko entirely unlikely that the Virgin Mary would select six such ordinary children to receive the blessing of a visitation. Still, there was something touching about the way these children bristled at any suggestion of dishonesty, yet seemed quite willing to accept the possibility that they had gone mad. Also, he was intrigued by the consistency in the physical descriptions of the Madonna offered by the six seers: She was a young woman aout twenty years old, they said, with blue eyes, black hair, and a crown of stars around Her head; She wore a white veil and a bluish-gray robe. Each of the children said they had not been able to see the Virgin's feet, described Her as hovering just above the ground on a white cloud, and said She spoke in a singing voice.
     It perplexed the priest that none of the six had used exactly the same words, even when they quoted the Virgin. Each of the seers had been asked what the Madonna said in reply to the question about why she was appearing in Medjugorje. Ivanka recalled the answer as "Because there are a lot of faithful." Mirjana remembered it as "Because all of us are the faithful." Ivan said he had heard "Because you are the best faithful." More disturbed than inspired, Father Zovko declined to join the crowd assembling at the base of Podbrdo, instead sending Father Cuvalo and his younger assistant, Father Viktor Kosir.
     The visionaries had made it clear that they could not be persuaded to stay home that evening: "We would have gone [to Podbrdo] even if we had been told that we would be shot," Vicka recalled. "But one thing was puzzling us; we did not know where to go, where Our Lady would appear." Shortly after the priests arrived, the six seers decided to proceed up Podbrdo in two groups: Vicka, Ivanka, and Mirjana would go by one route; Marija, Ivan, and Jakov by a second. Whoever saw the Virgin first would alert the others. As it happened, each group began shouting at the same moment that they had seen the flashing light signaling the apparition site, and started up the hill from opposite sides.
     Reporting back to Father Zovko later that evening, Father Kosir described himself as "awed" by what happened next. The six children had ascended the rugged hillside at "an incredible speed," said the priest, an athletic young man who reckoned that the seers climbed Podbrdo in considerably less than half the time it would have taken him. No person on earth was capable of such a feat, and certainly no child, he said: what he had witnessed was beyond explanation.
     The visionaries stopped about twenty meters higher up the hill than the site of the apparition on the previous evening. The Virgin appeared to them for only a moment, remained silent, then disappeared, the six reported. The crowd that followed them up Podbrdo numbered about five thousand; again the visionaries were enclosed in a crush of sweaty bodies. For a few moments, the two groups lost each other in the crowd, then Jakov found Ivanka, Mirjana, and Vicka. Together, the four found Marija. Ivan joined them a moment later. Reunited, the six once again recited the prayers of the Rosary, then began to sing. Many from the crowd joined in the prayers and songs. The children seemed certain the Madonna would return. Then all at once the six went silent, staring at the same point just above their heads.
     Some in the crowd said they saw light and pressed in toward the spot where they believed the Virgin had appeared. Many of those standing nearest to the visionaries lost control of both their emotions and their movements. The seers began to cry out that people were treading upon the Virgin's long white veil, and begged them not to, but by then the crowd could not contain itself, and surged forward. The Madonna had disappeared again, the visionaries began to shout; they all seemed near tears. Several respected men from the village pushed their way through the welter of thrashing bodies and forced the crowd back, insisting that people form a circle around the six children, giving them room to breathe.
     The Madonna reappeared a moment later, the visionaries said, but then a small boy lunged forward out of the crowd. He had stepped on the Virgin's veil, the six cried, and She had disappeared again. (The Madonna was not upset with him, the seers later told the boy; in fact, She had never stopped smiling.) A few seconds after that, the Madonna reappeared to the visionaries. While the men in front held back the crowd, the apparition proceeded: Praised be Jesus," the seers said they heard the Virgin sing. As instructed by Father Cuvalo, Jakov asked the first question: "What do you want from the Franciscans?"
     "Have them persevere in the faith and protect the faith of others," the Virgin answered, according to all six children.
     Then Jakov and Mirjana each asked for a sign, Jakov because "the people treat us as liars," Mirjana because "people say we are drug users and epileptics."
     The Madonna answerd at first only with a smile, then told them, the seers said, "My angels, do not be afraid of injustice. It has always existed."...
     Among those who had helped control the crowd surrounding the visionaries that evening, was Jozo Vasilj, better known as Postar (he had for years been the village postmaster). Postar commanded considerable regard in the Medjugorje parish, in part as patriarch of a clan so large that the neighborhood where they lived was identified on official maps as "Vasilj," but perhaps more significantly because of his reputation as a man who would speak on no subject unless absolutely certain that what he said was true. Postar had refused to go to Podbrdo for the first three evenings after the apparitions began. His wife and mother both went to the hill, and each said she thought the children were speaking the truth. "I was telling them, 'You crazy!'" he later said. "'Why is Lady coming here?' I felt nothing. I was against it."
     On the fourth evening, Postar decided to see for himself, arriving nearly two hours before the apparition would begin. Already, there were more than a thousand people on the hill. He was preoccupied with controlling the crowd, battling the heat, and protecting the children, and barely noticed when the apparition began. "I saw nothing, I felt nothing," he remembered. "Seeing nothing did not bother me, but feeling nothing I was noticing more."
     After the apparition had ended, the six children headed back down the hill. Postar sat down on a rock behind a large thornbush that grew along the edge of the goat path. The first seer he saw coming down the path was Mirjana: "She was walking as if half-drunk, reeling. She came right by me, but in such a crowd that nobody was interesting. So she did not see me sitting behind the bush. Ten meters behind her came Vicka and Jakov. And as those two came by, Jakov, being ten, was holding on to Vicka. I was eavesdropping behind the bush when Jakov looked down to Mirjana and said to Vicka, 'Look, now Our Lady is helping Mirjana.' I looked down at Mirjana, and at that moment she started walking properly. There was absolutely nothing I was watching that could be manipulated. And Jakov said it so softly, yet in the same moment Mirjana is walking normally.
     "So I got up and followed those two, Vicka and Jakov, for twenty meters, perhaps a bit longer, until Vicka said, 'Ode!' which in Croatian means, 'She's going!' And at that moment Mirjana raised her eyes to see, then sat down on a stone. There was no way Mirjana could have heard Vicka -- she was too far away and there were too many people making too much noise; not possible.
     "I find it difficult even now to describe what I felt. First I began to sweat very heavily, then I started crying. I actually burst into tears, and ran off into the bushes, so as not to be seen. I cried for more than an hour before coming back to my house. Since that day, I have never been with the children at an apparition. Because I know I won't see anything. But that day was such that I need no other proof. That feeling of being so certain, so close to Heaven, it has never left me."
     On the morning of the fifth day, June 28, the six visionaries submitted to an exhaustive interrogation by Father Zovko, who spoke to each of the children separately. The priest was passing beyond skepticism and exasperation into outright hostility.
     Fathers Zovko and Cuvalo had begun to recognize the various levels of threat posed by these gatherings on Podbrdo, and were tempted to take the danger personally. Both knew that the fervor Zovko had brought to the parish was not appreciated by many in Medjugorje. His impassioned homilies that ran two, three, four times the length of other priests' sermons had infuriated more than a few of the local parishioners, as did his private lectures and extra catechism classes that drew many of the young people away from their chores in the fields. Father Zovko even had formed a private prayer group of eight especially religious girls, appointing the elderly Cuvalo as its leader. That none of these girls were among the six supposed visionaries led the priests to wonder if some sort of subversion -- a design either of resentment or of contempt -- was at work here.
     Beyond this, the priests were convinced the situation was "out of hand and coming to a head," Father Cuvalo recalled: "The hill was full of people. We were supposed to be available to help, but we ourselves were confused." The two priests agreed that the most likely axplanation for the apparitions -- if they were not fraudulent -- would be the use of hallucinogenic drugs brought to Medjugorje by the outsider, Mirjana. The city girl "looked too pale to me," he explained, and concurred with Zovko that they should concentrate on questioning her. He was but one of many who believed "this is all nonsense," Father Zovko told Mirjana that morning. If these were real apparitions, the priest went on, the Madonna would have left some important message. Mirjana answered only by promising that she would again ask the Virgin for a sign.
     Alone with Ivanka, Father Zovko stressed that these gatherings on Podbrdo were not only illegal but a detriment to true religious faith: "Why do people now have to go over the thornbushes and up there on the illside, and not come here to the church?" he asked. At moments during his interrogations, however, it was obvious the priest had been touched, as when he asked Marija what she felt during the apparitions. "There is just no way I can describe my great joy when I see," the girl answered.
     Vicka's terse defiance and her annoyance at the pestering questions made the priests chuckle in spite of themselves. When asked if the Virgin had been "vexed" by people stepping on her veil during the apparition on the previous evening, Vicka answered, "Look, Our Lady cannot be 'vexed.' She is not like us. She had no problem." When one of the priests asked why the Virgin wore such a long veil, her reply was "How should I know?" And when Father Zovko wanted to know what had caused the Madonna to disappear, Vicka told him, "Ask Her."
     Late that afternoon, he again sent his two assistants to Podbrdo to observe the visionaries during these alleged visitations. The crowd gathered on and around the hill that day was the largest ever assembled in the Medjugoje parish; more than ten thousand -- perhaps as many as fifteen thousand -- were pressed together, dripping with perspiration and gasping for breath in the heat. Somehow, he and Father Kasir found Jakov and Marija just outside Bijakovici, and walked with them on the road leading to Podbrdo. Only moments after the priests had joined the children, Jakov and Marija began to cry out, pointing at a spot near the top of the hill. "Suddenly Marija's face turned bright red," Father Kosir recalled. "'Look! Look! Look!' she shouted. Jakov did not say anything, but together they ran ahead with what seemed incredible speed. Marija wore a white blouse and a red skirt, so I could see her distinctly as she ran far ahead of me, almost seeming to fly. It was impossible for me to keep up with her."
     Among those at the front of the crowd that surged up the hill behind the children was Grgo Kozina, carrying the tape recorder that would provide the first record of the apparitions other than personal diaries. The tape he made that evening begins with Grgo's own voice whispering, "It's Sunday, six-twenty-nine -- six-thirty. The wind is blowing and the bushes are moving. The six of them were kneeling and are now getting up -- now they are kneeling again."
     "Did She come?" Grgo can be heard asking in a louder voice.
     "Yes. Yes. She came," the visionaries reply.
     The six then can be heard whispering among themselves, trying to decide what questions thay should put to the Madonna. "Let's ask Our Lady what does She want from us," one of the girls suggested, then the others joined in: "Our Lady, what do you want from us? Let's all ask. Our Lady, what do you want from us?"
     "Where is She.?" Grgo asked, whispering again. "Here," Jakov whispered back, then joined in with the others, repeating the Virgin's answer to their question: "'Let the people pray and persevere in the faith.'"
     The visionaries then repeated three times the question they had been given by Father Zovko: "Our Lady, what do you want from our priests?" A moment later the six seers called out the Virgin's reply: "'Let the priests be strong in faith and help you.'" Grgo shouted to the crowd, "They asked what did She want from our priests, and She replied, 'Firm faith.'"
     The voices of the visionaries speaking among themselves are heard next: "Let's ask, as Father Jozo was wondering, why She is appearing here and not in the church," Ivanka suggested.
     "Our Lady, why don't You appear in the church, so everyone can see You?" the voices of the six called out. Mirjana alone repeated the Virgin's answer: "'Blessed are those who do not see, but believe.'"
     "'Blessed are those who do not see, but believe,'" Grgo shouted to the crowd.
     "Will you come to us again? Will you come back?" the six asked. A moment later they conveyed her answer: "Yes, She will, at the same place. She will come again, here at the same place."
     Several moments later Vicka's voice can be heard again: "Look, there She is!"
     "Where is She?" Grgo asked. "On the bush, or on the rock?"
     "here," Vicka said. "Here. She is disappearing slowly. She is disappearing slowly. She has gone! She has gone! We shall pray again."
     "She has gone; they are praying again," Grgo's voice whispered into the recorder. "Nineteen minutes before seven." Vicka and Marija began to lead the crowd in a hymn. Suddenly, though, the visionaries cried out again: "Here She is! She is here!"
     "Seven," Grgo whispered. "They have just seen Her again."
     Vicka called out another question: "Dear Madonna, what do You expect of these people?" A moment later Vicka relayed the reply: "'Let those who do not see believe as those who do.'"
     "Will You leave us a sign so that people believe that we are not liars or comedians?" Vicka asked.
     The Madonna's only reply, the visionaries told Grgo a moment later, had been a smile, followed by the words that had been Her last at each apparition -- "Go in the peace of God" -- and Her slow, sparkling fade into the pearly light from which She had emerged less than an hour earlier.
On the morning of June 29, Father Zovko again questioned the children. Pressure on the six was mounting hour by hour. Their families remained far from supportive. Ivan's parents told him repeatedly that the apparitions were happening only in his mind. Whether real or imagined, Ivan said, he found the Madonna's appearances "difficult to experience." The apparitions were "a terrible shock," he explained, "and we asked ourselves what was happening to us, if we were on earth, in Heaven, if we were alive or dead. We no longer knew anything of where we were." Marija told Father Zovko that for the first two days after she first saw the Holy Virgin, "I was scared and not able to eat. My hands were completely white, when I saw Her the first time my hands were cold like ice."
     Mirjana's parents had arrived from Sarajevo, alarmed by relatives in Bijakovici who "thought I had become insane," as the girl put it. The city girl had seemed from the start more concerned than any of the others with doubts about her mental health. She was reassured when her parents, after questioning her until midnight, announced that she seemed well to them, and that they were returning to Sarajevo the next day: "My mother [told] my uncle, 'Something must be happening.' My family knows I do not lie."
     Ivanka again admitted that, on the evening of June 24, she had convinced herself she was "hallucinating" her vision of the Madonna. Like each of the others, however, she clearly was growing more confident and more certain. To Father Zovko, the soft-spoken girl expressed not only disappointment in the local clergy and the civil authorities but also a hint of disdain for them. "The majority don't believe," she told the priest, including him by implication.
     Each of the visionaries was adamant that the Madonna would appear again that evening. "She's never deceived us," Ivanka noted. Mirjana said she believed the Virgin would appear "even if we were placed in jail." Vicka told Father Zovko that the Madonna would find them "even in America."
     The priest's position seemed to have hardened. He confronted the children with reports from witnesses that, while they appeared to be in a state of bliss during the apparitions, several were seen weeping afterward. Each of the visionaries agreed this was true; not one of the six, thoiugh, offered an explanation. For the first time, he attempted to shake thm with warnings and threats. "Stop deceiving people.!" he ordered Ivanka. When the girl continued to insist she was telling the truth, the priest lost his temper: "We are here in front of God and the cross. It is terrible to play with religion. God cannot leave it unpunished."
     "But I've seen," Ivanka answered. "It is not a lie. I see Her as I am seing you." Breathing deeply to keep his composure, Father Zovko asked if the Madonna intended to leave a sign. "I don't know," Ivanka replied. "Do you realize the crowd is terribly disturbed?" the priest asked. "They see no sign, you don't change. The people feel terribly deceived by you, taken advantage of. How can you do it?"
     "I believe I see Her. What can I do?"
     At that afternoon's Mass, the pews were filled to overflowing. Zovko used the homily to make his initial public statement regarding the apparitions, insisting his own mind was open, but urging parishioners to put their faith foremost in Scripture. Even as he spoke in church, the six seers were being subjected to the first in a series of interrogations by the civil authorities of Yugoslavia's communist regime. Municipal police from the Ministry of Interior office in Citluk arrived in Medjugorje that afternoon with two vehicles -- one an ambulance -- and ordered the purported visionaries aboard. The police claimed to be concerned about the children's mental health; their apprehensions, however, were mainly political
     Catholic devotions were the last overt vestige of Croatian identity, and those who had inherited Tito's power feared that any nationalist uprising would emanate from the Church. News that Croats by the thousands were gathering on a hill in Hercegovina already had been received with alarm in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo; orders were issued to Mostar, then to Citluk, that this entire spectacle must be contained before matters got out of hand.
     The young seers first were taken to the police station in Citluk and interrogated. Stymied by trhe children's insistence that they had seen the Madonna, the police ordered the six back into the ambulance and escorted them to the regional medical center. A pediatric specialist there examined the children and reported that they were physically healthy and did not seem to be under the influence of drugs. Police officials responded by sending the six to the city hospital in Mostar. There, the children were subjected to a crude form of shock therapy -- led into the hospital's morgue to view corpses in various stages of autopsy, Mirjana was most visibly disturbed, but all admitted they were frightened -- except Vicka: "Why should I be afraid?" she asked. "Everyone dies. It is the common lot."
     Even Vicka seemed shaken, however, by the hour the six spnt waiting with an assortment of the mentally ill in the lobby of the hospital's psychiatric wing. The psychiatrist who saw the six described her examination as "basically a conversation." "I thought it was a matter of hallucination, and wanted to calm them down, to reason with them," she would explain. Vicka's recollection differed: "[The doctor] attempted to make us some kind of sickies. She suggested that we were imagining things; that we were some kind of addicts; that we were fooling the people."
     They were living in their imaginations, the doctor told the six seers, to avoid real life; if they persisted, they would end up in a mental hospital with the sort of people they had seen waiting outside. This especially frightened Mirjana, who had heard of many instances in Sarajevo where opponents of party officials were locked up in psychiatric wards, never to be heard from again. The doctor's threat was followed by another attempt at reason. "You have lost your mother," she told Ivanka. "You had the impression that she was appearing to you." "But I did not lose my mother," Mirjana interjected, "and I saw the apparition also." After two hours with the children, the psychiatrist dismissed them, then wrote a report in which she admitted being impressed by how "collected and well-balanced" they semed.
     The seers then were driven back to Citluk to be examined by yet another physician. He had been ordered by police to look for the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, Dr. Ante Bijevic explained. The six arrived at the doctor's office just before 4 p.m., and Dr. Bijevic spoke with them individually. "Normal, balanced, well-situated in time and in space, no hallucinations," were the conclusions he reached in each instance. His examination was cut short at five-thirty when the children began to fidget, worried about getting back to Bijakovici in time for that evening's apparition. It was Vicka, inevitably, who brought things to a head, marching into the doctor's office to demand,  "Is it over?" "It is not your turn yet, but you can take a seat," he answered. "I am, thank God, young and healthy," Vicka reponded. "I can remain standing. And when I need a medical examination, I shall come of my own accord. Now is it finished?" Flustered, the doctor asked the girl to hold out her hands. Vicka did. "Look, these are my two hands, with ten fingers," she said, wiggling them under the doctor's nose. "If you don't believe me, count them." She turned on her heel and walked out the door. This girl seemed so sensible, Dr. Bijevic would explain later, that he saw no point in proceeding further, and let the children go.
     At a quarter to six, the seers piled into a taxi and rode back to Bijakovici, stopping at home for a glass of water, then heading straight to Podbrdo. Ivan did not join them at the foothill that evening, yielding to the pleas of his parents, who were terrified by the secret police stationed outside their front door. By the time the other five visionaries arrived at Podbrdo, the crowd awaiting them had swelled to at least fifteen thousand, more than five times the population of the entire Medjugorje parish. In their number were an assortment of civil and clerical authorities who had been sent to observe.
     Fathers Cuvalo and Kosir once again had been dispatched to watch the visionaries; the former was "undercover," wearing civilian clothes and carrying a camera. He arrived at the previous day's apparition site well ahead of the visionaries. The spot was surrounded by a small crowd standing in a circle around a clearing perhaps twenty-five meters wide; at the clearing's center were a large thornbush and a stone. Pretending he had no idea of the site's significance, he walked into the circle and sat down on the stone. Whn some in the crowd began to object, Father Cuvalo told them he was a priest, then added, joking, "When She comes, I will give Her my place."
     Also on hand were three doctors sent by the chief of police to stand with the children during the apparition. One of them was the young pediatrics specialist who had examined the seers that morning, Darinka Glamuzina, an ardent apparatchik who had boasted to the children of her atheism, describing how, as a teenager, she refused the sacraments whenever her parents forced her to attend Mass.
     Again, it was sunny and hot, and the visionaries led the sweaty crowd first in songs, then in prayers, until, at 6:26 by Grgo Kozina's watch, the five went silent and began to stare at a point just above their heads. "They just knelt," Grgo whispered into his tape recorder.
     The voices of several seers can be heard on the tape next, asking, "Dear Madonna! Are You glad that the people are here?" A moment later they called, "She is smiling. She is glad."
     "Dear Madonna!: they asked next. "How many days will You stay with us?"
     "As long as you wish," was the Madonna's answer, the seers reported a moment later.
     "Will You leave a sign?" one of the seers asked next.
     "I will come again tomorrow," was the Virgin's only answer, according to the children, who began to repeat more or less the same questions they had asked the day before: "What wish do You have for us here?" ("That you have a solid faith and that you maintain confidence.") "What do You expect of the people who have come in spite of the brambles and the heat?" ("Let the people believe firmly and not fear anything.")
     "Will we be able to endure all this?" one of the seers asked. "Many people persecute us because we 'see,'" explained another.
     "You will be able to endure, my angels," the Madonna answered, according to the children. "Do not fear. You will be able to endure everything. You must believe and have confidence in Me."
     The seers then made a startling request. Motioning to Dr. Glamuzina, they asked, "Could this lady touch You?"
    " There have always been unfaithful Judases," the Madonna answered. "Let her come." While the breathless crowd watched, Vicka helped the young doctor place her hand on the Madonna's long veil. "She is touching Her," the seers began shouting a moment later, then, "She left! She left!"
      Dr. Glamuzina reacted visibly, wearing an expression that thrilled some but frightened others: She had seemed to experience a sort of electrical shock, those closest to her said. The doctor herself described what she felt as "a shudder." She stood awestruck for a moment, then turned and began to stagger back down the hill. At the base of Podbrdo, Dr. Glamuzina told the waiting police she would have nothing further to do with their investigation, then refused to say another word about what she had experienced.
     Back at the apparition site, the children stood in silence, seemingly bewildered, then began to sing again, joined within moments by the crowd. Several minutes would pass on Grgo Kozina's tape before the voices of the seers could be heard again, shouting, "The light! The light! Here She is!
     Moments later, the visionaries brought forth another person from the crowd, a pathetically ill three-year-old boy named Daniel Setka. "Dear Madonna!" the seers called. "Will this little boy, Daniel, ever be able to speak? Please make a miracle so that everyone will believe us. These people love You very much. Dear Madonna! Make one miracle."
     "She is looking at him!" several seers informed the crowd. "Dear Madonna, say something, dear Madonna!"
     Nearly a minute passed, the visionaries would report, before the Virgin answered: "Let [Daniel's parents] firmly believe that he will be healed."
     "Go in God's peace," she told them a moment later, according to the children, who began to shout again: "She has left!: "Look, the light!" They then began to sing, joined by the crowd.
     Father Kosir had positioned himself much closer to the visionaries than Father Cuvalo, standing just ten feet from the five when they ceased their singing and began to stare fixedly, their expressions rapt. The younger priest could not entirely conceal how deeply the experience had affected him: "As I looked at their faces, I felt the apparition -- as they called it -- had begun. I watched Jakov very carefully; he was looking downward and in front of him. After their 'conversation' with the Madonna ended, I approached Jakov and asked him where the Madonna had come from  --  above, or the left or the right. 'I saw her right in front of me,' he said. If he had said he had seen her elsewhere, he would have had to move his head, and I would know he was lying. But he did not." Shortly after the apparition ended, Marinko came to the children, carrying a stone with a cross painted on it, Father Kozina recalled; when Marinko asked where the Madonna had appeared, all five pointed to the same spot.
     The priests led the children back to the rectory and interviewed each individually, asking them to describe the Madonna's appearance and what she had said in response to their questions. The consistency of their answers convinced him the seers were telling the truth, the younger priest said. "My intention had been to demonstrate that their versions contradicted each other and thereby to discredit their allegations, and preserve the parish from credulity and from becoming a public laughingstock," he explained. "But they passed every test."
     Father Cuvalo later sought out Ivan, the visionary who had not come to the hill that evening, to see if perhaps he had broken ranks and was prepared to admit deception. Such was not the case. The decision to obey his parents and to stay away from Podbrdo had made him sick to his stomach, Ivan said. Through waves of nausea, he walked halfway from his parents' house to the hill and stood by the side of the road, watching the crowd gathered at the apparition site. He made a silent vow that he would never be absent again, Ivan said, and at that moment the Madonna appeared to him. "Be in peace, and take courage," was all she said, according to the boy.
     When Ivan returned to his family. he discovered that armed guards from the state security police, commonly referred to as "milicija," had been assigned to the home of each visionary. Instructed to follow the seers' movements and to prevent them from returning to what was now known as "Apparition Hill," the guards barred doors, peered in windows, even stationed themselves on rooftops, warning the children and their families that "serious consequences" would result if they went again to Podbrdo. One senior police official attempted to persuade the six that they were equally endangered by the enormous and increasingly unruly crowds drawn to the apparitions on the hillside. "Keep out of sight," he told Vicka. "The people are walking off their jobs. Nobody wants to do anything. Everyone thinks only of seeing you." ...   
     ....During the apparitions, the seers said, they were invited to ask questions on any subject, and the Madonna rarely failed to answer, though her replies could be cryptic and on several occasions gave offense to those who styled themselves as guardians of Catholic dogma. "Are all religions good?" the children asked at the apparition on October 1. "All religions are similar before God," said the Virgin, a statement that more than a few priests found shocking....
[About 15 years later]
     I panicked on the morning of my seventh day in Mejugorje. Over breakfast at Mira's, I informed Nicky that I was leaving. He knew why without being told: I had realised the change taking place inside me might be irreversible. Desperate to get away before it came to that, I decided to find a seat on the next bus out.
     Nicky received all this with a smile and advised me to wait a day or two. "You're not the first to feel this way," he said. It will pass if you let it." His patronizing tone infuriated me. "I'm not even Catholic" was all I could say. This annoyed Nicky. "What does that have to do with anything?" he asked. "You think Our Lady is here only for Catholics?"...
.....I knew from reading about Vicka that during the past seven years, she had been afflicted by an astonishing variety of life-threatening ailments, the best known being a brain tumor. I was aware as well that Vicka was the only one of the six visionaries who remained unmaried, and had been told how admired she was for keeping her commitment to a life of service and sacrifice.  All this had predisposed me to imagine a rather dour young woman, pious but dry and difficult. Face-to-face, however, Vicka would prove perhaps the most radiant human being I had ever encountered.
     Each morning, she blessed the pilgrims who formed a line outside her little blue house, and was in the midst of this ritual when I arrived. I was immediately moved, watching the way she gazed into each visitor's eyes, offering not just warmth and welcome but a depth of feeling -- of love -- I could have given only closest friends. The enthusiasm of her response varied from person to person, but she never once glazed over, not even for an instant.
     After the pilgrims had gone, we retired to a small, bare room upstairs, furnished with four simple wooden chairs, decorated by a crucifix and a painting of the Virgin. This was where she experienced the Blessed Mother's apparitions each evening, Vicka explained. In her dress, her speech, and her manner, Vicka was a peasant, utterly unaffected. Openness was the most attractive quality of her broad and blemished face, except for those dark, lustrous eyes that, like Mirjana's, seemed never to blink.
     Now what do you want to ask me?" she demanded, and smiled. There was amusement in her expression, and a hint, perhaps, of mockery. I began by inquiring about the extensive medical and scientific testing to which Vicka and the other visionaries had submitted themselves: Why had she agreed to it, and what had it meant to her? Vicka shrugged, as if she found this an odd and largely irrelevant line of inquiry, but answered each question. She and the others agreed to the testing because the Madonna had told them it was their choice, and because the priests had pleaded with them to cooperate. As for what it meant to her -- nothing. "God cannot be proven," she told me. "Finally, we all must believe. Or not."
     Vicka had promised me an hour, but we were only about fifteen minutes into our interview when I began struggling to get words out, barely able to ask even the briefest of questions. Later, I would try to think of who else had affected me similarly, and couldn't come up with a single name. I recalled my interview with the Dalai Lama twelve years earlier: I had found the exiled Tibetan leader delightful -- no one I've met before or since has described his own foibles with such genuine amusement -- but the Dalai Lama had not reached me at the level Vicka did. Staring into the eyes of this plain young woman, with her close-cropped dark hair and pockmarked pale skin, I wasn't sure if I felt awed or unnerved, or whether I would know the difference. I managed to stammer out that I had read about her illnesses and sufferings. Vicka responded with a nod but no change of expression. I was trying to think why I had brought that up, then found myself blurting, "Vicka, are you ever unhappy?" For several moments, she regarded me in silence. There was a twinkle in her eye; I knew that she knew I would never believe her if she answered no. She smiled. "No," she told me. "Never."
     When you had the brain tumor," I persisted, "weren't there ever moments when you became angry or afraid?"
     Vicka looked at me as though she enjoyed the comic relief but really didn't need it. "I am with Our Lady every day," she answered at last. "How can I be unhappy, even for one moment?"
     I met her gaze, took a breath, and felt myself go silent. It wasn't a case of being unable to think what I wanted to ask; I had become literally incapable of speech.
     Vicka smiled again, more kindly, it seemed, then said she had promised me an hour, and that if we sat together in silence she would consider the time well spent. The interpreter, though, felt obliged to prompt discussion. Each time I would nod and Vicka would smile. For the next forty minutes, neither of us said a word.
     Then Vicka stood up and so did I. "What you need to know," she told me, "is that Lord Jesus and Our Lady both love you very much. They have brought you here for a reason, and it is up to you to understand what that reason is. The answer is in your heart."
     She walked out the door without looking back.
     Little more than an hour after walking away from Vicka's in a state that was somewhere between dazed and entranced, I sat down with Mirjana, determined to snap out of it. The smooth tile floor and thick stucco walls of the subterranean room where mirjana's own apparitions took place helped, holding the temperature a good twenty degrees below the searing ninety-eight outside.
     Mirjana at first seemed either not to notice or not to mind my aggressive tone. I began by asking her also about being tested, not by scientists, in her case, but by the persecution of the communist authorities during the fifteen months she spent in Sarajevo after her departure from Mejugorje on July 3, 1981.
     Because of her easy availability and her separtion from the other "subversives," Mirjana had been singled out by Interior Ministry officials as a prime target of the state's investigation into the "antigovernment demonstrations"  that had continued to take place eighty miles south in Medjugorje. Each morning of that subsequent school year had begun with the arrival of two secret police officers at the front door of her parents' apartment. For the next hour or two or three, she would be subjected to an interrogation that was no less exhausting for its familiarity: Sitting opposite her across a table piled with documents, the officers played a relentless game of good cop/bad cop, one posing threats while the other offered temptations.
     "First they say I will not be allowed to finish school or attend university," Mirjana recalled. "Then they say I will go to prison, or spend the rest of my life in a mental hospital. They say there are people who want to have me shot...."
     ....a team of physicians from the University of Montpelier ... were about to conduct the most complete scientific study of an alleged supernatural event in the history of Catholicism. The leader of the French doctors ... Dr. Henri Joyeux had come to Medjugorje on his first trip to the village accompanied by only an electronics engineer. The two men had made video- and audio tapes of the visionaries during thirty-five apparitions, hoping to determine whether the "synchronizations" of the seers might have been orchestrated. Back in France, after several weeks of studying the tapes at the slowest speeds possible, Dr. Joyeux became convinced that "definitive" tests were warranted and organized a team of other doctors from the university. He could not, of course, prove that these six children were actually seeing the Virgin Mary, Dr. Joyeux told Father Laurentin. However, the doctor felt certain that he would be able to confirm or eliminate an entire range of medical and psychological explanations.
     The problem was that the seers refused to cooperate, citing the Virgin's statement to Ivan during the tests by the Italian doctors nearly a year earlier: "It is not necessary." Only after days' delay and a series of strenuous arguments were Dr. Joyeux and Father Laurentin able to convince young Jakov that the children should ask the Virgin for permission to be tested during their next apparition. This they had done, the six reported that evening, and the Madonna's reply was succinct: "You are free." After another day of discussion, all six visionaries agreed to be tested.
     The most eminent of the physicians on Dr. Joyeux's team was the ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Francois Rouquerol. He had been able to demonstrate a clear "disconnection of the auditory pathways during the ecstasy" of each visionary, Dr. Rouquerol reported. He had proven that most convincingly, the doctor explained, by blaring ninety decibels of engine noise into the ears of the seers during their apparitions; none had reacted. He also reported that, while his instruments showed the visionaries' voices had become completely silent during the apparitions, their lips, tongues, and facial muscles had continued to function exactly as when speech was audible. Somehow, completely separate from the rest of their physical faculties, the larynx of each seer had ceased to operate during the period of silence. This anomaly was singular in his experience and could not be accounted for by any condition known to medical science, Dr. Roquerol concluded.
     The opthalmologist on the French team, Dr. Jacques Philippot, not only confirmed the profoundly inhibited eyelid reflex to dazzling light observed earlier by the Italian doctors, but also demonstrated that from the beginning to the end of their apparitions, the gaze of all the children remained fixed on exactly the same point several feet above their heads. Even when he tried to block their vision with an opaque screen, Philippot noted, the seers' eyes had not reacted. What Philippot considered most compelling was that he had measured a simultaneity of eyeball movement among the visionaries of less than one-fifth of a second at both the beginning and the end of their apparitions; this was so far beyond the capacity of normal human functioning that no form of collusion or manipulation could account for it.
     Heart specialist Dr. Bernard Hoarau reported that his electrocardiogram, blood pressure, and heart rhythm examinations of the seers during their ecstasies "allow us to exclude totally the existence of the phenomena of dreams, sleep or epilepsy." Neurologist Dr. Jean Cadhilac added that the tests he had conducted on the visionaries "eliminate formally all clinical signs comparable to those observed during individual or collective hallucination, hysteria, neurosis or pathological ecstasy."
     Like nearly everyone else who studied the results obtained by the French team, Dr. Joyeux was most impressed by the electroencephalogram tests that had measured activity in eight distinct areas of the seers' brains during their ecstasies. All states of consciousness known to neuroscience involved some admixture of alpha (receptive) and beta (reactive) impulses. Dr. Joyeux observed that the ratio of activity in the seers' brains prior to an apparition was exactly normal: ten alpha cycles to twenty beta cycles each second. Falling asleep or into a trance state would have increased the beta cycles while reducing the number of alpha cycles. During their apparitions, exactly the opposite occurred: Their beta impulses stopped completely. The six young people were not simply awake during their apparitions, but hyper-awake, in a state of pure meditation that previously had been observed in just a handful of Trappist or Buddhist monks while deeply in prayer. And those monks had achieved this "generalized alpha rhythm," Dr. Joyeux noted, only when their eyes were closed, whereas the Medjugorje visionaries had kept their eyes wide open during the entire time of their apparitions.
     In the spring of 1985, Dr. Joyeux submitted a report that concluded: "The ecstasies are not pathological, nor is there any element of deceit. No scientific discipline seems able to describe these phenomena." Concurrent with the publication of his work, Dr. Joyeux agreed to an interview with Paris Match. "The phenomena of the apparitions at Medjugorje cannot be explained scientifically," the doctor told the magazine's interviewer. "In one word, these young people are healthy and there is no sign of epilepsy, nor is it a sleep or dream state. It is neither a case of pathological hallucination nor hallucination in the hearing or sight faculies ... It cannot be a cataleptic state, for during the ecstasy the facial muscles are operating in a normal way." The ecstasies of the seers at Medjugorje "do not belong to any scientific determinations," the doctor added. "It is more like a state of deep, active prayer, in which they are partially disconnected from the physical world, in a state of contemplation and sane encounter with a person whom they alone can see, hear and touch. We cannot reach the transmitter, but we can ascertain that the receivers are in a state of sane and good working order."
     In September 1985, shortly after Dr. Joyeux left Mejugorje for the last time, the Italians dispatched their own all-star team of doctors from Milan's mangiagalli Clinic to the village. The most intriguing results obtained by the Italian team were reported by Dr. Michael Sabatini, a psychopharmocologist fresh from the faculty of Columbia University, where he had spent years studying "the problem of pain." At Columbia, Dr. Sabatini had developed an instrument he called the algometer, designed to measure the intensity of pain created by applying pressure to particularly sensitive areas of the body. He had used his algometer on each of the Medjugorje seers, and the results showed that the six entered a state of "complete analgesis"  during their ecstasies; that is, they were unable to feel pain. This proved beyond any doubt, Dr. Sabatini wrote, that the seers "do not fake and do not deceive." The doctor who supervised the Mangiagalli Clinic team, Dr. Luigi Frigerio, stated that the results obtained by Dr. Sabatini and the neurological tests that demonstrated the seers were not simply awake but hyper-awake during their ecstasies had created a contradiction that "cannot be explained naturally, and thus can be only preternatural or supernatural."
     Over the next several years, this claim would be tested by fresh teams of Italian, Polish, Austrian, English, and American scientists, but for many Catholics, Medjugorje already had been validated. While it was correct to report that the state of consciousness observed in the children during their apparitions existed outside any scientific category, Rene Laurentin would write, "the best explanation is that the visionaries are in living, personal, normal contact with a person from another world."...
     ....[Bishop Zanic] stepped up his media campaign against Medjugorje: "What is behind all this are charismatics and Pentecostals," he told a German reporter, "and above all a large group of fanatical Franciscans who wish to justify their disobedience to their bishop and to Rome."...
     ....The physician who spoke to me most personally, however, was Dr. Marco Margnelli, a neurophysiologist who came to Yugoslavia during the summer of 1988 convinced that previous charts of the seers' brain functions during their visions had been faulty. A specialist in altered states of consciousness and an avowed atheist, Dr. Margnelli arrived in Medjugorje, he admitted, looking for "any evidence that would contradict it or expose it as a fake." The doctor conducted an array of medical tests on the visionaries, but seemed almost uninterested in the results by the time he returned home and granted an interview in which he described the seers' visions as "a genuine state of ecstasy."
     "As a scientist, I can only declare that the children really pass into another state of consciousness -- a condition that one can also reach through meditation techniques, such as auto-training, though not as profoundly," Dr. Margnelli explained. He would not presume to describe this state the seers entered, "but we were certainly in the presence of an extraordinary phenomenon. Whether we are dealing with an authentic apparition or something else we cannot explain and I cannot say. It is a question I prefer not to put to myself."
     Only a moment later, though, Margnelli added a statement that would startle his colleagues: "Since returning from Yugoslavia, I have been thinking about it continually and I confess, I also ask myself NONSCIENTIFIC questions, such as what the meaning of the whole thing can be." Dr. Margnelli then described a series of events to which he had been witness, from the "synchronous movements" of the visionaries to the apparently miraculous healing of a woman with leukemia. What had affected him most deeply were the birds: during the late afternoon, they would gather in the trees outside the rectory where the seers shared their apparitions, chirping and cooing and calling by the hundreds, at times deafeningly loud, until "they suddenly and simultaneously all go silent as soon as the apparition begins. This "absolute silence of the birds" haunted him, the doctor admitted.
     A few months after returning to Milan, Dr. Margnelli became a practicing Catholic.
[From The Author's description of similar events in recent history:]
     ....Between Fatima and Medjugorje, only one reported apparition of the Virgin would produce apocalyptic prophecies of comparable influence. The alleged visitations of the Madonna in Garabandal, Spain, that began during the summer of 1961 are steeped in mystery and controversy....
    .... While neither she nor any of the other girls were permitted a preview of the Great Miracle, a priest who came to Garabandal for the apparition in early August 1961 had been shown it in a vision. This was during a time of intense questioning by Church officials, a period in which the four girls were pleading insistently to the Virgin for a sign that would prove them to doubters. At an apparition in front of the church altar at noon on August 8, Conchita was heard crying out, "At Lourdes and Fatima you gave them proof!" That same evening, all four girls fell into an ecstasy and walked toward the Pines. During the subsequent apparition, a Jesuit priest who stood nearby, Father Luis Maria Andreu, raised his head in an expression of transport and shouted, "Miracle!" four times so loudly that everyone in the crowd heard him. Ordinarily, Conchita said, she and the other seers were completely unaware of the people around them. On this one occasion, they all had seen Father Andreu. And at the moment he became visible to them, the girls said, the Virgin told them this priest was seeing both Her and the Great Miracle.
     It was about ten P.M. when the apparition ended. Father Andreu left Garabandal in a Jeep and rode to neighboring Cosio to meet with the pastor there. The handsome young Jesuit said that he now believed the children, according to the pastor, who cautioned Father Andreu not to repeat this publicly. From Cosio, Father Andreu rode in a caravan of four cars headed for Reinosa. The young priest "radiated happiness," said the driver of his car. After waking from a brief nap, the Jesuit began to tell his traveling companions how happy he was, and how grateful for the "favor" that the Virgin had bestowed upon him. They were all fortunate to have such a mother in Heaven and should have no fear of the after-life, he told the others, then announced in a loud voice, "This is the happiest day of my life!" A moment later, Father Andreu raised his head and was silent. Another passenger asked if anything was wrong. He answered that he was sleepy, then lowered his head, coughed faintly, rolled his eyes, and died.
     The event that would generate both the widest interest and the deepest controversy at Garabandal took place almost one year later, on July 18, 1962....