The name Međugorje literally means "an area between mountains". At an altitude of 200 metres above sea level it has a mild Mediterranean climate. The town consists of an ethnically-homogeneous Croat population of over 4000. The Roman Catholic parish (local administrative and religious area) consists of five neighbouring villages, Međugorje, Bijakovići, Vionica, Miletina and Šurmanci.
In March 2010, the Holy See announced that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was forming an investigative commission, composed of bishops, theologians, and other experts, under the leadership of Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's former Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome.
"Our Lady of Međugorje" (visit here to hear audio pronunciation of Međugorje) is the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary by those who believe that she has been appearing since 24 June 1981 to six people in Međugorje (then part of socialist Yugoslavia).
The visionary Marija Lunetti (Pavlovic) claims to receive messages from the Virgin Mary on the twenty-fifth of every month, while Mirjana Soldo
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(Dragicevic) reports receiving messages on the second of the month. The messages reputed to Our Lady of Međugorje have a strong following among Catholics worldwide. Međugorje has become one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for Catholics (and people of other faiths) in the world, with thousands visiting each year. It has been estimated that 30 million pilgrims have come to Međugorje since the reputed apparitions began in 1981. Many have reported visual phenomena including the sun spinning in the sky or changing colors and figures such as hearts and crosses around the sun. Some visitors have suffered eye damage while seeking to experience such phenomena.
On June 4, 2008, before a regular Wednesday general audience, Pope Benedict XVI blessed a statue of Our Lady of Međugorje in Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City. However, the phenomenon is not officially approved by the Catholic Church.
In March 2010, the Holy See announced that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was forming an investigative commission, composed of bishops, theologians, and other experts, under the leadership of Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's former Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome. The Commission is expected to report any findings to the Congregation, which has responsibility for any possible judgment on the case.
To the east of Međugorje in the Neretva valley, the Serbian Orthodox Žitomislić Monastery has stood since 1566. Gravestones erected in the Middle Ages have remained to this day in the Catholic cemetery Groblje Srebrenica in the hamlet of Miletina as well as in the hamlet of Vionica. In the area of the cemetery in Miletina, structures from the Roman era stood, whose ruins have not yet been fully excavated.
19th and early 20th century
In 1882 the railroad line between Mostar and the Adriatic coast of Dalmatia was built, with a station in the hamlet of Šurmanci, through which the village gained access to rail transport.
The Catholic parish of Sveti Jakov ("Saint James") was erected in 1892 by the Bishop of Mostar Paškal Buconjić. The twelve-meter tall crucifix on the mountain called Križevac (Cross Mountain), completing the parish's Stations of the Cross (križni put), was completed in 1934.
Second World War
In 1941, when Međugorje belonged to the Independent State of Croatia, the Žitomislić Monastery was plundered by the Ustasha, and its refectory was burned down.
On June 21, 1941, members of the Ustasha committed a massacre in the hamlet of Šurmanci against 559 Serb civilians, which led Mostar bishop Alojzije Mišić to write a letter of protest to the Archbishop of Zagreb Aloysius Stepinac. The Communist government of Yugoslavia had the pit containing the bodies sealed with a concrete slab; hence they were only exhumed and reburied at the cemetery of Prebilovci in the neighboring town of Čapljina in 1989.
Development of the pilgrimage site
On June 24, 1981, reports began of Marian apparitions on Crnica hill in the Bijakovići hamlet, and shortly thereafter confrontations with Yugoslav state authorities began. Pilgrims' donations were seized by the police and access to what was called the Apparition Hill was largely blocked.
In October 1981, Jozo Zovko, then the pastor of the town, was sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment with forced labor for allegedly participating in a nationalistic plot. After Amnesty International, among others, appealed for his release and a judicial appeal was made, the sentence was reduced in the Yugoslav Federal Court in Belgrade to one and a half years, and the priest was released from prison in 1983.
In the last years before the collapse of Yugoslavia, the travel of pilgrims was no longer hindered by the state.
Međugorje during the Bosnian War
During the Bosnian War Međugorje remained in the hands of the Croatian Defence Council and in 1993 became part of the internationally unrecognized Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia. By the Dayton Agreement in 1995, Međugorje was incorporated into the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, populated mostly by Bosnians and Croats.
In 1992 the town was the launching point of a so-called ethnic cleansing on the part of the Croatian Defence Council, which led to the complete destruction of the Serbian Orthodox Žitomislić Monastery. The property of the Franciscan order in Bijakovići below Podbrdo ("Apparition Hill") was used during the war years as a testing ground for grenade launchers by the militia of a local weapons dealer.
On April 2, 1995, at the high point of conflict within the local diocese, Bishop Ratko Perić was kidnapped by Croatian militiamen, beaten, and taken to a chapel run by one of the Franciscans associated with Međugorje, where he was held hostage for ten hours. At the initiative of the mayor of Mostar he was freed without bloodshed, with the help of the United Nations Protection Force.
Development after the war
After the ending of the Bosnian War, peace came to the area: UN peace troops were stationed in western Herzegovina. Efforts by the politician Ante Jelavić to create a Croatian entity were unsuccessful, and Međugorje remained part of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The town and its environs boomed economically after the war. Over a thousand hotel and hostel beds are available for religious tourism. With approximately one million visitors annually, the municipality of Medjugorje has the most overnight stays in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Mostar International Airport, located approximately 20 km to the northeast, which was closed in 1991, reopened for civil aviation in 1998 and has made air travel to region easier since then. The road network was expanded after the Bosnian War. In addition the hamlet of Šurmanci in the lower Neretva valley has a train station on the route from Ploče to Sarajevo.
On April 6, 2001 demonstrations occurred in the region, with some violence, after the NATO-led Stabilisation Force had closed and searched the local branches of the Hercegovačka banka ("Herzegovina Bank"), through which a large part of the currency transactions in Herzegovina, including international donations intended for Međugorje, were carried out, on suspicion of white-collar crime. The Franciscan Province responsible for the parish was a shareholder of the bank.