Medjugorje, Herzegovina: How a mass crime scene became a place of Catholic pilgrimage


They say it all started on 24 Jun 1981. Sunset over incandescent Herzegovina, haunted rocky space, blood, and water. Fifteen-year-old Ivanka Ivankovic,  on the way home to the village Bijakovići, suddenly saw on the hill Crnica a woman in a white robe, with a white scarf over the head and the child in her arms.

From that moment about 45 millions of people around the world have visited the Crnica hill and the surrounding area called Medjugorje .

What was on the hill is not hard to guess –  it was Our Lady, as Catholics say, or Virgin Mary, according to the Orthodox. Whether it was really the holy woman, we don’t know. But why she’s been seen there – that’s something we ought to know.

Pope Benedict XIV defrocked the Croatian friar Tomislav Vlasic in 2009; Vlasic was banned from spreading the Catholic faith and propagating the so-called vision of Mary, mother of Jesus in the area of Medjugorje,  Bosnia – Herzegovina.
Who is Tomislav Vlasic? Let’s go back to 1981.

The morning after the “apparitions”, the rural friar Tomislav Vlasic tried to convince the people gathered in front of the local church, that the girl Ivanka saw the Lady in person. For a time being there was a general opinion in the village that behind the apparition lie hidden ambitions of  Vlasic , and that he staged the whole event at Crnica; he hired a nun to play the  Lady, so the police began an investigation;  in the meantime the story spread like fire and spun out of control.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Medjugorje is now sixth place in the world by the number of Catholic pilgrims, Our Lady appeared there so far, according to the “seers”, about fifty thousand times. Some of them claim that they are constantly in contact with Our Lady and announce the coming of Jesus. They’re not, however, sure about the exact date.

A few weeks ago the Vatican announced that the International Commission for the designation of the Medjugorje a sacred place, established by the Vatican, has completed a multi-year operation and will soon issue their stance on the whole issue. Everything that happened in the line Vatican – the Croatian Catholic Church concerning Medjugorje will give no result, i.e. all remains the same: the Medjugorje remains a place of mass gathering of Catholics ”in search of peace and hope”;  but WITHOUT blessing of the Vatican.

Here’s the main reason for the  ” apparition ” of Our Lady at Crnica hill: at the foot of the hill lies village Šurmanci, where  local Croatian Catholic Nazi – Ustasha –  in early August 1941, in just two days, brutally, mostly with edged weapons and tools killed more than 800 Serbs  from Prebilovci ,  Serbian Orthodox village in Medjugorje area, close to Crnice.

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Forty years after the massacre, Our Lady appeared on the unpunished crime scene, but not to encourage survivors and to give them strength and faith,  – as it could be expected in a theological setting of such events –  ON THE CONTRARY! – she came and she keeps on coming ( according to the “seers “), to give blessings to Croats; in other terms, to bless the descendants of the murderers.

NDH tekst o zverstvima

What can be learned from this story?

First, Tomislav Vlasic as an extremely intelligent person and master of deception,  discovered perfect & ingenious way to prevent the place of terrible crimes against the Serbs, to become an Orthodox pilgrimage; therefore he turned it into a Catholic pilgrimage; Not only the murderers descendants, and not only Croats, but for Catholics from all over the world .

Secondly, the theory that good always wins in the end, in this case, remains not more than theory, and, thirdly, the Vatican, in this case, shows unusual restraint and caution, unusual at least when the Serbs and the Balkans concerned.

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PREBILOVCI –

The Prebilovci village, 35 km from Mostar, 20 km from the Adriatic sea and 5 km from the town of  Caplina. It’s a meeting place of peoples and religions. The place of their conflict, also.  If there is an Earthly version of hell, Prebilovci and neighbourhoods have passed through it during the Second World War. The pogroms, mass killings during the first months of the self-proclaimed, Nazi Independent State of Croatia (NDH), resulted in the disappearance of the entire Serbian areas. Croats have brutally destroyed traces of any Serb presence in these areas.

Documentary about Serbian sufferings in Međugorje area is described in the following words of Saint Nikolai of Zica:

“Terrified  Heavens observed in this century                                                                             as the armed  Christian “knights” without fear and shame                                              cut, slaughtered with knives children in the cradle,
digging their eyes out  for fun;
burned our babies alive on fire and force their mothers to eat.

Tell me,
Heaven and Earth, what good or what hope
could uncivilized people see in such ‘civilized’ Europe,
and what such Europe can expect from God?”

The Prebilovci  documentaries:
https://youtu.be/XaIbXPUjL9M

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zeTUCzUt-s&t=12s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KB3KA281Ll8

The mass slaughter of the population in the lower Herzegovina began on St. Vitus Day 1941.   About 170 men managed to break through and survive the massacre – those who remained, without distinction of age or gender,  were thrown under the knife.  After the beating, torture, and rape some were killed on the doorstep, one per district of the village, some on the green Bregava rows. Most of them were thrown into the pit. Many were still alive.

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The fresco commemorates 61 Serbian families, from which not a single member survived the Croatian slaughter of Serbs in Prebilovci, 1941.

For a few days, during the hot August nights,  over 80 per cent of the prewar population in Prebilovci has been massacred.  By 1994 full names were known for the 606 victims, though the number was much higher. Survivors were marrying again.  A long time after the war there has been no funerals,  nor school bell sound. The Orthodox inhabitants of neighbouring villages Klepac, Loznice, Tasovčići, Opličić had the same faith – the majority have been brutally killed, and their villages deserted. They passed through the same hell.

NDH ustaški pokolj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
An overage person with basic common sense regardless of religion or nationality would certainly fail to understand what happened in Prebilovci. The Orthodox were tortured, tied and in chains taken by foot through the debris to the cave, as lambs to the slaughter. The civilians, peasants, women, and babies were executed in the cruellest manner by  Roman Catholics Croats, just because they were Orthodox.
The Calvary and numerous mass graves are close to Medjugorje,  Croatian Catholic religious centre where crowds of tourists flocking annually.    Those tourists, however, do not come running endowed to pay tribute to the victims of the religious war, but for the pilgrimage to the holy Virgin, that happen to appear to descendants of the executioners on the 40th anniversary of the massacre. Pits are numerous and deep, and they can be found throughout the Adriatic coast (what’s today Croatia) and Herzegovina,  where Serbs used to live.

In the spirit of ‘brotherhood and unity’, during Croat Tito dictatorship it was strictly prohibited to even mention what happened in the area.  It is scary that the Prebilovci, the place where the man today can meet almost monastic peace, shed so much blood and was boiling of such strong hatred, that there was such fear, almost like on the Judgement day.

Unaware could say that it’s all past,  that we ought to look toward a common future. However, the pogroms of 1941.  forever marked the consciousness and the past and future of Serbs from Herzegovina.  And the pits and the rivers of blood became the unreachable boundary.

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Burial of bones of Serbs, killed by Croats in WW II in the village of Prebilovci. Over 80% of inhabitants were murdered. Shortly after this picture was taken, the children of 1940s murderers blew the monument and memorial church up, scattering the bones once again.

Each house in Prebilovci has its own agonizing story.  One terrible novel could be woven, and Serbian martyred verticals could be drawn. The most compelling story bears an uncanny resemblance to the novel “The Knife”. The Grlic village,  a mile away from the centre of Prebilovci,  placed on the nearby hill is now deserted.

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The ladies of Prebilovci (photo from 1939), Serbian girls and women;  all perished in 1941 at the hands of Croats

There are still remains of  Lazar Banđur household. He and his wife were executed by Croats,  Ustashe.  Vukasin was their son who was believed to survive the first Great massacre. But nobody ever saw him alive.  Some said that he had been eaten by wild bears, another that was taken somewhere and forcibly converted to Catholicism.  There are still old fences standing near what once was  Tripko Ciric’s household.

Thorns and branches bent and grown together, or force the visitor to bend down as if some divine force says – to your knees!  The meadow smells like a bouquet of wildflowers that formed a carpet path. Suddenly, as in a fairy tale, behind the thorns appeared a  house of stone. No roof, doors, and windows.  There are the cows that are still grazing. And their bell echoes.   The home of the Ciric family is one of the hundreds that have been eliminated,  extinguished in 1941.

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Prebilovci, the forgotten and hidden genocide –  one of the massacred Serbian families

 

Tripko Ciric, his wife, nine daughters and youngest son  Slobodan were murdered in August 1941.  Nine sisters Ciric were martyred for their Orthodox faith, the same way as nine brothers JUGOVIĆ in Kosovo myth. Is it not a historical basis for a new Serbian epic poetry cycle, myth, and pledge as a part of our national identity?  NDH katolici nazi

The villages on the Šurlamci hill,  in whose pit Golubink hundreds of Serbs were thrown is visible from the  Prebilovac hills.  Under every existing village, there’s an entire underground village of the dead.  So close to each other and yet so far. By the order of Croatian  Mason  Tito, all the pits full of bones were concreted in 1961, with a desire to petrify all the ghosts of the past and erase forbidden memories. When the Golubink pit was opened 1991, one of the few Suhić family members who survived Croatian fanatic massacre half a century later, when asked whether he had some victims among his family members in the pit, replied  in the present tense:

– I have a mother, a sister, daughter-in-law, sister – in – law,  children, uncles …

Another inhabitant, Ekmečić, whose two daughters and four sons were slaughtered and thrown into the pit, was secretly coming there. When Zdravko Sotra shoots a documentary about the suffering of Serbs in Herzegovina, he said that he heard the voice of his martyred children whispering:

Dad, get us out, we cannot stand it any longer. Get us out of the pit!

 

As sacks full of human  bones extracted from the bottom of the pit  went from hand to hand, the present through tears moaned :

Here’s  our cousin… here, our children. Our poor children! Fifty years in the pit…

This sentence shaked up film director Sotra, so he titled the film “Here are our children.”  Trifko Ekmečić’s heart literally broke in his chest as he waited for the bones of his wife who was slaughtered when she was expecting.  He passed the same road where they lived for the last time and died.

And other numerous pits in Herzegovina were opened because descendants wanted to settle the bones of martyrs in peace.  Kukausa gornja i Donja, Bivolje brdo,  Hutovo pits, Vidonje,  Poplat … All the bones of thousands of victims that left after the Croatian Ustashas were collected for the memorial whose construction began in  Prebilovci, in order to rise a mausoleum.

The Prebilovci memorial has been consecrated by the then Serbian Patriarch Pavle. The same year neo Ustasha rose in Croatia, the same symbols came to power again. Serbs were put out of the constitution, and for the second time in the 20th century were outlawed.  The war in Yugoslavia started.

“Lock carefully our bones in the white marble fortress,   because dead Ustasha could drink from us for his health,  no! don’t trust the silence that around expands.”

The verses engraved on the monument of Prince Ornjen  Ždrakanović, the very first victims in Prebilovci in 1941, proved to be prophetic.  Under the merciless Croatian units in the massacre (‘operation’) Čagalj 1992, the Serbian nation is expelled from the Neretva valley.  The homes in Prebilovci were exposed to looting and arson, so the Serbs could never return. The memorial temple is blown with explosives, and the bones of the martyrs mostly destroyed.  Their orgies took place in the graveyard, where Croatian soldiers fired into the monument erected to victims of the massacre.  They even burnt bones in some tombs.

There were also the descendants of 1941. executioners among the attackers.
……

The Prebilovci is dead. Deserted. Smoldering ruins are overgrown with weeds, and the place of the temple is desecrated and turned into a landfill.

It seemed that the twice killed Prebilovci will remain forgotten.  However, some Serbian families  decided to come and organize life at the place where the remains of beloved lie. Despite all the difficulties and hostile environment continue to live on their heavily cultivated turf.  Until now about 70 Orthodox Serbs have returned  in Prebilovci, mostly elderly people. They came to die there.  There are few  Serbian homes with children. The works on restoration of the  Prebilovci Memorial, with tens of thousands names of those killed by Croats in Neretva valley engraved,  are slowly advancing.

Thus Prebilovci cannot fade away from the collective memory of the Serbs.  Prebilovci and Neretva are becoming one of the anchor points of Serbian identity.  A place where, despite all the hardships, the life of Serbs stubbornly continues, where Serbian people persists. In Herzegovina, in Neretva valley, life triumphs over death and love over hatred.   And that’s where  Serbhood symbolically resurrects. )

Forty years after the massacre, Our Lady appeared on the scene of the unpunished crime, but not to encourage survivors and to give them strength and faith,  – as it could be expected in a theological setting of such events –  ON THE CONTRARY! – she came and she keeps on coming ( according to the “seers “), to give blessings to Croats; in other terms, to bless the descendants of the murderers.

NDH zločin

What can be learned from this story?

First, Tomislav Vlasic as an extremely intelligent person and master of deception,  discovered perfect & ingenious way to prevent the place of terrible crimes against the Serbs, to become an Orthodox pilgrimage; therefore he turned it into a Catholic pilgrimage; Not only the murderers descendants, and not only Croats, but for Catholics from all over the world .

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Serbs fleeing from Croatia to Serbia to save their lives

Secondly, the theory that good always wins in the end, in this case, remains not more than theory, and, thirdly, the Vatican, in this case, shows unusual restraint and caution, unusual at least when the Serbs and the Balkans concerned.

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The Martyrs of Prebilovci fresco, St. Sava Cathedral, Belgrade, Serbia

http://www.frontal.rs/index.php?option=btg_novosti&catnovosti=12&idnovost=40624

http://www.novosti.rs/vesti/planeta.300.html:449507-Kako-je-Medjugorje-postalo-hrvatsko-svetiliste