Pope finally gives his blessing to Medjugorje pilgrims
Pope Francis has given his blessing to pilgrimages to Medjugorje, even though he has yet to confirm the authenticity of the Virgin Mary's appearance at the Bosnian shrine.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said: "The Holy Father has ruled that it's possible to organise pilgrimages to Medjugorje."
The decision, which could further boost tourism in the town which has already drawn millions of the faithful, was announced also by the Vatican's envoy to the local parish and by the papal nuncio in Sarajevo.
The shrine is 120km south of Sarajevo, the capital of predominantly Muslim Bosnia.
In 1981, during the papacy of the first pope from Eastern Europe, John Paul II, six youths said they witnessed apparitions of Mary.
Fr Gisotti stressed that "care be taken to avoid interpreting these pilgrimages as authentication of the noted events, which still require examination by the Church".
"Thus it must be avoided that such pilgrimages create confusion or ambiguity regarding the doctrinal aspect," said the Vatican spokesman.
Last year, a million people flocked to Medjugorje, where faithful kneel in prayer before a statue of Mary.
Fr Gisotti offered this context for the Pope's ruling: "Considering the notable flow of persons who go to Medjugorje and the abundant fruits of grace that have sprung from that, such a ruling fits into the special pastoral attention that the Holy Father has intended to give to that reality, aimed at encouraging and promoting the fruits of good."
Since the apparitions were first cited, millions of Catholics have flocked to the site. But despite years of study, the Vatican has never declared the visions as authentic, unlike the phenomenon of apparitions of Mary at Fatima, Portugal, and Lourdes, France, two other immensely popular pilgrimage destinations.
Meanwhile, the Pope has ordained 19 men to the priesthood during a ceremony in St Peter's Basilica.
Most of the new priests are Italian, but other seminarians are from Croatia, Peru, Haiti and Japan. Their ages range from mid-20s to 46.