Croats Grab God again

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The Independent Online
THE Bosnian Croats have long been at loggerheads with the world (in the guise of the UN) for blocking international peace plans for Bosnia. But heaven, it seems, is still on their side. In the village of Grab, only miles from where the Virgin Mary is supposed to have appeared in Medjugorje in 1981, an apparition of Jesus is attracting thousands of pilgrims and showing every sign of developing into a shrine the equal of its neighbour.

The visions of Grab, like those of Medjugorje, have certain traits in common. In both, the visionaries were children. In Medjugorje, two girls were the favoured ones. In Grab, it was two boys. The time was January; the place, an abandoned house; the boys' occupation, the biblically appropriate job of tending sheep.

"We heard some noise and a little cloud of fog appeared," said Ivan Grbavac, aged nine. "On the shutter on the window, we saw a head." They ran away screaming, after which Ivan's mother came out to see what was going on. "It was Him on the window - Jesus Christ - and I crossed myself," says Desanka Grbavac.

Not much of a vision, some might say, to draw multitudes. But the chemistry of shrines is mysterious. There are thousands of visions of God, the Virgin, Christ or his Saints each year - but only some gain the critical momentum in terms of visitors and miracles to develop into working shrines. If Grab does "take off", with Medjugorje, this barren portion of Bosnian Croat land, west of Mostar, would prac- tically have established itself as the apparition centre in Europe.

Thus far, the omens are good. A trickle of visitors in January has grown into thousands. And some of those standing round the ruined house - now bedecked in messages, candles and pictures of Christ - have reported visions of their own. Will the Christ in the window of Grab - population 1,000 - do for this hamlet what the cult of Our Lady has achieved for Medjugorje? Not if Bosnia's Serbs and Muslims have anything to do with it. They sniffed at Medjugorje, harping on the fact the village lay in the heartland of the Ustashe, the violent fascists who ruled a Greater Croatia under Hitler's patronage.

But another, less obvious opponent may well be the Catholic Church itself, which has never looked kindly on Medjugorje. Thus far, Rome has withheld the official seal of approval that would elevate Medjugorje to the rank of Lourdes in France or Fatima in Portugal. One reason for hesitation is the unseemly row over the shrine's authenticity between Medjugorje's Franciscan friars and the local bishop. Bishop Zanic of Mostar, a noisy sceptic, has had to endure the galling spectacle of Medjugorje's rise to prominence and the partial destruction of his palace in the war. Neither his, nor Rome's, disapproval has dissuaded the crowds from Medjugorje. Nor will it, if the faithful so decide, at Grab.

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