For more than forty years, the events in Medjugorje (Bosnia and Herzegovina) have caused confusion and division within the Church. But what is not well known is that, at the same time, the Marian shrine has become the source of juicy profits, to the point of attracting organized crime.
If there is one thing that is beyond doubt in Medjugorje, it is the financial profits generated by the sanctuary. In Herzegovina, there is even talk of an “Gospa economy,” a term referring to the mysterious “Lady” whose alleged apparitions are at the origin of a theological controversy that began on June 24, 1981.
In 2018, it was Pope Francis' special envoy to Medjugorje, Bishop Henryk Hoser - a Polish prelate who died in 2021 - who set a cat among the pigeons by declaring: “On the one hand, (in Medjugorje) we meet thousands of young people who receive the sacrament of penance, but on the other hand, we must be aware that due to the massive influx of pilgrims, this place has been infiltrated by the mafia, especially that of the Neapolitans who are finding this place very profitable.”
Remarks which did not fail to raise the protests of many Catholics in Naples, but which were based on a proven fact which the Italian courts have able to investigate. The organization of “pilgrimages” for members of the Camorra, who spent, it seems, more time prospecting to buy land, build hotels, organize the sale of counterfeit products to pilgrims, than reciting the rosary at the feet of the Gospa.
The vagueness – rather unartistic – which surrounds the events at Medjugorje, often maintained at the highest level in the Church, has benefited the sanctuary. It is estimated that between 1981 and 2013, twenty-eight million pilgrims have visited the site, each spending an average of forty-three euros around the sanctuary.
The inhabitants - around 4,000 - who used to make their living by growing tobacco and maintaining herds, now carry out a more lucrative tourist activity. Thus, the families of the so-called “seers” now manage bed and breakfasts, restaurants and bars, and there is something in it for all budgets. In all, the hotel capacity has reach 17,000 beds in Medjugorje.
The road that leads to the foot of the so-called “apparition” hill looks more like a Middle Eastern souk, with around 200 shops selling everything: religious objects, but also shoes, bags, sweatshirts, perfumes, almost all counterfeit.
But the local Church is not left out: it has also been able to take advantage of this windfall, to the tune of 290 million euros, not to mention the public subsidies.
In this context – and taking into account the fact that only 43% of the receipts have been fiscally documented – it is easy to understand the boon that Medjugorje represents for organized crime. This could also explain the lack of zeal of certain members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to make a definitive pronouncement about the events, the lack of credibility of which has been shown by all the serious investigations already carried out.