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MESSAGES FROM MARY

 

MAN'S CLAIMS DRAW CROWDS, SKEPTICS

 

Author: By John Pike, GLOBE CORRESPONDENT Date: 03/31/2000 Page: A1

Section: Metro/Region

 

Ivan Dragicevic leads a fairly unassuming life, sharing a modest North End apartment with his wife, Laureen, their two young daughters, and his mother-in-law.

But to many Roman Catholics, the 34-year-old who lives in a Prince Street flat is a celebrity. Just look at the crowds he sometimes draws when he speaks - 4,000 in Dallas last November, 3,000 a few days later in San Antonio.

 

His claim to fame? Dragicevic says he talks to the mother of Jesus.

And most of the faithful who pack churches across the country whenever he's in town have no doubt he does, because Dragicevic is directly connected to what many believers say is one of the most miraculous events in recent Roman Catholic history.

 

On June 24, 1981, Dragicevic was one of six Croatian children who claimed to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary above a stony hill in the town of Medjugorje in what is now Bosnia.

 

Dragicevic says Mary visits him daily in Boston at precisely 5:40 p.m. - but at other times in other cities - and they converse and pray together. She has kissed him, he says. He also claims to have been to heaven and back.

"I see her as I see you now," says Dragicevic, who moved to Boston after meeting his wife, a former Miss Massachusetts, during an appearance here several years ago.

 

According to Dragicevic, Mary wants him to convey her message of peace, prayer, conversion, faith, fasting, love, and hope. She wants people to love one another, he says, with more forgiveness, and she also seeks fewer divorces and fractured families.

 

Dragicevic says Mary insists that "peace must reign between God and man and between people."

While the Vatican has never passed final judgment on the veracity of the 1981 apparition, Medjugorje has become one of the world's most popular pilgrimage sites, drawing millions of visitors to what has become known as Apparition Hill.

 

There are dozens of organized tours to Medjugorje, a magazine devoted to the site, and, of course, a Medjugorje Web site.

 

Medjugorje also has become Dragicevic's main means of support. He charges rent for a bed-and-breakfast-style house he owns in Medjugorje, where he spends his summers. Dragicevic also receives occasional stipends from his appearances, but he stressed that payments are strictly voluntary.

 

He says he travels regularly to talk about Mary because he feels compelled to spread her message, not because he's interested in making a profit.

On a recent Sunday night, about 400 Catholics gathered at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in East Boston to watch Dragicevic "converse" with Mary.

 

As he knelt pensively for seven minutes before a statue of the Madonna, everyone sat hushed, many praying, some taking photos, as Dragicevic described Mary's daily appearance to him.

 

The faithful in the pews collectively sighed in amazement when Dragicevic told them a group of 5-year-old angels were seen floating beside Mary.

Through an interpreter, Dragicevic also told the audience that Mary wore her usual gray dress, white veil, and crown of stars, while floating on a cloud. On a few occasions, he said, she switches to a gold dress. She is about 26, incredibly beautiful, white with blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and black hair.

 

When he opens the floor to questions, Dragicevic faces an eclectic array.

"Could you please ask Mary to give the vocation of priesthood to my six sons?" requests a man. Another person asks if Mary was present in other parts of the church. One woman wants to know if Mary has told Dragicevic whether Satan will be gone in this century.

 

Once, he recalls in an interview, a woman asked him to ask Mary what type

of insurance she should buy. He politely told the woman that the mother of Jesus does not talk about things like that.

 

While Dragicevic is inundated with requests to speak, many Catholics are skeptical about his claims. In 1987 the bishops of the former Yugoslavia, referring to Medjugorje, said: "One cannot affirm that supernatural apparitions are involved."

And even as the Vatican continues to investigate the matter, Catholic Church leaders discourage pilgrimages to Medjugorje - though the Vatican's admonishment has had little impact.

 

During Dragicevic's East Boston appearance, a middle-aged priest from the diocese of Fall River stood by himself in the back row of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

The priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he is not permitted to preach about Dragicevic, but has traveled to Medjugorje three times. While he is not convinced that Dragicevic talks to Mary, he says his pilgrimages to Apparition Hill have "built a stronger relationship with Christ."

 

Mount Carmel's pastor, the Rev. Francis de Sales Paolo, said he believes Dragicevic has a relationship with Mary. "It is a privilege to have Ivan present," he said. "The apparitions bring people together."

Many who have come to East Boston to hear Dragicevic acknowledge that there may be no scientific way to prove that Mary appears to him. But, they add, the most important thing is what Dragicevic has to say. "I came here because I am Catholic," said Rob Duggan of Lynn. "It is a good message."

 

But Nicholas Garoufalis, also of Lynn, went much further, saying he would bet his life that Dragicevic's apparitions are real. "I believe it," he said. For his part, Dragicevic tries to remain self-effacing.

 

"I am not a saint, nor am I perfect," he tells his East Boston audience. "I am just a man, of flesh and blood, and an instrument in the hands of God that has this gift to speak to Our Lady."

 

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