by our Rome correspondent OFFICIAL church opposition is growing in Rome to what is being called the erroneous devotion surrounding the site of alleged Marian apparitions in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia.
For nearly ten years, Medjugorje has been attracting millions of pilgrims after six children said they saw a vision of Our Lady on a hilltop outside the village. The six claim to see the apparitions nearly every day, and reports have made Medjugorje a controversial money-spinning shrine.
In a letter to his diocese, Bishop Wilhelm Egger of Bolzano in North Italy reminded the faithful that the church had not officially sanctioned Medjugorje as a sanctuary. He then went on to outline rules for people who still wish to visit the site.
His letter, entitled "Pastoral Indications on Marian Devotion", has now been adopted by other bishops for more widespread distribution.
"Erroneous forms" of Marian devotion can emerge and should be avoided, the letter stresses.
There is no absolute certainty of the supernatural nature of events in Medjugorje, it adds, and goes on to list new rules and regulations concerning the site.
These include a ruling that pilgrimages to Medjugorje cannot be a part of official parish initiatives. Messages from Medjugorje should not be read during Mass, and parish groups should not organise activities immediately before or after masses in their churches.
The new warning reflects the scepticism in the Vatican following the findings of at least two enquiries into the claims of Medjugorje's Marian visionaries.
Pope John Paul II, however, is said to lend cautious support the cause for official church recognition of the site. Earlier this year he is reported to have given his blessing to a group of Italian architects and town planners who have devised a multi-million pound urban building project for Medjugorje.
It comprises a hospital, new hotel complexes, a ring road network and an avenue for devotional processions.