Pope extends, expands mission of envoy to Medjugorje shrine

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Pope Francis has asked his envoy to a Bosnian shrine to stay on the job indefinitely to provide pastoral support to the millions of Catholics drawn there by reports of apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

The Vatican said Thursday that Polish Monsignor Henryk Hoser's initial mandate to investigate the needs of pilgrims in Medjugorje had ended. Francis asked him to now provide spiritual accompaniment.

The statement made no mention of the status of the Vatican's yearslong investigation into the merits of the reported apparitions. Six youths in 1981 reported having visions of Mary there, and some say the visions have continued regularly.

Unlike shrines at Fatima, Portugal or Lourdes, France, the Medjugorje phenomenon has never been declared authentic, in part because local bishops have questioned the interests of the "seers."