Pilgrims gather at Christian shrine site in Bosnia

Associated Press
A Franciscan priest blesses pilgrims as they gather kneeling around a sculpture of the Virgin Mary outside the St. Jackob church in the southern Bosnian town of Medjugorje,160 kms south of Sarajevo, Saturday, June 25, 2011. It is believed that the Virgin Mary showed herself and conveyed messages of peace to six children in Medjugorje on June 25, 1981. For 30 years, the alleged phenomenon was ignored by the Catholic authorities in Rome until 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI issued an order to form an investigation team to search for the truth surrounding the Medjugorje sightings. From the beginning in 1981, Medjugorje was widely accepted by Catholic believers, and pilgrims arrived in their hundreds of thousands each year to pray to the Virgin. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

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MEDJUGORJE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Thousands of Christian pilgrims have gathered in the southern Bosnian village of Medjugorje to mark the 30th anniversary of the disputed apparition of the Virgin Mary.

At dawn Saturday, pilgrims from around the world climbed a hill above Medjugorje where six children claimed in 1981 they had the visions.

The Medjugorje apparition has been disputed for decades. Unlike Fatima in Portugal or Lourdes in France, the Roman Catholic church is cautious about calling the sightings authentic, and has not formally approved Medjugorje as a shrine site.

The Vatican last year started formally investigating the apparitions that the six — now adults — claim are still regular.

But the lack of official recognition has not stopped the remote village from thriving, through communism and then war. Some 40 million faithful have visited its shrine so far.

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