The Silence of the Birds: the Powerful Experiences of an Atheist Doctor and Notre Dame’s Basketball Team in Medjugorje

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MedjugorjeApparition Hill

One of the most fascinating phenomena that people have experienced in Medjugorje is the silence of the birds, an occurrence that has been reported as transpiring at times when the visionaries have their apparitions. This occurrence has been reported by people as diverse as members of Notre Dame’s basketball team, including players who were not Catholic, and an atheist Italian neurophysiologist who scientifically examined the apparitions of the visionaries.

Dr. Marco Margnelli was an ardent atheist who used to travel to various locations trying to disprove claims of mystical phenomena—he traveled, for example, to San Giovanni Rotondo in 1987, trying to disprove the stigmata of Padre Pio. He came to Medjugorje in 1988, hoping to prove the experiences of the visionaries to be false, he admitted.

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Dr. Marco Margnelli, Italian neurophysiologist

Author and journalist Randall Sullivan recorded the event in his book The Miracle Detective: An Investigation of Holy Visions. Dr. Margnelli experienced various occurrences in Medjugorje which rocked his beliefs. He met a woman who was miraculously healed of leukemia. He studied the apparitions of the visionaries and came to the conclusion that they do enter into a genuine state of ecstasy, even admitting: “we were certainly in the presence of an extraordinary phenomenon.”

What moved him most powerfully, however, was the behavior of the birds. Before the apparitions of the visionaries would begin in the rectory, there were thousands of birds outside chirping and cooing, being incredibly—at times, deafeningly—loud.

Until the moment when the apparitions would begin: the second that the visionaries would drop to their knees and go into ecstasy every bird outside would go completely silent.

That absolute silence of the birds haunted him, Dr. Margnelli admitted. A few weeks after returning to Italy from Medjugorje, Dr. Margnelli became a practicing Catholic.

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Medjugorje visionaries in ecstasy during an apparition in the rectory of St. James Church

This fascinating phenomena has been witnessed by a number of pilgrims, including Notre Dame’s basketball team.

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Digger Phelps, Notre Dame coach (1971-1991)

Deacon Brian Miller explained, at the 2016 Marian Conference at the University of Notre Dame last month, that one year in the ‘80s the Notre Dame basketball team was in Yugoslavia for a summer tour playing basketball. They made a side trip to Medjugorje. They made the trip under Coach Digger Phelps, who spent 20 years as head coach (1971-1991) of Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team and then many years as an ESPN broadcaster and analyst.

David Rivers, who was the star point guard on the team, and the 25th overall pick of the 1988 NBA draft, playing professionally for the Lakers and the Clippers, shared a testimony about the Medjugorje trip at Notre Dame’s library. Rivers, it is noteworthy, was not even Catholic.

David Rivers

David Rivers

“He said it was stunning,” Deacon Miller recalled. “There were all these birds

outside [in Medjugorje, as the apparitions were to begin].” At that time, the visionaries had their apparitions in the rectory of St. James Church, and during the day the basketball team was there, there were thousands of birds outside, making noise, “and then as soon as Our Lady came, boom, it was quiet, until she left,” Deacon Miller said, recollecting Rivers’ testimony.

Here is a video of both Deacon Brian Miller and I sharing these stories at the 2016 Marian Conference at the University of Notre Dame:

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13 thoughts on “The Silence of the Birds: the Powerful Experiences of an Atheist Doctor and Notre Dame’s Basketball Team in Medjugorje

  1. How interesting. Thank you!
    I live in the US and a few times while on my front porch, it is completely silent. No birds chirping( have 2 feeders in front lawn), just complete silence and no cars( street in front) going by, snas people.
    It has happened 3 different times and I don’t know why. It seemed errie…….

  2. I’ve witnessd the silence of the birds!! I didn’t realize others had noticed it too. There were also dogs running around outside the church during the time of the Mass who sat silently facing the window of the choir loft during the apparition. Once it was over, they resumed playing and running around. It impressed me too.

    • Thanks for sharing, Lynne, that’s fascinating to know about the behavior of the dogs in addition to the birds during apparitions; absolutely fascinating.

  3. When we were there in 1998, we were praying OUR FIRST ROSARY from behind the statue of the RISEN CHRIST behind the outdoor altar area. As we prayed… A MAJESTIC RAINBOW APPEARED… “LIKE AN ARTIST WITH SEVEN PAINT BRUSHES… BRUSHING THROUGH THROUGH THE SKY”… FROM TIP TO TIP OF JESUS’ HANDS, as though He was holding HIS COVENANT SIGN UP for all around to see and honor! That we did !!! Not sure if the BIRDS were chirping at that time… LOL !!!

  4. My wife and I also witnessed this amazement. We visited Medjugorje on September 15, 1987. At that time there were some trees to the left (when facing church) fifty feet or so away from entrance area. Shortly before 6 PM birds would begin to flock into the trees until there were thousands of them. They would chirp so loud while we prayed the rosary from 6 PM until the moment of the apparitions, around 6:45PM at the time. Then it would be total silence. When it was all over they would fly away only to return the following evening at the same time. We were there for ten days and we witnessed this miracle every evening we were there. There were other personal things that literally changed my life for ever.

  5. The laws of nature are definitely suspended in Medjugorje. My first time there in 2001, staying with Ivan, we were praying the Rosary at the time of Our Lady’s Visitation so don’t know what the birds were doing. However, afterwards, when we were going to bed, I was struck by the fact that the song birds SANG all Night Long in the inky black darkness! Our Lady is truly, Queen of PEACE.

  6. I am glad to hear other people noticed the behaviour of the birds at Medjugorje. First time I went back early 1990’s I remember noticing that when we came out of the Church in procession with Eucharistic Jesus. In the sky above many birds were flying together in the air. They seemed to fly over the procession. I wondered if the birds were used to getting fed by people or something.

    The last time we went in about 2011, not being young and strong enough to cope with the crowd. My sister and I sat outside Saint James’s during the 2nd Month apparition. The birds sang that loud, my sister felt it was creepy. I was delighted. But I can’t remember if the singing stopped at some point and resumed, after apparition. I was not aware of what others have now shared.

    I was also amazed at how the dogs behaved around the Risen Christ statue. I took some photos of the dogs. They seemed to take it in turns to stay by the statue. No one of them tried to empty their bladder there. They would run off when another dog would come in, it was as if they were taking it in turns to keep watch.

    One afternoon, my sister and I sat outside the place we were staying for over an hour. I was not well and unable to do a lot of walking. I pointed out to my sister two birds sitting on a lamp post. They stayed there for the whole time we sat. And I found that amusing. I pointed it out to my sister. Nature again but no obvious miracles for my.

    I never saw dancing suns or other phenomena; but the animals and birds was what got my attention. I am glad to know, I was not the only one to notice this.

  7. The first time I went to Medjugorje was in 1988, and my sister taped everything that happened there and then when we got to our room every night we would play the tape back and discuss everything. On this one particular day, we had to sit outside the church because of the crowd, and we were sitting under the open window of the balcony where Our Lady would appear at that time. It suddenly occurred to us that at one point, ALL of the birds quit singing at the same time, (and they had been very loud, almost excited.) I considered that my first Miracle at Medjugorje. I’ve seen the Sun dance, the Cross 0n Cross Mountain illuminate W/O electricity, and have several rosaries turn gold, but to me, the birds were the most amazing phenomonon. God Bless and protect all of Your creatures!!

    • Thank you so much, Mary Jo. That is a fascinating testimony. Since I’ve published this post I’ve been amazed by how many people have shared also experiencing this phenomenon. What an act of grace!

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