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Tuesday, February 24, 1998 Published at 09:21 GMT

image: [ BBC Despatches ]Jackie Rowland

The Croats of Bosnia Hercegovina now have two divine apparitions to their credit, or at least that's their story and they're sticking to it. Last month an apparition of Jesus is said to have visited the village of Grab, just a few kilometres down the road from Medjugorje, where the Virgin Mary is supposed to have appeared almost 20 years ago. The coincidence is nothing short of miraculous, but not everyone shares the Croats' enthusiasm, as Jacky Rowland reports:

It was a cold winter's night. Out on the hilltop shepherds were tending their sheep.

Suddenly there came unto them a heavenly vision. Sound familiar? Only this isn't a scene from the Bible.

If the story is to be believed, this event took place last month in the village of Grab, in Hercegovina. The shepherds were two young Croat boys and the apparition was the head of Jesus Christ.

It appeared in a puff of smoke, as apparitions tend to, and the boys ran away screaming. The visionaries have been embraced as heroes by the local community.

In the neighbouring village of Medjugorje, an alleged vision of the Virgin Mary in 1981 has turned into big business. The village has become a working shrine attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Many pilgrims leave with a glow-in-the-dark Virgin Mary as a souvenir. It's too early to tell whether Grab will become a second Medjugorje but so far the indications are good.

A trickle of visitors in January has already swollen into a torrent. All of this sounds good news for the Church but Medjugorje has attracted opposition from the Roman Catholic establishment, which questions its authenticity.

The Vatican has never recognised it as a shrine in the same league as Lourdes in France or Fatima in Portugal and the local bishop is in open feud with the Franciscan Friars who run the Medjugorje operation. But at the end of the day it appears that shrines flourish according to market forces of supply and demand.

There is a proven demand for Medjugorje and it looks like Grab could profit from the knock-on effect.

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