The Labor of and Labor in Post-Medjugorje Slideshows

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Marc Roscoe Loustau College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass. mloustau706@gmail.com

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Abstract

Why do post-pilgrimage slideshows help Transylvanian Hungarian Catholics perform domestic devotional labor? There is growing interest in breaking open pilgrimage research, and scholars have recently begun studying rituals of return—including pilgrims’ practice of using photographs to narrate their journeys after returning home. I contribute to this effort by sketching out the general characteristics of Transylvanian Hungarian Catholics’ post-pilgrimage slideshows about the Medjugorje shrine. I then give a detailed description of an exemplary case: a married couple's presentation for their children gathered around the family computer. Although we might expect pilgrims to routinize stories and images from a chaotic journey, many slideshows were quite disorganized and impressionistic. This disorganization helped travelers tailor their stories to the diverse spiritual interests of guests in a changing Transylvanian Hungarian Catholic religious landscape. Family members’ conversations also dramatized how neoliberalism in Romania has emerged alongside new global pilgrimage sites like Medjugorje. Medjugorje appeals to pilgrims because it is a privileged site for advertising national wares on the global market.

Scholars in the field of pilgrimage studies have recently turned their attention toward rituals of return, the practices that pilgrims use to reintegrate themselves back into society after their journeys (Dubisch 1996; Fedele 2012). In this small but growing body of literature, several publications have offered brief and suggestive accounts of post-pilgrimage photographic slideshows, leaving a great deal of room for additional research into this phenomenon (Frey 1998; Kaell 2014). Since 2009, I have been conducting fieldwork with Hungarian-speaking Catholics in Romania's Transylvania region, an area that produced a steady stream of travelers for week-long bus tours to Medjugorje, the world-renowned Catholic pilgrimage site in Bosnia-Herzegovina. These middle-aged pilgrims with preteen, adolescent, or young adult children took pictures with digital cameras and showed the images on the day of their return, often for a hastily gathered audience of whichever family members were around and cramming the presentations into a spare hour amid unpacking and other mundane tasks.1 This emphasis reflected and reinforced many pilgrims’ involvement in Catholic renewal movements that encourage “domestic devotional labor,” or routines of ritual participation—like praying the Rosary at bedtime or saying grace before meals—intended to strengthen family members’ faith (Kaell 2014; Peña 2011).

Although close family made up the slideshows’ primary audiences, presenters often had to contend with questions and comments that revealed participants’ distinctive interests in the Medjugorje site. Anthropologists have noted that Medjugorje is associated with apparitions (Apolito 1998; Taylor 1995), nationalism and ethnic belonging (Skrbis 2005), interreligious conflict (Barbato et al. 2012), and tourist satisfaction (Krešić et al. 2013). While Transylvanian Hungarians’ slideshows featured lengthy conversations about some of these traditional themes (tourism and commerce; nationalism and ethnic belonging), there was little discussion of other conventional topics (apparitions). Some issues (housing construction, labor, confession) were not anticipated in the literature about Medjugorje. Contrary to expectations, it seemed that some pilgrims saw this wide variety of interests as useful, and even employed the disorganized character of their immediate post-pilgrimage memories to acknowledge this diversity. What I observed did not conform to the conventional view that pilgrimage memories are an unpleasant, overwhelming, and chaotic welter that travelers quickly routinize in the days following their return (Fedele 2012; Frey 1998; Kaell 2014). I observed that travelers, in the absence of a dominant fixed chronology for the trip and with the help of an atmosphere that facilitated some amount of free association, encouraged their children to ask questions and interrupt. Indeed, parents sometimes drew children into side conversations or, if necessary, let different individuals ignore the group discussion. Predictably, pilgrims were often troubled by skeptical responses; tensions arose with complaints about Medjugorje's tourism and commerce. Mockery about avaricious hosts and gullible pilgrims at Medjugorje threatened to subvert parents’ efforts to use the trip to foster their children's faith. But although the slideshows were not free from disagreement, the ritual's open-ended format also allowed children to take different avenues into their parents’ memories and parents to encourage their children to develop images of Medjugorje on their own terms. Therefore, the core question that pilgrims faced was how to construct this ritual of return, centering on the media of photography and storytelling, as both (a) meaningful and coherent devotional labor; and (b) flexible, open-ended, and pluralistic dialogue.

The question of how to interweave seemingly contradictory forms of unitary and competitive sociality has been, since Victor and Edith Turner's early anthropological research on pilgrimage, one of this field's enduring theoretical problems (Turner and Turner 1978). For more than a decade, the Turners’ research directed attention toward pilgrims’ feeling of collective unity or communitas, making this distinctive pilgrimage-related phenomenon the vehicle for pilgrimage studies’ engagement with these broader theoretical topics (Turner 1969). By the early 1990s, however, the Turners’ argument that pilgrimage facilitated group consensus had been thoroughly critiqued in favor of a “politics of pilgrimage” approach that led scholars to ask how pilgrimage sustains or remakes multifaceted inequalities (Coleman and Eade 2004; Coleman and Elsner 1995, 2003; Eade and Sallnow 1991; Morinis 1992; Notermans and Jansen 2011; Reader and Walter 1993; Roseman and Fife 2008; Stein 2008; Swatos and Tomasi 2002). Another decade of research then brought calls to “break open” the study of pilgrimage: as Simon Coleman (2002, 2014), Ian Reader (2006), and Hillary Kaell (2014) have argued, there is much more to pilgrimage than the semiotically charged time and place of the sacred journey and shrine. Recent studies of pilgrims’ home lives before and after their journeys has resonated with Coleman's call to attend to the tangential and lateral connections between pilgrimage sites, pilgrimage rituals, and other places and activities dispersed in individuals’ lives. My analysis in this article pursues the line of inquiry opened by Coleman, Kaell, Anna Fedele, and others by examining the unstable associations and exchanges between Medjugorje and pilgrims’ more-or-less routine and everyday rounds of domestic devotional labor. My approach is also inspired by Michael A. Di Giovine and David Picard's suggestion that pilgrims’ humanity and individual motivations could be a fertile ground for new research (Di Giovine and Picard 2015). Following critical assessments of the post-Turnerian focus on group political contestation, I refract this new interest in pilgrimage's individual dimensions through my interest in existential themes in the anthropological study of religion. I take pilgrimage's individual dimensions to mean relatives’ understanding of pilgrimage via their own life-stage experiences and transformational passages between social roles. Participants brought this attention to idiosyncratic experience to the questions they asked about photographs of Medjugorje. In turn, pilgrims struggled to relate these diverse and sometimes discordant concerns to the goal of using Medjugorje to foster faith.

In this article, standing in for the larger population of Transylvanian Hungarian Catholic pilgrims is the Takács family, which is headed by wife Gizella and husband Ambrus and includes seven children aged five through twenty-three. Ambrus and Gizella departed from their home in a village in the Ciuc Valley in Transylvania's far-eastern edge and traveled to Medjugorje for a week in August 2011. I joined them for the final leg of their bus journey back, and stayed in their home for a few days, during which time I observed them show photographs of their trip to their children. The interactions I observed among Ambrus and Gizella's family members also condense multiple social and economic processes that characterize Romania's distinctively postsocialist version of neoliberalism. Beginning in the mid-1990s, anthropologists Susan Gal and Gail Kligman (2000), Katherine Verdery (1996, 2003), and David Kideckel (2008) have argued that postsocialism is a distinctive type of neoliberalism characterized by industrial collapse, the political stigmatization of workers and working-class jobs, and the rise of “painful” working-class masculine subjectivity. Critical masculinities researchers like Andrea Cornwall and colleagues (2016) and Frank Karioris (2019) have both broadened and sharpened this analysis by pointing out that gender, class, and neoliberalism intersect and interdepend in multiple social contexts and in men's everyday lives, requiring both a critical and ethnographic approach to the study of gender, labor, and neoliberalism. During Ambrus and Gizella's post-pilgrimage slideshow, family members’ conversations dramatized how neoliberalism emerges and becomes manifest in dialogue with globalization. As Tim Edensor (2002), José Lucero (2008), and others have pointed out, in the face of globalization's multiple challenges and destabilizing processes, nation-states have retained their legitimacy by administering and commodifying cultural heritage events, film festivals, and natural sceneries as privileged sites for the consumption of “national” values. Medjugorje is one of these privileged sites for broadcasting and advertising “national wares on the global market” (Edensor 2002: 28). First, the presentations were themselves labor—the labor of devotion and of strengthening faith. Second, labor was also in the slideshows as an object of reflection in the cultural commodities that it produces. By providing a venue for debating the meaning of work at this apparition site, post-pilgrimage slideshows become a privileged occasion for imagining what social roles are possible, preferable, and why in one of neoliberalism's emerging global spaces (28).

I explore these social and existential dimensions of one of Medjugorje's rituals of return by analyzing my ethnographic material in three sections. In the first part, I set the context by describing neoliberal social conditions in Romania after the fall of socialism in 1989. I then pin this process of institutionalizing neoliberalism to the simultaneous rise of Catholic renewal groups in Transylvanian Hungarian communities. In the second and third sections, I shift gears to describe Ambrus and Gizella's slideshow. To capture the diversity of interests that viewers bring to post-Medjugorje slideshows, I give a detailed account of this ritual. But I also give breadth to my account by citing other anthropologists’ accounts of pilgrims’ experiences at Medjugorje and international pilgrimage sites like the Holy Land and the Lourdes shrine in France.2 Ultimately, I strive to show how neoliberal labor's multiple meanings and manifestations help constitute the tense dynamic between consensus and competition present in post-pilgrimage slideshows.

Medjugorje, Cursillo, and Neoliberalism in Romania

Domestic devotional labor is an important part of everyday life for Transylvanian Hungarian Catholic men involved in Church-based renewal movements and groups. The Medjugorje shrine is an especially popular destination for parents involved in the Cursillo or “Fourth-Day Christian” movement (Nabhan-Warren 2013). Begun in 1944 in Mallorca, Cursillo was originally an effort at religious revitalization for Spanish Catholic men. It has now grown worldwide, but the group's original emphasis on providing men with an experiential relationship with Christ, teaching them to testify and witness verbally to their faith, and encouraging them to strengthen family members’ faith remains central (Gagyi 2002; Nabhan-Warren 2013). Ambrus became involved in Cursillo in the early 2000s, and he found Cursillo's emphasis on renewing men's devotional lives powerfully appealing. Cursillo was compelling, in part, because it appeared at a time when the effects of Romania's emerging neoliberal economic and political order were becoming apparent in Ambrus's domestic and interpersonal relationships. When I first met Ambrus, he was living with his family in a village adjacent to a shuttered copper mine in which he had worked as a semi-skilled laborer. While the socialist government's collectivization of rural property in the 1950s had taken away villagers’ ability to convert agricultural property into economic and political capital, rural men like Ambrus still had access to heavy industrial employment, which provided valuable opportunities for masculine performance of the “breadwinner” role (Kideckel 2008; Kligman and Verdery 2011). However, in the 1990s and 2000s, working-class status became increasingly less desirable as industrial laborers—especially miners—were blamed for widespread social unrest, political violence, and environmental degradation.3 With so little left about being working-class that would have appealed to him, Ambrus felt profoundly ambivalent about his class pedigree, and becoming active in Cursillo was one way in which he sought to leave this background behind.4

After the political, economic, and ethical collapse of industrial production in the 2000s, new consumption-mediated models of masculinity rose to prominence in Romania. For Transylvanian Hungarians, the model middle-class man had a “normal” consumer taste that enabled him to surround himself with the proper material qualities (Fehérváry 2002, 2013). In cities, wood paneling and nature scenes were popular as ways of creating a masculine presence in the square, concrete spaces of state-built high-rise apartments that had been coded as “feminine” under the socialist system. Other strategies included purchasing or building weekend cottages and hay-meadow lodges, which middle-class families decorated in a similarly naturalistic and masculine style (Fehérváry 2013). The postsocialist period was also a time of increased Hungarian national sentiment in Transylvania and Hungary. Nationalism gave rise not only to public protests and mobilizations, but also to folk-style domestic decorations that evoked Hungarian national history (Kürti 2000; Losonczy 2009). Cursillo appealed to Transylvanian Hungarian Catholics by tapping into this increasingly consumerist and home-focused notion of masculinity. For instance, masculine domestic consumption and Catholic consumption intersected when Cursillo participants like Ambrus and Gizella set up a home shrine featuring pictures of the Virgin Mary, candles, figurines of Hungarian folk dancers, and strings of Rosary beads. For Ambrus, saying the Rosary with his children at bedtime or before family meals was a way of being a normal middle-class man, a Hungarian, and a Catholic at the same time.

For Transylvanian Catholics who make devotional labor a priority, these efforts are complicated by class considerations as well as by their children's diverse interests in Catholicism. Ambrus's eldest son, Töhötöm, was in his early twenties when I began visiting the Takács family. I could not help but notice that Töhötöm was struggling to find a workable relationship with his father and especially with his father's aspiration to join the middle class. Töhötöm would subversively thumb his nose at his father's domestic habits, and Ambrus would respond by reasserting his authority. When Töhötöm left college without finishing a degree, Ambrus took this as a rejection of his social aspiration through the Church; leaving college also meant leaving the campus's Catholic dormitory. To add insult to injury, Ambrus had pulled strings through his Cursillo connections to get Töhötöm a place in the dormitory. When Töhötöm returned home, he found a job on a construction crew. Although he did not enjoy the work, he liked the company of his coworkers. I asked Töhötöm during this period if he would have gone to work at the mine had it not closed. His reply: “Most of my friends would have been there, so, yeah, I probably would've gone, too.” This inclination contrasted with the unpleasant experience that he had had in the college dormitory. He once expressed his grievance that the priest who ran the dormitory “didn't say a single word to me, not once.” Töhötöm's complaints about this dormitory were veiled criticisms of the cultured Catholic elites whom his father aspired to join.

Beyond work and school, consumption practices also prompted tense interactions between son and father. The symbolically potent nature of the family meal made it a natural venue for Töhötöm's efforts at subversion. I saw Töhötöm sometimes take meals up to his room, a gesture that angered Ambrus. “We eat dinner at the table in this family,” one night he announced when he saw that Töhötöm was heading out the door with a full plate. As on most occasions, Töhötöm was less interested in open conflict than in being a little bothersome; he pretended not to hear and just kept going. For his part, Ambrus was also wary of conflict. Like many Transylvanian Hungarian Catholic parents, he walked a narrow line between encouraging and forcing his children to practice the faith. Parents often told each other to set good examples and pray for their children. They warned that if they pushed too hard, children would be liable to lose interest in Catholicism entirely.5 While Kideckel (2008) has argued that Romania's former industrial workers felt the pain of economic transition as pain in the body-subject, Ambrus experienced neoliberalism intimately and subtly in this interpersonal dynamic involving subversion and the reassertion of authority. For Ambrus, meals and other regular gatherings for the entire family were important venues for performing devotional labor; but he had to tread carefully if he wanted to effectively use these occasions to foster his children's faith.

The Post-Medjugorje Slideshow

On the day that Ambrus and Gizella returned from Medjugorje, as the light was fading in the windows, we gathered in the second-story bedroom where Ambrus and Gizella kept the family's desktop computer. They had returned from Medjugorje earlier that day, and it had been an emotional homecoming. I had spent the morning running errands in a nearby city and then met Ambrus and Gizella at the bus station for the ride home. I was chatting with Gizella as we rounded a turn that revealed a prominent mountain range at the Ciuc Valley's northern edge. Over Gizella's shoulder, I noticed tears on Ambrus's cheeks. Gizella broke into our conversation with heartening words: “It's okay. It's okay to cry.” Our arrival soon after was an occasion for joy. The young children hugged Gizella in the courtyard in front of the house, and calls went inside and up the stairs to the older children to come down. Ambrus and Gizella followed the gendered division of devotional labor for distributing gifts that Kaell (2014) has observed among US Catholic Holy Land pilgrims: women typically buy and give gifts in postindustrial societies, and Gizella took charge of distributing mementos from Medjugorje while Ambrus watched and unpacked (Cheal 1987).

In contrast to the gift-giving encounters, the presentation of the slideshow later that evening saw Ambrus and Gizella equally involved and active. Ambrus sat next to the computer and operated the keyboard to flip between photographs. Gizella was next to him on the same side of the computer. I sat at the back of the room on Töhötöm's bed. He was next to me. The other six children—three girls and three boys—were at the foot of the bed or on chairs around the room. The mood was excited and eager; Ambrus and Gizella clearly relished this chance to perform devotional labor. It was also a chance to translate their deepened but invisible relationship with the Virgin Mary into the visible evidence of photos and souvenirs (Kaell 2014). Ambrus and Gizella spent equal time addressing the whole family and engaging in one-on-one conversations. Both his and her contributions were prominent and directed toward the whole family. Gizella commented freely and offered her own sometimes conflicting interpretations of the photographs. Still, Gizella did demonstrate a greater inclination to be drawn into individual conversations with the children. For instance, Töhötöm spent most of the evening offering skeptical mussitations from the room's outskirts. Gizella, not Ambrus, was the one who would interrupt the slideshow to ask if he had wanted to say something.

Because the photographs began at the start of their trip and continued to the end, there was a vague chronological format to the discussion. But this chronological organization was sketchy at best. Interruptions were frequent, and people often spoke over or around each other. Ambrus flipped backward and forward among the pictures to address specific questions, returning after a time to where he had left off. The children peppered their parents with questions. The presentation seemed to conclude not because they had run out of topics to talk about but because the kids were getting hungry for dinner. Signaling the slideshow's place in their regular pattern of devotional labor, the family finished by praying the Rosary.

The dialogue took shape in the space between what the parents expected the children would find interesting, what they felt the children should find interesting based on the goal of fostering faith, and what actually interested the children. For instance, Ambrus and Gizella spent very little time talking about Medjugorje's seers, the visionaries who see, speak to, and receive messages from the Virgin Mary on the 2nd and 25th of every month. They generally deemphasized personal religious experience. The aspects of the shrine that were the most secret, private, and interior held the least interest for them. In contrast, the sites at Medjugorje that they could use as part of their domestic devotional labor had drawn their focused interest. For instance, Ambrus showed many pictures of a bronze statue of the “Risen Christ” set in the center of a large amphitheater. Ambrus explained that the statue was special because “it weeps.” Drops of water form on the statue's knee even though the statue is made of a dense bronze. “Look here,” Ambrus said as he pointed at a photograph on the computer, “people have lined up. They are selling handkerchiefs. We have one, too. And they wait in front of the statue for a drop to appear. And then they wipe it off and take the handkerchief home.” Ambrus spent another two minutes talking about this statue and the uses to which people put the teardrop-laden handkerchiefs. Ambrus and Gizella typically avoided speaking about the pictures that featured them performing ritual acts. Even in pictures that featured the parents, they avoided pointing themselves out. Instead, they mentioned the other people in their group whom their children knew or interesting figures whom they met at the shrine. In this case, however, Ambrus seemed to make an exception. He showed a series of pictures featuring Gizella in line and then at the foot of the statue with the handkerchief in hand. His exception fit into a general pattern of emphasizing the way that the pilgrimage had been an act of devotional labor. They were very interested in describing aspects of the site that were related to practices they did for others as part of a system of devotional labor.

The pilgrimage experience that most clearly related to Ambrus's sense of his devotional responsibility as a father was also the one that he found most moving. Ambrus and Gizella became emotional when they showed pictures of a house run by the Comunita Cenacolo, an international network of addiction recovery and rehabilitation communities. Ambrus in particular had been amazed to hear the testimonies of the young men who were living there. He had asked one young man: “What can parents do to make sure their kids don't become addicts?” He was even more astounded to find that the young man's father was next to him as he replied: “I don't ask: ‘What should my father or mother have done to prevent me from ending up here?’ But rather I try to find the fault in myself.” Ambrus admitted that he was surprised and hurt by the fact that “he did not answer how I wanted him to. But I realized later that he's right.” Töhötöm found it more than reasonable. “Why wouldn't he be right about it,” he remarked under his breath. For Ambrus, the addicts’ testimonies were just as meaningful as the weeping statue. Hearing them speak about their parents lightened a great burden of anxiety that he had been carrying since long before Medjugorje. He spent so much time describing this encounter and what it had meant to him, in part, so that he could convey a message to Töhötöm. Ambrus was admitting that he could no longer bear the tension in their relationship. He wanted to be able to stand beside his son like the father stood beside the addict at Medjugorje. And Töhötöm seemed to offer a begrudging affirmation that this desire was legitimate.

Throughout Ambrus and Gizella's slideshow, there was little mention of Croatian Catholics’ claim to this pilgrimage site or to Croatian ethnic belonging and identity. Ambrus took one picture of a Croatian national monument. He noted the photograph with a perfunctory remark as if to say: “This doesn't matter.” For my Transylvanian Hungarian friends, Medjugorje was both an international Catholic shrine and an international stage on which Hungarians could demonstrate their value, make claims, and come to grips with profound collective experiences. William Christian and Zoltán Krasznai (2009) point out something similar about the Hungarians who made pilgrimages to the international Lourdes shrine in France after World War I: they traveled abroad to grapple with the national “trauma” of postwar border revisions that had reduced Hungary to less than half its previous size. This approach also extended to my friends’ treatment of the Yugoslavian War. This conflict was not important because it was an interreligious conflict between Christians and Muslims, but rather because it highlighted a problem that hit closer to home. Yugoslavia was an “artificially crafted country,” Ambrus declared. The problems that emerged during the war were the result of these nations being “pressed together.” This would no doubt have been a more compelling interpretation of the Yugoslavian War for these members of the Hungarian ethnic minority in Romania. After all, as Christian and Krasznai (2009) observe, Hungarian ethnic claims on the international stage have often been prosecuted as a grievance against the post-War redrawing of boundaries, which in the words of the Takács family was an imperial gesture akin to the establishment of Yugoslavia, another “artificial creation” like the post-War Hungarian state.

Although Ambrus and Gizella were intent on conveying the message about Medjugorje as a global stage for negotiating Hungarians’ collective wounds and grievances, their attitude did not resemble every aspect of a typical post-trauma mindset. For instance, they did not insist on using their pictures to comment on national identity to the exclusion of other topics and concerns. Ambrus had photographed a line of outdoor confessional stands with different countries’ flags behind them. After Ambrus started in on another description of Medjugorje's international standing, one of their daughters, eight-year-old Ibolya, posed a question that indicated she had a different interest in this image. Ibolya's interest in Medjugorje's confession booths was driven by what Di Giovine and Picard have called “pilgrims’ humanity and individual motivations” (2015: 37). She was preparing for an important life-stage transition. Ibolya broke in to declare: “Katalin said that the confession booth is like a bathroom.” She then paused, waiting for her parents either to reprimand Katalin for this perhaps unfitting comparison or to confirm this interpretation. Ambrus chose the latter. “Yes, it's like a spiritual bathroom,” he agreed. Ibolya's question seemed to arise from her nervousness and curiosity about confession. She had a personal stake in learning as much as she could about this ritual. After all, she would soon be called on to participate herself in this practice that was, although generally familiar, outside the bounds of her direct personal experience. She used her parents’ slideshow about Medjugorje to help ease some of her nervousness about this upcoming experience. Ambrus was perhaps a bit surprised by Ibolya's question. He had intended to use the photograph to show that Medjugorje's organizers publicly acknowledged the site's popularity among Hungarians and, more broadly, that the shrine served as a global stage on which to represent Hungarians’ concerns to the nations; but Ibolya wanted to use the picture to talk the nature of the sacrament of confession. A pervasive trope in research on the contemporary politics of Hungarian history is that Hungarians view the post-World War I peace treaty as a “collective trauma” (Christian and Krasznai 2009; Gerner 2007; Kovács 2016). But scholars often leave it unclear what trauma should signify in terms of specific behaviors or attitudes toward Hungarian history present in everyday life and mundane interactions. The Takács family's interaction about the meaning of Medjugorje for Hungarians shows that, if the post-War treaty is a traumatic memory, it does not always have the retarding or hindering function commonly associated with traumatic memories. When invoked into a conversation, it does not inhibit the retrieval or consideration of unrelated, non-traumatic memories that might also be related to the discussion at hand.6 Thus, Ambrus was able to acknowledge and use Ibolya's alternative and divergent motivation for participating in his post-Medjugorje ritual slideshow.

Seeing, Touching, and Consuming Medjugorje's Panoramas

Ambrus and Gizella had used their eldest daughter's digital camera to take pictures of their trip, and it quickly became clear that Ambrus was still getting used to this consumer technology. For instance, he shot a series of images depicting their arrival at Medjugorje in black-and-white rather than, as he intended, in color. During the slideshow, as Ambrus described the group's entrance to the site, he slipped a parenthetical explanatory comment into his narrative: “The camera was set to black-and-white. I still couldn't handle the camera. I don't know why.” This was not the only series of photos that revealed Ambrus's difficulties using his daughter's digital camera. Using the panorama-style setting that negates foreground imagery in favor of horizons and broad sightlines was also a challenge. He had wanted to take several pictures of the bronze statue in its large, open-air amphitheater. Portraying the line in front of the statue provided material evidence of how long Gizella had to wait, a sign of her commitment to devotional labor and to encouraging the children's faith. Ambrus attempted to take a panorama shot of the amphitheater, but the first few pictures came out blurry. Katalin, their eldest daughter whose camera they had borrowed, then asked: “Is that supposed to be a panorama-style picture?” Ambrus responded: “Yes, I put it on this setting so that I could show how many people there were, but unfortunately I didn't know how to do it. I'll show you later.” When Ambrus finally found a clear photograph of this scene, he stopped to explain it: “So, finally, this is how it looks. This is a proper panorama shot. See how there's such a gigantic square in front of the statue and how packed it is with people?” Meanwhile, Katalin explained how to shift various switches and buttons to trigger the panorama setting. She also explained that the camera had a setting that would compensate for shaking so as to prevent blurriness. Later during an exchange about the camera's zoom lens, Katalin jumped in again to explain the complex hand gestures and movements required to skillfully use this technology: “You need to take your fingers and go like this,” she showed us. “It's not automatic.”

From Mircea Eliade's early writings about the “axis mundi,” mountaintops, and holy places where earth and sky meet, sacred pilgrimage sites have long been associated with panoramic imagery. Dispensing with Eliade's too-broad generalization about the universal human need for a world axis, contemporary scholars of pilgrimage draw on Roland Barthes's research on photography to explain why panoramas appeal to travelers steeped in modern, urban milieus: in the to-and-fro of everyday life—as during a pilgrimage—one is subjected to an overwhelming tidal wave of sensations, experiences, and impulses.7 From panoramic vantage points, Barthes writes, the viewer can “transcend sensation and … see things in their structure” (quoted in Kaell 2014: 86). For Ambrus, seeing things in their structure meant portraying devotional labor as the dominant meaning of Medjugorje. In addition, Ambrus's inexperience with digital cameras reveals the panorama to be both a visual and a tactile practice. That is, the panorama is both a type of photograph and a setting on a digital camera that requires users to palpate their fingers across several complex buttons and switches. Even more importantly, the meaning of the slideshow itself shifted as Ambrus turned his attention toward the simultaneously visual and tactile dimensions of his perception. While a well-crafted panorama will deemphasize or envelope its tactile dimensions within the visual mode, under certain conditions subjects become self-conscious of how they see and touch at the same time.8 According to philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1962), such synesthetic experiencing is characteristic of human beings’ primary and vital synesthetic participation in the world. However, Merleau-Ponty continues, synesthetic experiencing is deemphasized in modernity in favor of organizing perceptual experiencing through a single dominant mode of visual perception.9 In Ambrus's conversation with Katalin, we see that photography occasionally encourages self-conscious awareness of the interweaving of tactile and visual experience. Their discussion drew their attention to the proper way that one should move one's fingers over dials and buttons to set the camera to take panoramic shots. They were attending to the way an effective panorama picture feels to one's fingers. During this exchange, the meaning and purpose of the slideshow shifted from performing devotional labor to learning consumption. Katalin was teaching Ambrus to embody the normal habitus of the middle-class consumer (Bourdieu 1984; Fehérváry 2013). Such instruction would have been unthinkably humiliating at the family dinner table and in other routine contexts of devotional labor. Ambrus would never have submitted himself to learning how to use an unfamiliar eating utensil, for instance. However, the stakes were lower in this one-off and accidental form of devotional labor. In this context, Ambrus willingly turned his attention toward learning a valuable skill associated with middle-class forms of consumption.

Ambrus and Gizella, like many Transylvanian Hungarian pilgrims to Medjugorje, were very much interested in the condition of houses around the shrine. They took as many pictures of houses as of anything else during their trip. When Ambrus told the children to look at a large house under construction in one of the pictures, Gizella commented that “the whole area is like this. Twenty years ago, there wasn't anything around there.” They noted the practice of building houses with stone roofs. When you went inside, they commented critically, it felt like going into a “jail cell.”10 They also pointed out the curiosity of modest homes situated right next to relatively large houses, which they dubbed “palaces.” A version of what Kaell (2014: 140-144) calls pilgrims’ “trash-talk,” which allows American visitors to the Holy Land to debate the significance of the region's relative poverty, Ambrus and Gizella's “house-talk” allowed the family to consider postsocialist economic transformations in neighboring regions. “House-talk” also helped them redirect several skeptical comments from Töhötöm, transforming his complaints into reasons that Töhötöm might want to visit Medjugorje. At one point, Ambrus displayed a picture that included a large department store under construction. Töhötöm jumped in immediately: “Jeez, they're building a huge store from the money they make!” Ambrus's reply sought to justify this project. Ambrus took a moment to find another image: a long line of stores selling devotional objects. “This is what they live off of,” he shot back at Töhötöm. “You have to manufacture devotional objects. This is work,” he declared. Another exchange focused on a series of houses being built by a group of Hungarians at Medjugorje. Ambrus had initially described this project about midway through the slideshow. However, Töhötöm interrupted a few minutes later and asked him to repeat the description. Ambrus flipped back to the picture of these houses, which Töhötöm admitted looked quite nice.

Just then, the older daughter Katalin cracked a joke: “Töhötöm, next time you should go to Medjugorje.” Töhötöm then turned the comment around. “Yeah, you didn't ask if they'll give me a job,” he quipped. Although Töhötöm meant it as an unrealistic suggestion, Ambrus responded earnestly. “Of course, they'll give you a job.” Gizella offered her own statement affirming the Virgin Mary's role in providing this work: “It's the Virgin Mary's will that they should support themselves!” Finally, Ambrus concluded the exchange by flipping back to a previous image:

You remember the last picture I showed you? Where is it … here! This woman, the violinist. She had Hungarians working there. They were working on the house, carvers and painters, making traditional Hungarian gates and such. You could that, too!

In this exchange, Ambrus and Gizella drew out and constructed a particular trajectory of the Medjugorje pilgrimage site's multifaceted meanings. They constructed the site's existing profile not just so that it would appeal to Töhötöm; they also highlighted the features they felt should appeal to their son. In his rebuttal to Töhötöm's joke, Ambrus sought to make Medjugorje an appealing place for his son to visit. His rebuttal hit the mark because it changed the question at the heart of the debate. He made the discussion center on notions of proper work rather than on the problem of mixing consumption and devotion. He was able to make this shift in part because of his familiarity with Töhötöm's pattern of subversive rebellion. Ambrus's argument sought to meet Töhötöm on ground that his son would understand. No one who was out to cheat people, Ambrus seemed to argue, would do it in a way that required such difficult manual labor. The broader message was that while at Medjugorje there might be middle-class pilgrim-consumers with whom Ambrus would want to associate, there were also laborers with whom Töhötöm would feel comfortable.

In the ensuing discussion, Ambrus and Gizella introduced two additional notions. First, Gizella said that it is the Virgin Mary's will that people should perform construction work at Medjugorje. This idea stands out against the well-known willingness among Catholics to mix consumption and devotion at global Marian pilgrimage sites (Kaufman 2005). Gizella's comment suggests that contemporary Transylvanian Hungarian pilgrims to Medjugorje might be popularizing a new way of imagining the Virgin Mary's social role as a vehicle for transforming the ethical meanings of both consumption and production. But Gizella was also careful to avoid violating Catholic sensibilities about forms of religious practice that too obviously mix faith and money-making, or that prevent pilgrims from identifying religious purposes that constitute the real reason for their involvement in commerce (Kaell 2014). She was careful not to say that the Virgin Mary gave them jobs, appeared at Medjugorje just to support business, or was otherwise directly and intentionally involved in economic matters. Gizella offered a more roundabout statement, which she hoped Töhötöm would agree with, that the Virgin Mary wants people to support themselves. Second, in an effort to highlight aspects of Medjugorje that would appeal to his son, Ambrus noted the house that Hungarian artisans were helping build. He believed the structure displayed the beauty and artistry of Hungarian national folk designs for Medjugorje's international visitors. In the process, Ambrus constructed Medjugorje as a global pilgrimage site where laborers in Hungary's cultural industry could showcase their skills. This portrayal shows the influence of the processes by which, according to Edensor (2002), nation-states have capitalized on globalization by administering and commodifying cultural heritage and other “national” values. For some Transylvanian Hungarian pilgrims, Medjugorje resembles a festival or national park—a site where, in Edensor's words, states broadcast and advertise “national wares on the global market” (2002: 28).

But for this pilgrim couple, Medjugorje's status as a global marketplace also had intimate resonances; it was informed by the core tension in Ambrus's devotional labor. Medjugorje's role as a global stage for the nations’ goods took shape against a backdrop formed by the delicate balance between encouraging children to faith and obliging them to practice it. In a sense, Ambrus's statement about and photograph of the Hungarian folk-style house at Medjugorje contained both a manifest and hidden message. On the surface, Ambrus told Töhötöm that at Medjugorje he could find an esteemed job doing national cultural production in one of neoliberalism's global marketplaces. Beneath this, he hoped that spending time at Medjugorje might help lead his skeptical son to faith. In part, the slideshow's loose chronological format facilitated this dual message. Gizella and Ambrus welcomed Töhötöm's interruption and request to return to an earlier part of the presentation, perhaps because they sensed that this memory could make Medjugorje appealing to Töhötöm. In this way, the disorganized character of their memories was generative not intimidating, a benefit to their devotional labor rather than a hindrance. At a time when the changing meaning of working-class labor complicated many parents’ deeply felt obligation to encourage their children's faith, constructing Medjugorje's meanings through post-pilgrimage photographic slideshows offered a productive and engaging ritual context open to parents and children alike.

Acknowledgments

I am grateful to the editors of Journeys and the peer reviewers for their generous comments on this article. My thanks also go out to the editors of this special issue for encouraging my participation in this project. Others who gave valuable feedback and deserve special thanks are Kate DeConinck, Mathew Schmalz, Amy Horning, and Alice Horning.

Notes

1

The lack of advance warning partly explains these presentations’ absence from the ethnographic record. After observing one of these informal slideshows, I took to visiting friends on the day of their return from Medjugorje. I observed several informal slideshows this way. In contrast, for anthropologists bound by ethnography's place-based methodology, it can be a time-consuming distraction to return home with pilgrims to observe these one-off and hastily organized slideshows.

2

Kaell (2014) treats the “Holy Land” as a single pilgrimage site. This practice reflects American Christian pilgrims’ own usage: American Christians do not speak of going on pilgrimage to “Jerusalem,” “Galilee” or “the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,” but rather to “the Holy Land,” a term that stands in for these multiple and diverse venues. In the same way, although pilgrims may visit the Croatian seaside and other sites unrelated to the Medjugorje shrine, they still speak of the trip, including these side journeys, as a “pilgrimage to Medjugorje.” The same practice can be found among pilgrims to Lourdes (Kaufman 2005).

3

The mine was not only evidence of the working classes’ social decline in Romania but also a disgraced symbol of socialist-era economic mismanagement.

4

My point is a narrow one—namely, that consumption is now the key context for performing forms of masculinity. Analyses that seek to determine who are the winners and losers of the postsocialist transition are driven by concerns that fall outside the purview of individuals’ lived experience. That is, publications about ritual and postsocialism have frequently been cast as a debate between those who see social structure and class (Burawoy and Verdery 1999; Creed 2011; Kideckel 2008) and those who see mentality, culture, and psychology to blame for postsocialist subjects’ confusions and interpersonal difficulties. Rather than take sides in this intractable debate, I tend to the lived experience and the struggles, joys, frustrations, and creative gestures that make life meaningful and livable.

5

See Kaell 2014: 179–181 for discussion of a similar dynamic among Euro-descended American Catholics.

6

This behavior is well-attested in behavioral cognitive scientific research. See Kleim, Wallott, and Ehlers 2008.

7

See Korom 1992 for a critique of Eliade's axis mundi concept. Panoramas also help pilgrims feel a sense of belonging to a place that is fundamentally alienated from them. This is the reason why panoramas were useful for the colonial gaze. It is also why Protestant pilgrims to the Holy Land use hilltops to create “optics of assimilation” to distinguish themselves from the locals who live there (Kaell 2014: 86). From the panorama, Kaell argues, the viewing subject is enmeshed in an attitude of distinction and identification, cut off from the world and yet the owner of it. No doubt, this would have appealed to Ambrus and Katalin as they confronted the unfamiliar sights and sounds of Medjugorje's landscape and signs indicating the powerful sense of belonging that Croatians feel in this place.

8

For Merleau-Ponty, through the analytic methods of modern science that associate each sense with a particular organ, a separate neurological sensory pathway, and a particular region of the brain, “we have unlearned how to see, hear, and feel” (1962: 236). By isolating a scene's visual elements from its tactile dimensions, photography encourages both the production and consumption of panoramic scenes according to their visual elements, as if what mattered about them were only their empirical data. Merleau-Ponty continues, “It is a second-order or critical act of vision that attempts to know itself in its particularity; it is the result of an ‘attention to the purely visual’ that I employ when I am worried about being tricked or when I wish to commence a scientific study of vision” (235).

9

Merleau-Ponty famously cites Mayer-Gross and Stein's clinical psychological research on the heightening of synesthesia in the altered awareness produced by mescaline (1962: 265).

10

In keeping with this habit of subverting his parents’ aspirational efforts at middle-class distinction, Töhötöm offered a muttered defense of these houses. “They're used to it,” he murmured from the back of the room.

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Contributor Notes

Marc Roscoe Loustau is Editor of the Journal of Global Catholicism at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He has been conducting fieldwork in Transylvanian Hungarian Catholic communities since 2009. He is currently working on a book about the Our Lady of Csíksomlyó shrine in Transylvania. E-mail: mloustau706@gmail.com

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Journeys

The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing

  • Apolito, Paolo. 1998. Apparitions of the Madonna at Oliveto Citra: Local Visions and Cosmic Drama. Trans. William A. Christian, Jr. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Barbato, Mariano, Chiara de Franco, and Brigitte Le Normand. 2012. “Is There a Specific Ambivalence of the Sacred? Illustrations from the Apparition of Medjugorje and the Movement of Sant'Egidio.” Politics, Religion & Ideology 13 (1): 5373. doi:10.1080/21567689.2012.659487.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Burawoy, Michael, and Katherine Verdery, eds. 1999.Uncertain Transition: Ethnographies of Change in the Postsocialist World. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cheal, David. 1987. “Showing Them You Love Them: Gift Giving and the Dialectic of Intimacy.” Sociological Review 35 (1): 150169. doi:10.1111/j.1467-954X.1987.tb00007.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Christian, William A., and Zoltán Krasznai. 2009. “The Christ of Limpias and the Passion of Hungary.” History & Anthropology 20 (3): 219242. doi:10.1080/02757200903112560.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Coleman, Simon. 2002. “Do You Believe in Pilgrimage? Communitas, Contestation and Beyond.” Anthropological Theory 2 (3): 355368. doi:10.1177/1463499602002003805.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Coleman, Simon. 2014. “Pilgrimage as Trope for an Anthropology of Christianity.” Current Anthropology 55 (10): S281S291. doi:10.1086/677766.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Coleman, Simon, and John Eade, eds. 2004. Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion. London: Routledge.

  • Coleman, Simon, and John Elsner, eds. 1995. Pilgrimage Past and Present: Sacred Travel and Sacred Space in the World Religions. London: British Museum Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Coleman, Simon, and John Elsner, eds. 2003. Pilgrim Voices: Narrative and Authorship in Christian Pilgrimage. New York: Berghahn Books.

  • Cornwall, Andrea, Frank Karioris, and Nancy Lindisfarne, eds. 2016. Masculinities under Neoliberalism. London: Zed Books.

  • Creed, Gerald W. 2011. Masquerade and Postsocialism: Ritual and Cultural. Dispossession in Bulgaria. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Di Giovine, Michael A., and David Picard, eds. 2015. The Seductions of Pilgrimage: Sacred Journeys Afar and Astray in the Western Religious Tradition. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dubisch, Jill. 1996. In a Different Place: Pilgrimage, Gender, and Politics at a Greek Island Shrine. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Eade, John, and Michael Sallnow, eds. 1991. Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage. London: Routledge.

  • Edensor, Tim. 2002. National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life. New York: Berg.

  • Fedele, Anna. 2012. Looking for Mary Magdalene: Alternative Pilgrimage and Ritual Creativity at Catholic Shrines in France. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fehérváry, Krisztina. 2002. “American Kitchens, Luxury Bathrooms, and the Search for a ‘Normal’ Life in Postsocialist Hungary.” Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 67 (3): 369400. doi:10.1080/0014184022000031211.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fehérváry, Krisztina. 2013. Politics in Color and Concrete: Socialist Materialities and the Middle Class in Hungary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Frey, Nancy. 1998. Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago, Journeys along an Ancient Way in Modern Spain. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gagyi, József. 2002. “Vallásos mozgalmak” [Religious movements]. In Antropológiai Műhely: Évkönyv 2000–2001, ed. Juliánna Bodó, 21–47. Miercurea Ciuc: Pro-Print.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gal, Susan, and Gail Kligman. 2000. The Politics of Gender after Socialism: A Comparative-Historical Essay. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gerner, Kristian. 2007. “Open wounds? Trianon, the Holocaust, and the Hungarian Trauma.” In Collective Traumas: Memories of War and Conflict in 20th-century Europe, Conny Mithander, John Sundholm, and Maria Holmgren Troy, eds. 79110. Brussels: Peter Lang.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kaell, Hillary. 2014. Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage. New York: New York University Press.

  • Kaufman, Suzanne. 2005. Consuming Visions: Mass Culture and the Lourdes Shrine. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

  • Karioris, Frank. 2019. An Education in Sexuality and Sociality: Heteronormativity on Campus. New York: Lexington Books.

  • Kideckel, David A. 2008. Getting by in Postsocialist Romania: Labor, the Body, and Working-Class Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kleim, Birgit, Franziska Wallott, and Anke Ehlers. 2008. “Are Trauma Memories Disjointed

  • from other Autobiographical Memories in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? An Experimental Investigation.” Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy 36 (2): 221–234. 10.1017/S1352465807004080

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kligman, Gail, and Katherine Verdery. 2011. Peasants under Siege: The Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949–1962. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
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