Blog Post

The Troubling History of Caritas of Birmingham

KH asks: "I have a question about Terry Colafrancesco from Caritas of Birmingham, Alabama. They go under the name of 'The Friends of Medjugorie.' I heard bad things about them, occult like. His name is connected to Wayne Weible, the orginial author of the Book, Medjugorie. Do you have information about Terry and Caritas?"

Caritas Community photo

Yes. I found quite a bit of information about Colafrancesco and Caritas and most of it is very disturbing.

For starters, you might want to review the history presented in this series of articles contained in the library of cult investigator, Rick Ross.

From what I have read, the founder of Caritas, Terry Colafrancesco, became associated with Medjuorgje during a visit to the Bosnian village where Mary is alleged to be appearing since 1981. It was during this visit that he met one of the visionaries, Marija Pavlovic Lunetti.

Colafrancesco, a former landscape excavator, eventually quit that work and set up a non-profit called Caritas of Birmingham which is dedicated to spreading the news about the visions of Our Lady at Medjugorje. In 1988, he in invited Lunetti to stay on his family farm. She has visited the farm 11 times since then, with the last visit occurring in July, 2012.

Needless to say, the visit of one of the six Medjugorje visionaries is more than enough to make Caritas a favorite pilgrimage site for thousands of Catholics whenever she's in town, even though Colafrancesco's outfit is not connected to the Church in any way and the local bishop has forbidden priests to celebrate Mass there.

To date, more than 60 people volunteer at the 130-acre site in Shelby County, Alabama and work year-round promoting trips to Medjugorje. The property houses a new $8 million printing press, office buildings, chapel, gift shop, and mobile homes to house the community members. Many of these members gave up all of their worldly possessions to move to Caritas and support the ministry. They operate a school, a sawmill, a gift shop and a farm in connection with the Tabernacle of Our Lady's Messages, a shrine Colafrancesco's followers built on the site.

Neither the visions nor the tabernacle are recognized by the Birmingham Diocese.

Colafrancesco's troubles began when former followers began to sue him, charging him with everything from brainwashing to engaging in fraud, misrepresentation, undue influence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. One of these suits was settled out of courts and others were dismissed. Caritas won $2 million in a case against a California cult-hunter named Philip Kronzer; however this was not a judgment based on the merits of the case but because Kronzer violated the confidential seal of a 2005 lawsuit.

For an example of a typical complaint by a former member, click here.

That at least some of these allegations might be true is attested to the fact that Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network, which is located nearby, has always discouraged people from going there.

Aside from the fact that the Church has not approved the apparitions at Medjugorje, and that Catholics are under no obligation to believe personal revelation of any kind, I see no reason why someone would seek out an organization with such a long and troubling history in order to be encouraged in the faith.  Why risk it?