First time pilgrim reflects: Medjugorje magic or mystical?
By Katherine Wilson, Hebburn
Our Lady Queen of Peace Image
Mount of Apparition
Silver rosary beads turn gold
Cloud formations take shape of Heavenly figures
Praying in tongues
Tolerated by the Holy See but not finally affirmed.
Recommended by priests and parishioners of who have a deep faith and love of Our Lady.
Unsure of what to make of it all, I wanted to experience Medjugorje in order to make my own judgements. Prior to going, I thought that even if Medjugorje remained a place which made me feel slightly uncomfortable, I welcomed a week where I could pray, reflect, rest and hopefully draw closer to Jesus and Mary. I wanted to pray for a particular intention and for many friends who I knew would be praying for me back home. Some people who knew that I enjoy visiting Lourdes told me in a bemused way, “It is very different from Lourdes” and I felt that I would have to decide which I preferred and wondered if I would remain a “Lourdes girl”.
Apprehensive, excited, hopeful, I was also encouraged by the fact that our Parish Priest, Fr Martin was to be our spiritual director and I knew some people travelling on the pilgrimage. At the airport I met many people who had been to Medjugorje a number of times and who spoke warmly and positively about their experiences.
The conditions for flying were perfect: Heavenly blue sky, cruising above white fluffy clouds; could spot snow-capped mountains below. I took a moment to contemplate in awe and wonder at the beauty of God’s creation. I was no less impressed by the beauty of the journey from Dubrovnik to Medjugorje: the views were spectacular. It was on this journey that we met our guide Slava. She grew up with the visionaries. Slava had been 19 at the time of the first apparition in 1981 and from the outset it was obvious to everyone that she was a woman of deep faith and we benefited not only from her knowledge but by her spiritual direction which she gave in the form of her witness to the Medjugorje story. She began by saying that pilgrims should not come to Medjugorje in search of signs or something to happen and that Medjugorje was not about sensationalism but about drawing closer to Mary and Jesus through prayer, fasting, repentance, scripture, the Eucharist. I instantly liked Slava and thought her advice was sensible.
THE HILL OF APPARITIONS –MNT PODBRDO-THE ROSARY
After the English Mass on Ascension Thursday, we climbed the Hill of Apparition and prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. It was very hot but beautiful and lovely to stop and reflect at each mystery giving us an opportunity to catch our breath from the steep ascent. I had not realised how beautiful Medjugorje would be.
After supper, we attended the rosary, the Croatian Mass and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The number of pilgrims attending Mass and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was certainly a sight to behold. It felt incredible that so many people, of different nationalities had come together to worship. For me, Adoration was particularly powerful and I felt Jesus saying to me “I love you Katherine; I bless you. Thank you for coming.” I felt those words in my heart. Then it was amazing to join, as one, in the singing of the Tantum ergo and Kyrie. Very special, spiritual and powerful.
VISIT TO THE VISIONARY VICKA AT SISTER KORNELJA’S ORPHANAGE
We waited expectantly for Vicka to appear on the balcony to meet the crowds of pilgrims gathered together in the Courtyard at Sister Kornelija’s Orphanage. The message Vicka gave us from Our Lady was ‘just as a plant will not grow without water, neither will our relationship with God develop without prayer. Prayer is needed each day to sustain us’. Whilst I felt that Our Lady’s message to Vicka was genuine, initially I was uncomfortable with Vicka’s style of reporting: she proclaimed Our Lady’s message but as it was being translated into English she would smile, walk around the balcony and wave and blow kisses at the crowds in a “celebrity style” but maybe it was enthusiasm.
THE FEAST OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY –MNT KRIZEVAC (CROSS MOUNTAIN) THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS
A significant day for me as it is my father’s anniversary. One of the Priests offered the Croatian mass for Dad.
We climbed Cross Mountain. Scenery idyllic. Pausing to reflect at each station as we climbed the mountain. Cradled between Podbrdo & Krizevac “Medjugorje” means ‘between in the hills’ and certainly a beautiful place for Mary to appear. I carried a stone up the mountain to place at the foot of cross at the top which symbolised, sin, troubles, and concerns. I carried an additional stone for a friend who could not make it to the top. It was good to leave troubles at the foot of the cross. Descent was slippery but we laughed coming down.
I decided to go to confession and was asked to pray to Our Lady Queen of Peace for the gift of peace and I prayed the ‘ Memorare’, which happens to be my favourite Marian prayer, for this intention and for the intentions of pilgrims in our group.
We went to the Croatian mass and one of the priests offered Mass for my dad. Again there were thousands of people there and my friends and I could not get a seat so we sat on the ground at the front close to the altar barrier. Unexpectedly, an official came along and opened the barrier to allow pilgrims to sit in seats which had originally been cordoned off. I ended up right in the front row. It was magnificent. I prayed for Dad, Mam, family and friends. Praised God for a lovely mass. And prayed that like Mary, I might put my trust in God. ‘ Amazing Grace’ was sung and the verse which stood out for me was:
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
It was a lovely warm evening. I felt Mass had connected me with my confession as I prayed for peace: peace in my life and gave thanks for the peace of knowing Mam and Dad are in Heaven. I felt a real connection with them. I experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon me. Special.
I was beginning to feel that regardless of whether the apparitions were true or not, there is no doubt that Medjugorje is a place of great spirituality, where there is love of Our Lady and love of God.
MIRJANA’S APPARITION – 2nd June
I go to The Blue Cross, Podbrdo for the Apparition, but watched the people flocking to the spot where Our Lady would appear. It made me think about the crowds flocking to hear Jesus preach on the Sermon of the Mount. It strikes me that every generation searches, searches for meaning in life and Christ gives us that meaning. Mirjana’s messages remind us of Christian values and this time we were called to be apostles of Mary and to pray for our shepherds, our priests.
At this point I still found the monthly apparition to be an interesting phenomena.
THE WITNESS OF JAKOV –THE VISIONARY
Jakov delivered his witness through a translator I was struck by his humility. He said he was often asked what Mary looked like and he found this difficult to put into words but he said she had dark hair and beautiful eyes. However, he added that when we pray to Our Lady with open hearts then we see Mary as she reveals herself to us. I loved this image as obviously we can pray to Mary at Medjugorje, Lourdes, any Marian shrine, in our own churches and homes. He talked about how the apparitions did not make the visionaries more special than anyone else in God’s eyes or make it any easier for them to get to Heaven. It was as if the privilege of receiving the vision of Our Lady brought with it a huge sense of duty. He spoke with sincerity and integrity and I knew I believed his witness.
WITNESS OF THE FRANCISCAN FRIARS
They talked much of Fr. Slavko Barbaric OFM Spiritual Director to The Visionaries and Founder of The Mothers Village before his death in 2000. They spoke of their experience of living with the visionaries. It was interesting to hear from people who at first were sceptical, but now believe. I am currently reading a book about Fr Slavko.
BIRTHDAY IN MEDJUGORJE
I celebrated my birthday in Medjugorje and felt this was such a blessing. We celebrated mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Tihaljina. Which holds the famous statue of Our Lady of Grace. The Church, readings and hymns were beautiful. At the end of Mass Fr. Martin invited everyone to kneel before the statue as we sang “As I kneel before you”. I sensed everyone was in deep prayer as Our Lady looked down upon us. I felt Our Lady, Jesus, Mam and Dad wished me ‘Happy Birthday’. At supper that evening I experienced the warmth, generosity and friendship of fellow pilgrims when they gave me birthday wishes, cards, presents and a cake!
The Medjugorje experience certainly was different from the Lourdes experience: not better or worse just different. I felt relieved I didn’t have to make a choice between the two. I do feel that in Medjugorje there is a deep devotion to Our Lady and Christ as evidenced by the thousands who flock to the mountains, Mass, Rosary, Confession and Adoration. I also realise that in praying to Our Lady I might use one of her many titles to suit my mood or intention such as Our Lady of Lourdes or Our Lady Queen of Peace but ultimately I am praying to the Mary the Mother of God and in praying to her with an open heart, I know she will continue to draw me closer to Jesus. I found it to be a spiritual, refreshing, peaceful pilgrimage and thank all of those who encouraged me to go to Medjugorje. It will be an experience which will stay with me always.