Something is Happening in Medjugorje

This post is dedicated to the many Catholics in my wife’s family and to any of the religious faithful who may find meaning in this story.*

The Church in Medjugorje is a humble site.  The influx of tourist dollars has made possible the complete reconstruction of the Church of St. James.

The Church in Medjugorje is a relatively humble site. The influx of pilgrimage donations has made possible the complete reconstruction of the Church of St. James, patron saint of pilgrims.

Our visit to the Catholic pilgrimage site of Medjugorje (made zhu GORE yeh) was something special and emotional for my wife, Florence.  I found the place to be interesting.  Mostly, I was moved by how spiritual it seemed, like an aura you can feel more than you can see.  And that is how I would best describe my beliefs – spiritual but not religious.  I always have felt closer to God in the wilderness than in a building, no matter how spectacular the architecture.  Perhaps that is because the wilderness reminds me of what God created and a church or cathedral makes me think of what man has created.

The altar outside the church has seating for 7,000 people and large screen televisions to carry the worship service from inside.

The altar outside the church has seating for 7,000 people and large screen televisions to carry the worship service from inside.

Medjugorje, a remote, humble village in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is the home of the six visionaries who, as children in 1981, threw the village into turmoil as they recounted their encounter with the apparition of the Virgin Mary.  The children are grown now, and they each still receive regular messages from the Holy Mother.  To understand more of the story, I purchased a book written by Sister Emmanuel entitled Medjugorje, Triumph of the Heart, an updated edition of her first book, Medjugorje of the 90’s.  The book is a collection of experiences of some of the people who made the pilgrimage to Medjugorje during the 90’s.  The Catholic Church has made no official statement about the site.  At this time they do not endorse pilgrimages led by priests.  Unofficial pilgrimages, which may include ordained priests, are permitted.  To this day over a million people each year travel from around the world to Medjugorje. 

I have chosen one story from Sister Emmanuel’s book to share.  When I first read this story it touched me with its simplicity.  I hope you enjoy it.

It’s Me – Paul!

(This story as related by a French priest at St. Jacques Church, is meant to illustrate ‘prayer with the heart’, to pray as children often do – simply, without much formal training.)

Paul spent most of his time out in the open, so he really appreciated the porch of St. Jacques Church, where he used to beg.  His most constant companion was a bottle of wine.  Among his many illnesses, he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, another faithful companion.  You could tell by the color of his face.  People in the neighborhood expected him to disappear sooner or later.  However, nobody showed much interest in him.

Confessions are offered in five languages by the priests at Medjugorje.

Confessions are offered in five languages by the priests at Medjugorje.

One good-hearted lady of the parish, Mrs. N., had initiated some dialogue with him, and in so doing she was saddened by the terrible loneliness she discovered in this man.  She had also noticed that, in the morning when no one else was around, he would leave his spot at the entry to the church and go inside, sit on a front row pew, and face the altar.  He would just sit there and do nothing.

One day Mrs. N remarked to him, “Paul, I have seen you walk into the church many times.  But what do you do while sitting there?  You have no rosary, no prayer book, and you even doze a little.  What do you do?  Do you pray?”

Paul replied, “How could I possibly pray!?  I can’t even remember a word of the prayers I was taught in Sunday school when I was a kid!  I have forgotten everything!  What do I do?  It is simple.  I go to the altar where Jesus is all alone in his little box and I tell him, ‘Jesus!  It’s me, Paul!  I have come to see you.’  And then I just sit there for awhile to show I am around.”

Candles are lit at an outside grotto with Christ on the cross and a fountain below.

Candles are lit at an outside grotto with Christ on the cross and a fountain below.

The days came and went as usual.  Mrs. N. never forgot what Paul had told her.  One day, as was bound to happen, Paul had disappeared.  Was he sick?  Had he died?  Mrs. N. decided to find out.  When she finally located Paul in a local hospital he looked terrible.  Poor Paul was covered with surgical tubing.  His complexion was gray and pasty.  He looked like he was ready to die, and the medical prognosis was not optimistic.

The next day she returned expecting to hear bad news.  But no!  There was Paul sitting bolt upright in his bed, clean-shaven, looking fresh and completely changed.  He wore an expression of immeasurable joy emanating from his face.  He looked radiant.

Mrs. N. rubbed her eyes.  She could not believe what she was seeing.  Without a doubt she was looking at Paul.  She exclaimed, “Paul, this is unbelievable!  You are not the same person anymore.  What happened to you?”

“Well, it all happened this morning.  I wasn’t too well, you know.  Suddenly, I saw someone enter my room.  He came in and stood at the foot of my bed. He was handsome… so handsome you cannot even imagine!  He smiled and me and said, ‘Paul!  It is I, Jesus!  I’ve come to see you!’”

A statue of St. Mary stands in a courtyard outside the Church of St. James.

A statue of St. Mary stands in a courtyard outside the Church of St. James.

*Note:  You do not need an appointment to visit Saint Mary.  Nor do you need to travel to Medjugorje.  She has given the message that she will make her presence known every 24 hours.  Anyone who wishes to seek communion with her should know that she presents herself daily at 6:40 p.m. local time in Medjugorje.  That is 9:40 a.m. Pacific Time, 12:40 p.m. Eastern Time in the U.S.  There is daylight savings time in Bosnia, so these times are correct when the time zones mutually experience daylight savings time.  People around the world are invited to join with her at this time, and tens of thousands do so every day.

Do you have a special story or comment to share?  Don’t be shy.  I want to know what you have to say.

Within Bosnia Beats a Beautiful Heart

The iconic symbol of Mostar Stari Most or The Old Bridge is renovated after its destruction in 1992 by pro-Serbian forces.  The cross in the background sits atop Hum Mountain.

The iconic symbol of Mostar, Stari Most or The Old Bridge is renovated after its destruction in 1992 by pro-Croatian forces. The cross in the background sits atop Hum Mountain.

Before we set out on our weeklong visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, our Croatian tour guide friend, Biljana, informed me that we would find the Bosnians to be among the warmest and kindest people we would ever meet.  That was encouraging because I had no idea what to expect.  Neither Florence nor I have spent time in strongly Muslim countries.  It felt strange and exotic and we quickly felt at ease.

The 16th century Dervish monastery, Tekija Bragaj, is built overlooking the largest natural spring in Europe.

The 16th century Dervish monastery, Tekija Bragaj, is built overlooking the largest natural spring in Europe.

In the United States, we have a perception that Muslims do not like us.  We hear words like The Great Satan and infidel attributed to people from nations we call enemies.  This is the insidious tool of media that helps formulate public opinion.  Our tour guide, Selmir, stated it best when he said, ‘The only thing real on television is Animal Planet.’  On our tour of beautiful sites, Selmir told me a marvelous story of how the true Muslim people accept all others.

Overlooking the Neretva River from the fortress tower in the 13th century town of Počitelj.

Overlooking the Neretva River from the fortress tower in the 13th century town of Počitelj.

When Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis Powers led by Hitler’s German forces, the Jews living in Mostar knew their synagogue was going to be destroyed.  To preserve the building the Mostar Jews donated their synagogue to the City of Mostar to be used as a public theater which it remains to this day.  Since World War II the Jews in Mostar have not had their own synagogue.  In recognition of the sacrifice made by the Jews to preserve their holy site, the Muslims decided to build them a new synagogue.  This story is remarkable when you take into account that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are generally poor.*  I found this story all the more extraordinary when I was told that there are just 43 Jews still living in Mostar according to their most recent census.  When was the last time we heard a story of such respect between Muslims and Jews?

The Roman Villa Mogorjelo was built to provide agricultural goods to Narona, a 1st century Roman stronghold.

Villa Mogorjelo was built to provide agricultural goods to Narona, a 1st century Roman stronghold.

Overlooking the City of Mostar is Hum Mountain.  In 2000, the Catholic Diocese of Mostar had a 120 foot tall cross erected overlooking Mostar which is illuminated at night.  While the cross is said to represent the devotion of Christians to their savior and serve as a symbol of peace to the world, it is also seen by some as a symbol of triumphalism in Mostar by the Catholic Church due in part to the destruction inflicted on Mostar by artillery fire from Hum Mountain by pro-Croatian forces.  When I asked Selmir about the cross and what it might mean to non-Catholics in Mostar, he shared an anecdote:

A reporter asked a Muslim grandfather what he thought of the cross overlooking Mostar.  The old man replied, ‘I think it is a big plus (+).’  The reporter asked a Muslim grandmother the same question.  She replied, ‘It is nice, but the moon and stars are still higher.’  (The crescent moon and stars are symbols of Islam.)  The reporter then asked a young Muslim guy what he thought of the cross.  The young fellow replied, ‘There is a nice road leading to the top of the hill.  It is a nice spot for a picnic and a good place to meet Catholic chicks.’

Looking through the mist of Klavice Falls at its highest water level of the year.

Looking through the mist of Klavice Falls at its highest water level of the year.

It is sort of a funny story and it also provides a glimpse into the hearts of the local Muslims.  They are a loving and peaceful people.  They are tolerant of the views of others.  While young people will cross the river that divides Mostar mainly along Muslim and Catholic lines, the older generation will not cross the river. These are the people who are old enough to remember the war which ended less than 20 years ago. These people are also the victims of resentment by those who believed the media propaganda that originated with Serbian President Slobodan Milošević and his culture war against ‘The Turks’, his label for Muslims who have lived in Bosnia for 500 years. 

I asked our well-educated young tour guide in Sarajevo what she foresaw for the future of Bosnia.  She replied, ‘I don’t know.  The future looks too foggy.’

*Note: Unemployment rate: 44.8%, Youth unemployment rate: 57%, Average income: ~$850/month (Source: tradingeconomics.com)

Expat in Croatia