Medjugorje Pilgrimage 2000 continued

Wednesday Day 5: After Mass, we meet at 11:45 and board a motorcoach for a 30-minute drive to Our Lady’s Assumption Church in the village of Siroki Brijeg, the parish that Father Jozo Zovko was given after his release from prison in 1983. 

Our Lady's Assumption Church

Siroki Brijeg

Father Jozo was the parish priest in Medjugorje in 1981,when the six village children relayed visions of the Virgin Mary.  This brought on communist oppression in the village and Father Jozo’s torture and imprisonment.  He is building a Renewal Center to provide for a convent and school where the Franciscan Sisters will educate children without parents.  The children will come from a growing list of 3,700 war victims.   

We are late for Father Jozo’s talk, for the previous group detained our coach, and the church is filled to capacity, so we stand, kneel, or sit on the floor where we can.  Father Jozo speaks of the early days of the apparitions and gives a rich spiritual insight into the meaning of Medjugorje.  After he finishes, several priests pass among us and invoke each of us with the Holy Spirit.  Afterwards, I see many people lying on the floor “slain by the Spirit,” in a semi-conscious state of peace.  Later I heard one say, “It was as if someone gently nudged me, and I went down.”   I am content to stay on my feet.

Thursday Day 6: At 4:45 a.m. part of our group leaves to climb Krizevac (Cross Mountain) while Quenton and I sleep.  (We know when we’re well off, for the climb is long and difficult, the stones deep and sharp.)  They return at 9:00 for breakfast.  Tricia said they had prayed the devotion of the Way of the Cross along the grace-filled path and its15 bronze relievos with the image of Our  Lady in each.  Just as they reached the top and prayed the final station, Jesus’ resurrection, the sun cleared the horizon.  Then each separated to pray in silence at the place where it is said the Blessed Mother prays to her Son each morning at 5:00 a.m.  Only later do we learn that Steve went back up the mountain this day for the ones of us (Quenton and I, Betty and Benny) who could not climb it.   

Our group is invited to give the scripture reading, the special intentions, and to lead the singing for the 10:00 English Mass.  Everyone seems surprisingly relaxed about this, which does not include me.  Father Royce is the principal celebrant of the Mass, while the rest of our group sits in the choir section.  We have chosen the songs, and Steve announces the page number of the first one, and we bravely belt out its first stanza.  Suddenly, we hear, “Stop, we haven’t started the Mass yet,” and we see that a Franciscan priest is staring at us. Tricia glances at me and grimaces, but we struggle through the songs (without accompaniment), the readings, and the intentions, and some of us manage to laugh about it, a little.

Later, Tricia climbs up Apparition Hill alone, taking a second separate path for the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.  Quenton and I put on our white sun hats and set out for a walk.  We visit the small Information Center; its archives show 380 reports of healings, a large number of these documented by the church.  We walk further and stop to admire a lush, prolific field of grapevines.  Wine will be plentiful this year. 

Someone said “Visit the cemetery; it’s a great place for prayers.”  Quiet it is.  Located not far behind the church, a rough, rocky path leads us to the site where massive, handsome, marble stones, many with pictures of the deceased, serve as markers. (Marble is widely used in this area for all purposes since little wood is available, while nearby are huge deposits of this crystallized limestone.) The graves lie in vaults above ground because of the rocky terrain. 

We return to the village, enter the courtyard, and pause at the beautiful statue of Our Lady in Carrara marble by Italy’s Dino  Felici in 1988.  He created the statue from descriptions given by the visionaries.  Tricia and Ron photographed the figure, as an elderly and weathered Croatian man made his way around the statue on his knees while praying the rosary. 

Friday Day 7:  At 9:00 a.m. we walk again to the large building for a talk by Franciscan Father Slavko Barbaric, the gentle, humble, spiritual advisor of the visionaries.  He sits in the front of the room in his simple brown simple robe with its hood, sandals, and the white rope around his waist.  He speaks forcefully of the apparitions and the messages of Our Lady.  His humor shines through as he says, “I thought I had heard all the excuses for not fasting until the pilgrims came.”  In speaking of the Blessed Mother, he notes, “First she asked this much of me,” and he sticks up his little finger.  “Then she asked this much of me,” and he holds up his thumb.  “Finally she asks this much,” and he grabs his throat with both hands.”

Born in Dragicina in Croatia in 1946, Father Slavko was ordained in 1971.  His studies led to a doctorate in Religious Pedagogy, and studies in Psychotherapy.  In 1982 he began working with pilgrims in Medjugorje, speaks all over the world (in five languages), and writes books on the Spirituality of Medjugorje.

Father Slavko saw a need after the military conflict (1991-1995) for someone to care for the children left without parents or in dysfunctional families. The “Mother’s Village” in Medjugorje answers that need.  Four five-bedroom houses lodge eight children, a Franciscan sister, and adult caretaker. 

After Father Slavko’s talk, we hurry back for the 10:00 English Mass and afterwards I visit briefly with our host, Dragan.  He was born in Medjugorje in 1961 and left shortly with his parents for Sarajevo.  After finishing college there and becoming an attorney, he gave up his profession to return to the village in 1989 where he owns his house and a successful shop, “Souvenir Shop No. 1.” 

In regard to the schools, the children attend from 7:30 to 12:30 and are taught English, advancing to the eighth grade.  The rest of their day is filled with work, lessons, and sports.  Only recently do some of the homes have television, and parents strictly monitor its programs.  Dragan's children are allowed to choose two programs per day and very few, if any, American movies.  The people are intensely family oriented and have firm restrictions on dating and marriage. Perhaps this accounts in part for the lack of divorce, abortion or crime in the village. 

Dragan explained that construction of any kind is minimal for no loans are available, and one must do his own work as he is able.  I asked who is in charge of the village when street work, etc. is needed.  Dragan looks a little surprised and answers, “No one, if work is needed, we get together and do it.” 

At  1:30 we leave by taxis for a short distance to “Community Cenacolo, the Field of Life,” a rehabilitation center for drug addicts and lost youths.  We enter the small chapel that is dominated primarily by the dazzling and beautiful icon that covers the wall behind the altar.  Three young men of the Community painted this lovely image, each color and object symbolic of the resurrection.   

Community Cenacolo

Chapel Icon

I am anxious to learn more about this unusual center—the success rate is nearly 95%.  Two young men give their testimonies which are stark, yet poignant and uplifting.  Each came from an affluent family who gave them all the things they wanted.  Soon they had nothing more to want, except drugs. The boys relate their achievements with pride in the years they have called Cenacolo home.  As they speak of Sister Elvira, one can sense the respect, love and gratitude they feel for her.  Only later did I learn about this unique, loving, and totally dedicated woman who proclaims to all those who live in darkness that only Jesus Christ can heal and transform their shattered lives.

Elvira Petrozzi, the fourth of seven children, entered the “Sisters of Love” at 19.  She feels that God called her to serve the young men and women who live in despair and without hope.  At the age of 46, she founded the community in 1983 near Cuneo in Northern Italy. Today 60 communities are spread throughout the world and accommodate about 1200 youths (there are 70 boys at Medjugorje from 18 nations and more boys are coming).  Once they are accepted, they are free to leave, but they stay at least three years.  On November 1, 2000, a house for drug-addicted girls was opened and blessed in Medjugorje.

The community receives no support from public institutions, and this is its choice.  It is primarily self-supporting with a bakery, metal shop, and workshop, where they make religious articles.  The boys grow their food, do their own cleaning, wash their own clothes, and in fact, constructed the dwelling themselves. The atmosphere of friendship and respect helps them to feel accepted and to come to terms with life. The parents pay nothing, though they are urged to participate in various ways with the healing process. 

The “treatment” is work and prayer. Nothing more.  No medication is given, no psychologists or psychiatrists treat their symptoms.  Each “new boy” is assigned a guardian angel, an “old boy” who stays with him 24 hours a day, goes through the withdrawal process with him, listens to him, and prays intensely with him. They feel that only those who have suffered can understand and help one another.   

We leave Cenacolo and return to the village for a short rest. About 8:30 p.m., after the Rosary and Mass, we begin a walk to the “Blue Cross” where the visionaries met in secret for apparitions during the communist persecution.  Ivan is to receive an apparition tonight about 10:00.  The cross is hidden from the road, not far from the base of Apparition Hill. It is dark, and we carry flashlights and jackets for it is quite cool.  Hundreds of people have gathered near the cross, and we stop as near as possible and sit and wait.  About 10:15, Ivan approaches and tells us that Our Lady appeared further up the mountain; she left no special message, but blessed each of us, our families, and any religious articles we carried. 

By now, our tour members have become quite close.  We are very different in ages, occupations and personalities, yet we share a common bond, our love of God that brought us to Medjugorje.  The first day we drew names for secret prayer partners, and today we reveal our partners. Tricia drew Father Royce, “a piece of cake.”  I had drawn Steve’s name, an easy one for I had learned a lot about him. This was Steve’s third trip to Medjugorje; it was Darrell’s second.  I asked Darrell why he came again and he said, “It was the only place I went where I wanted to return.  It’s a fascinating, holy and glorious place. It saddens me deeply that many people will not become interested enough to at least explore the spiritual rebirth that is occurring here.” 

Saturday Day 8: The weather is delightful clear and moderately warm, typical of the whole week. Today is a “light activity” day, with church services, shopping and visiting.  After breakfast, Father Royce, a retired priest who served the Church for 25 years in Rome, gave us gifts of the brown scapular, medals, and prayer cards.  This brings to my lazy mind that I have not gone to Confession here although the others in our group have.  My remark that confession is good for those who need it gets only a feeble laugh.   

I join a group of four at a table awaiting the arrival of an English-speaking priest (each confessional has a sign denoting the language…Italian, German, etc.)  Two in the group are from Ohio (the lady is Croatian), one is a man from Pennsylvania who suggests with a wink that we go to a priest who does not speak English, “We can dump it all and leave.”  The fourth is a young Frenchman who speaks English well, bombarding us with questions about President Clinton. 

Suddenly, a middle-aged blonde woman with an air of great agitation plops down beside me, and I turn to greet her. She is in no mood for small talk. 

 “I was just here yesterday,” she fumes. 

“And you’re back already?” 

“Yes, I was standing behind a man in church, and he prostrated himself right in front of me, and I just let him have it.” 

“Oh my!  Well, why don’t you just look around in the courtyard and flag down a priest?” 

“Good idea,” she says, and off she goes. 

I note that the line in front of the confessional is short, and I rise to stand in line and assume a reflective mood.  A young man, clean-cut, his mannerism composed and quiet, stands in front of me.  He turns to me and begins speaking, “I’ve been here three days now…I’m from Oregon.” 

“What brought you here?” I asked. 

“I’m not a good Christian.  I came to see if I could find my faith.”  He stops speaking and looks toward the church for a moment.  “It’s all so moving…I find myself crying.  I don’t cry, you know…”

“I do know.  I cry here too, unexpectedly.”  Impulsively I reach out and hug him, and he whispers, “Thank you.” 

The priest in the confessional is Irish American, relaxed and easy to talk with, and I am out of there in a matter of minutes.  I join the group while Steve is telling us he will give us a wake-up call at l:30 the next morning.  We will have breakfast, and an hour later  board the motorcoach to Split and the start of the flight back home. 

After the Croatian Mass, Miki entertains us with his guitar and songs in English and Croatian, some he had written himself.  Miki previously had a band that became quite popular and prominent, but he had to choose between his band and serving as tour guide for the many pilgrims who come to Medjugorje.  He now heads the Association of Guides that provides services to the pilgrims. 

Sun. Day 9: We leave at 2:30 a.m. as planned, ride in the darkness to daybreak and arrive in Split.  A Croatian plane flies us to Zagreb, a beautiful city of nearly a million inhabitants and the capital of the Republic of Croatia.  Its rich heritage traces to the early Romans whose military camp was destroyed by the Avars (people related to the Huns) in 6th Century. 

From Zagreb, we fly to Paris, deplane, and board a Continental plane for a return to Texas.  We land in Houston and then, finally, fly home. Though I love my life, my family, my home, I am reluctant to leave the spiritual aura of Medjugorje and to abruptly begin my usual routine.  I cannot look at a newspaper, watch television or enter completely into my former ways.  Many “things” do not interest me, and I wonder why they once did.  I ease into a modified routine, but the memories and the spiritual treasurers linger and do not fade…and the words still continue to form…these… 

Life is so daily--the obstacle course of life blocks our path to serenity, while Our Lady’s pleas for prayer, fasting, faith, and conversion, offers an outlet.  And ultimately, the promises of God reward us. 

One more thing: money.   Monetarily, the trip to Medjugorje was modest.  The Mediatrix Tours (based in Plano, TX) was reasonably priced and first class in every respect. The only costs not included were airport taxes, lunches, a gift to host family (optional), tips to guides/bus drivers (total $32 per person), and of course, personal items. 

Moreover, while there, during all the many events we attended, no one asked us for contributions in any form.  A place to drop in money did not exist.  We attended church services twice a day, yet no one passed the collection basket except once on Sunday night at St. James Church and once at Father Jozo’s Church for the Renewal Center for children.  (I kept thinking what a killing they could make with these millions of pilgrims.) 

In the rehabilitation community of Cenacolo, donations were not mentioned either verbally in the center or in any written books or leaflets pertaining to it.   

Not even the taxi drivers waited for or reached out a hand for tips.  We placed a tip on the table of a small restaurant that we entered for dessert and coffee.  The waiter saw us, smiled and returned it. 

All together, Medjugorje was a once-in-a-lifetime experience of richness, discovery and blessings. 

Would we return? 

Just name the day. 

Next:  The Changing Medjugorje

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Comments:  Elleta Nolte ,  Copyright © 2006