The Visionaries – The First Days
Medjugorje, tucked between the hills in Eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, was so small and so remote that it was unlisted on maps and unknown in its homeland until recently when it became one of the most known and visited places in the world.
Even during a portion of the brutal ethnic war between the Serbian and Croatian Armies (1991-1995), pilgrims flocked to Medjugorje, and not a single visitor came to harm. In September 1991, however, the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade called Medjugorje and notified all Americans to leave immediately, sanctions against Yugoslavia would start, and the borders could be sealed within 48 hours. The flow of pilgrims diminished but even then, did not stop.
By this time, the Yugoslavian Army had begun to deliberately target monasteries, churches, and convents (under pretext that they contained weapons). The total destroyed in Bosnia reached 350 during the conflict. In the coastal city of Split, its cathedral was hit from eight directions. When would the bombs fall on St. James Church in the little village? The situation worsened steadily as nearby towns were shelled, leaving a half million people homeless and wandering. How long before this horror reached Medjugorje?
years earlier, the Blessed Mother had urged the visionaries repeatedly,
”Tell the people to pray, pray,
pray. Prayers can stop wars.
Pray, fast, convert, repent, and forgive.
The people prayed, their village remained safe, and in
1993, gradually the pilgrims began to eke back into Medjugorje to join the
prayers. Most of the intense
prayers were offered, as they are today, at three sites:
James Church: The celebration of the sacred Mass remains the most
impressive of all the events here. In
addition, many diverse religious events are scheduled throughout the year. Included are
specific pilgrimage groups, conferences, seminars, retreats, the
International Peace Walk and the Seventh International Youth Festival (the
last one, July 31-August 6, 2000, drew 15,000 youths).
Another site is Podbrdo (Apparition) Hill where the Blessed Mother appeared to the six children. The hill is rocky, dry, steep, and thorny bushes grow between the rocks. On the ascent, images in cast bronze portray the decades of the Rosary. Halfway up the path is a place called Lovetina where pilgrims erected a large wooden cross, site of the third apparition.
At the top is a large aluminum cross with rocks piled high, represent the intentions of pilgrims who placed them there. Other crosses, laden with holy pictures, family photos and bits of paper listing petitions are pushed into crevices. Normal ascent time is about ten minutes, but for those barefoot or on their knees, or the old or crippled, the climb can take much longer. On Sunday afternoons, the community recites the rosary here.
A third specific site for prayers is Krizevac (Cross) Mountain, where in 1933, the people erected a 28 ft. high, 15-ton cement cross, lugging water and cement in their hands or on backs over the steep, stony path to the top of the 1770 ft mountain. In the crossbar is a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The cross speaks silently of his suffering, our penance and atonement and of the people’s faith and love of God even before the apparitions began. Along the way are 15 bronze images, depicting the Stations of the Cross. The cross is often called “The Calvary Cross” representing the suffering of Christ.
The people believed that if they built a cross on this highest mountain to honor the 1900th anniversary of the Crucifixion, storms would not wipe out their crops each year; and this proved to be true. Climbing the rocky and difficult path to the Cross requires about 30 - 45 minutes. The villagers pray in a procession up the mountain each Friday afternoon.
These same devout people, startled and frightened at first when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared, began to believe and comprehend that she came to the village to love, protect and guide them. What were the first few days like in June 1981 on the Feast of St. John the Baptist when she first appeared to the children? How did they and their families cope with the enormity of the events?
First Day, Wednesday, June 24: About six o’clock in the afternoon on Podbrdo Hill, six youngsters, four girls and two boys, saw a young woman indescribably beautiful, joyous and smiling. She held the Christ Child in her arms and beckoned them to come closer. But surprised and afraid, they ran away although they immediately thought her to be the Blessed Virgin Mary (or Gospa as the Croatians call her). They ran quickly to tell their families who challenged their stories, “How dare you suggest you have seen the mother of God. It’s a sin. Why would she come here?” The children were at a loss to explain; they only knew they had seen the Blessed Gospa.
Second Day, Thursday, June 25: The young people, Ivanka Ivankovic, 15; Mirjana Dragicevic, 16; Vicka Ivankovic, 17; Ivan Dragicevic, 16; Marija Pavlovic, age 16; and Jakov Colo, 10, followed by about fifteen people, arrived at the hill in hopes of seeing the Madonna again. Suddenly a light flashed, seen by all the people, but only the children saw the Blessed Mother, this time without the child. Immediately, Ivanka asked her about her mother who had died two months previously. She replied that she was in heaven. Mirjana asked her for a sign so that people could see they were not lying or deranged as some had already started to assert. Our Lady assured her, “Have no fear.” She dismissed the children with the words, “Goodbye, my angels.”
The children told the stories over and over and described Our Lady as wearing a gray dress and a white veil. She had dark hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and her face radiated with love and joy. Twelve stars surrounded her head, and she rested on a small cloud. But few believed the children, and the families continued to worry. Perhaps the children were being manipulated. Who told them to tell these stories—they could only lead to trouble. Yet the parents agreed that the children did not lie.
Third Day, Friday, June 26: News of the apparition spread fast among the five villages of the parish of Medjugorje, and several thousand people gathered on the hillside. The children knelt to pray. Soon, a light flashed three times, and the Blessed Mother appeared a bit higher up on the hill. Vicka, whose grandmother had given her some holy water, sprinkled the apparition and said, “If you are Gospa, stay with us; if not, go away from us.” Our Lady smiled and remained. Then Mirjana asked, “What is your name?” and she replied, “I am the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Ivan asked her why she had come and she answered, “To convert and reconcile the whole world.” On the way down the hill, the Madonna appeared again, this time crying, with a dark cross behind her, and only to Marija. She said, “Peace, peace, peace and only peace. Peace must come to reign between God and man, between man and man.” On this day all the people saw the children in ecstasy, bathed in a strange, mystical light, and from that moment, they began to believe them.
Fourth Day, Saturday, June 27: A large crowd followed the children, so many they
could scarcely move among them. Again
they prayed, and Our Lady appeared as before.
Mirjana and Jakov asked her to leave a sign, and she replied, “Have
no fear. Pray the rosary.”
Asked if she would come again, she nodded yes. In parting, she said, “Goodbye,
my angels. Go in peace.”
Fifth Day, Sunday, June 28: Some fifteen thousand people gathered, and at the usual time of six o’clock, the Blessed Mother appeared again. Vicka asked, “My dear Gospa, what do you want from us?” Our Lady replied, “Let the people pray and believe firmly.” Vicka asked, “What do you want from our priests?” She replied, “Let them believe firmly and help others to do the same.” Asked again why she came, she replied, “There are many devoted believers here. “How long will you stay?” they asked. She smiled and said, “As long as you want me.” Still troubled, Jokov and Mirjana again asked for a sign for the people, and she replied, “My angels, there has always been injustice. You must not be afraid.”
The Communist authorities in nearby Citluk, alarmed at this strange movement called “Gospa” that might be a political plot, took action. On June 29th, the sixth day, they took the children to the police station at Mostar and questioned them intensively, after which a doctor examined them and declared them to be normal, healthy children. Frustrated, the authorities sent for Father Jozo Zovko, the Franciscan pastor of St. James Church in Medjugorje. They ordered him to stop the gatherings and that they would hold him accountable, but he did not respond.
“Preposterous!” the authorities concluded, “For 40 years we have been taught that God does not exist, and here in one instance God’s mother arrives. Impossible! If God does not exist neither does his mother. The children must be unbalanced.” They sent for a state psychiatrist, Dr. Darinka Glamuzina. She observed the children during the next apparition, descended the hill visibly shaken, and refused to file a report.
The authorities tried another tactic. On May 30, the seventh day, in a scheme to get the children away from the place of apparitions, two government social workers asked them to go for a ride. Since the children knew the women, they consented. At the appointed time for Our Lady to appear, the children became agitated and asked to leave the car. As soon as they got out of the car and knelt to pray, they all, including the two workers, saw a ball of light coming towards them, though the workers did not see Our Lady as she glided towards the children and conversed with them. The next day, the social workers resigned their positions and moved away.
Then the authorities forbade the visionaries and the people to go to Podbrdo Hill. But our Blessed Mother continued to appear daily wherever the children were forced to go: in the church, the choir loft, inside their homes, or in the fields, sometimes for only two minutes, sometimes for an hour.
The children had asked the Blessed Mother for signs, and she complied with a great many, seen by all the people of the village, beginning August 2. The most common were the signs of the sun and of the cross. The Miracle of the Sun usually lasted ten minutes and could be seen with the naked eye. Sometimes the sun rotated and palpitated like a heart, then formed in the shape of a host surrounded by sparkling colors. (These signs of the sun occur today, seen by groups of pilgrims.) At another time, the huge cross on top of Cross Mountain turned its arms around, or became like a sparkling column, as a huge candle. Sometimes the cross vanished, and in its place was the image of the Madonna.
And there were many other signs as dramatic. Once the large white word “MIR,” which means Peace, loomed in the sky, moved slowly away from Apparition Hill towards Cross Mountain and from there towards the church. Then there were the fires: The entire village watched in fear as a river of fire flowed out of the Cross on the Mountain and set the sky on fire, then disappeared. That was too much for the authorities. They placed a guard on top of Cross Mountain, then in daylight under a clear sky, a flash of lightning struck the mountain. The police rushed there and found the guard in a coma. He remained in a coma for three months, then asked for a priest and became a devout Christian.
Now, to make matters worse, miraculous healing was reported; a paralyzed child walked, a blind man’s sight was restored. In August, the authorities realized stronger measures were necessary, and they dispatched special police from Sarajevo to Medjugorje. They surrounded the village, blocked off the entrance and exit, then called all men of the village to report to military service and encircle Apparition and Cross Mountains with orders not to allow anyone to pass. The controls on the mountains continued for 22 months until June 1983. During much of this time, the police were also recording the sermons of the priests to detect anti-Communism messages. People became more afraid.
Finally, the authorities ordered Father Jozo to close
the church, but he refused. On
August 17, soldiers arrived by air and land, while helicopters hovered
over. The police, who had
blocked the road to Medjugorje, formed two circles around the village. Two
walls formed in front of the church, one of soldiers with guns and dogs,
and one of people with rosaries in hand who waited to enter the church.
Father Jozo remembered:
We began to pray…and continued to pray. Towards evening the miracle took place. For the first time in forty years, the atheist Communist Regime changed its decision. From the capital, Belgrade, arrived the order to let the people go into church. We saw the wall of soldiers break up, fall apart and people, like rivers, flow into the church. All night they poured into Medjugorje…and they prayed all night.
The soldiers arrested Father Jozo, took him away, beat him savagely (the guard who beat him died of a heart attack a few days later), gave him a mock trial, and sentenced him to three-and-a-half years in prison. When they took Father Jozo to his cell, a strange series of events began. First, they could not lock his cell, but when he was removed from it, the lock worked perfectly. Then, as he slept in his cell at night in the dark, the cell flooded with a celestial light without any apparent source. The locks and the lights continued in this manner during his imprisonment. Frustrated at these happenings, the police released Father Jozo after 18 months.
After his arrest, in another effort to stop the avalanche of events at all costs, the authorities nailed down the main door of the church. But the resourceful parishioners entered a small back door unknown to the soldiers and continued to attend church.
Reluctantly, the authorities realized they must permit the apparitions to continue (since they seemed powerless to prevent them) but it would be under continuing surveillance and harassment. The policy extended to the pilgrims who entered the country as the police confiscated any Bible or religious articles they carried.
Then, suddenly, after seven years of such harassment, the authorities realized how much money the pilgrims brought into the country. The government reversed its positions and began to build hotels and open shops until 1989 when Communism started to crumble in Yugoslavia.
As for the visionaries themselves, when the Blessed Mother first appeared, they were normal children from economically poor families with deep moral values. Their pleasures were simple, though satisfying, centering on school and church events in the Catholic faith. From these humble beginnings stem possibly the most profound apparitions in the history of the world. These photos of the young visionaries were taken in the early days of the apparitions:
Vicka, energetic, determined, radiating joy with a contagious smile, was one of eight children. Her father Pero worked in Germany. She helped her mother Zlata in the fields and with housework.
Mirjana, intelligent, soft-spoken and gracious, had a younger brother. Their father Jozo was an x-ray technician at Sarajevo while their mother Milena worked in a factory.
Marija, gentle, loving, and quiet, lived with her parents, Philip and Iva, and a sister. Another sister was married. Her three brothers worked in Germany. Marija, too, helped with housework and in the fields.
Ivan, dark-featured, and intense, the eldest of the four children of parents Ivan and Jacoda, helped his father on the farm where they grew grapes and tobacco.
Ivanka, serene, unassuming, and shy; was sensitive to the feeling of others. Her father Ivan worked in Germany. Her mother Jacoda died two months before the first apparition, and Ivanka grieved deeply for her.
Comments: Elleta Nolte , Copyright © 2006