By Father David Bellusci, OP
I was recently a member of a tour group which landed in Split, Croatia, after flying between mountain peaks and along the Adriatic coast. We then made a three-hour trip by road across the Bosnia-Herzegovina border to Medjugorje, "town between the hills."
(The local people spell the name Medjugorje. The slash through the d makes it sound like the dj in adjudicate. Their j is pronounced as a y.)
In 1981 six children said they were seeing the Virgin Mary daily and she was giving them messages to pass on. Some of them still live in the town and some say they are still receiving messages.
The words of my tour guide, Ivan, stayed with me: "You are here because the Virgin Mary has invited you."
The English-language Mass was packed; the Italians were already waiting at the doors for their Mass which followed. The German Mass had been said just before ours. The Croatian-language Mass, referred to as the "International Mass," was held at an outdoor altar at 6 p.m.
I registered at the Medjugorje information office so that I could celebrate Mass. The English-speaking Mass coordinator told me that I would be celebrating Mass on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. I was also asked if I could hear confessions with the other English-speaking priests as there was a large number of English-speaking visitors, especially from Ireland.
That evening I placed signs outside the confessional, "English," "Italian," "French," and heard confessions from 6-10 p.m.
Ivan Dragicevic, one of the six children in 1981, spoke the next morning on what he called "the messages of Medjugorje" near the outside altar, where hundreds of people gathered to listen to him.
He said the messages emphasized prayer, fasting, confession, conversion, penance, hope, and Scripture. He said the initial words of Mary in Croatian were mir, mir, mir: peace, peace, peace.
In the afternoon we climbed Apparition Hill, Podbrdo in Croatian, praying the rosary, passing sculptures made by Carmello Puzzolo for each mystery. On our way we passed a cross placed as a memorial of the place where the six children announced they had received their first message.
The six were Vicka, Mirjana, Ivanka, Ivan, Marija, and Jakov, and the date was June 26, 1981.
When we reached the fourth Joyful Mystery, the Presentation of Our Lord, we were told that Father Slavko Barbaric, OFM, who died of natural causes in 2000 coming down nearby Mount Krizevac, associated this mystery with the priesthood, and so June 6 we prayed especially for priests.
At the end of the Joyful Mysteries, a beautiful white marble statue of Mary stood in the tranquility of the afternoon. The statue stood where some of the children reported seeing Mary two days before the first message.
We also visited the Cenacolo community founded in 1983 by Italian Sister Elvira Petrozzi, who had felt a calling to work with youth in serious difficulty. Sister Petrozzi's vision was to provide a home for men and to help them recover from addictions to drugs and alcohol.
The community offers men the possibility of a new beginning in a spiritual setting focussing on Christ, as well as the sacraments, conversion, and prayer.
On Thursday Ivan Dragicevic invited priests into his home to pray the Rosary. He said they would be present when the Virgin Mary appeared to him.
He afterwards said words could not describe the beauty of Mary, and said she had prayed over the priests with her hands extended, entrusting the priests and their parishes and dioceses to her Son.
On Friday evening at about 11:30 p.m. we climbed Mount Krizevac, Cross Mountain, where we also prayed the Stations of the Cross. The mountain is so named because the local people in 1934 carried to the top of the mountain on their backs all that was necessary to build a large, 30-ton concrete cross.
They were commemorating the 1,900th anniversary of the passion and crucifixion of Our Lord.
As we climbed, the moon brightened the sky and the stars lighted our path as we stopped, meditated, and prayed at each station. We reached the summit at about 1:15 a.m. and prayed some more.
We visited "Mother's Village," a community begun by Father Slavko in 1993 during the war which left many Bosnia-Herzegovina children without parents, and in a state of shock after seeing their mothers and fathers killed.
The land was donated by the state, but all the funding came directly from charitable donations. The Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family aided this project by caring for the children.
We walked to the Blue Cross, where hundreds of people prayed the rosary. Ivan said the Virgin Mary would be appearing to him there, so we waited under the stars singing hymns. What an awesome experience!
After a time Ivan said he had conversed with Our Lady, and said she had asked us to take home to our families and friends her maternal blessings. He said she had offered a special blessing for the sick, and specifically asked us to pray for priests.
He said Our Lady of Medjugorje repeatedly asks us to pray for conversion of the heart.
Saturday evening I heard confessions from 6 p.m. to just past midnight.
Father David Bellusci, OP, teaches philosophy at Ottawa's Dominican University College.