July, 1991, just before the outbreak of the war in Bosnia/Herzegovina, I made my pilgrimage to Medjugorje. I had heard about this little Yugoslavian village from a member of my parish and found her descriptions, especially of the little ten year old boy kneeling stock still for thirty minutes at a time, with his eyes riveted, to be compelling. Unless he was hypnotized, this was unusual behavior for a little boy. The happenings at Medjugorje were spread through the parish only by word of mouth. I heard about it quite by chance.
My friend told me of her experience going to Medjugorje with other members of the parish. She said the village was jammed with pilgrims. Housing was provided by villagers who had expanded their homes to accommodate guests. Bedrooms held eight or more and were always full. There was something going on every day from climbing the Hill of the Apparitions, to hearing talks by the priests, to going to see one or more of the visionaries, to being nearby during an apparition (which occurred daily), going to confession with hundreds of other people, waiting in the proper line for a priest who spoke English, attending Mass and saying the rosary. Crowds of people were everywhere and it was difficult finding a place to sit anywhere. One afternoon when my friend was outdoors, she saw the sun dance in the sky. She was not alone. Some were healed of their physical illnesses. On the plane home, when they brought out their rosaries, some found that their rosaries had turned gold.
I went to the Catholic bookstore in town to look for any reading material I could find on Medjugorje and bought the book by Wayne Weible, a Lutheran, about his experience. (Medjugorje: The Message.1989) There were programs on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) that talked openly about Medjugorje.
Despite the fact that the apparitions had not yet been approved by the local bishop, I found everything I heard and read about Medjugorje compelling. How was it that all the visionaries could become transfixed at an identical moment and remain transfixed for an identical amount of time, entirely oblivious of everything and everyone around them. They did not respond to painful stimuli, even when their eyes were poked. Nothing interrupted their trance state. Group self-hypnosis simply did not explain the exact timing for me.
Why was it that the apparitions were still ongoing? What was Mary trying to tell us that required her to be so persistent? (The apparitions are still ongoing.)
Although the young visionaries were disbelieved, persecuted and harassed, not just by their families and neighbors but also by the Church and Communist government officials, they persisted in their claim that they were seeing the Virgin Mary (Gospa). In fact they were seeing her daily up on the mountain until they were forced, first into the Church, and then into a small room at the priests residence. They had been tested with a battery of tests during their trance states. They were filmed extensively. They were constantly bombarded by questions. Their stories never changed. At every meeting with Gospa they were given a message to share. This had been going on since 1981.
Usually, Marian apparitions are time-limited as in Lourdes, Garabandal and Fatima. Medjugorje was ongoing.
I was intrigued. What was going on?
I found a travel agency that would provide me with a “tour” of Medjugorje which included a day trip to Dubrovnik. I was picked up at the airport, taken to a hotel where I could take a bath and a nap, then was driven to Medjugorje where I was introduced to my hostess. I was to live with a family who had expanded their home to include guests. My bedroom contained six single beds. I was alone in my room. The fear of the imminent outbreak of war kept tourists and pilgrims away.
I had anticipated crowds elbowing everyone out of the way, but I moved about freely in a virtually empty town. No visionaries were in town. None of the pivotal priests were in town. It was a quiet peaceful village.
My tour guide would appear every day to take me somewhere, whether it was up Apparition Hill (I was able to climb up but fell down the hill) with other pilgrims, or to a talk by one of the priests in residence, or to make sure I was able to get to Mass. The highlight of the week was that one of the locutionists (someone who heard voices but did not see anyone speaking to them) agreed to talk to those of us who were there. She spoke no English so a translator was called. People crowded around her and asked the same questions that had been asked and answered in every book already published on Medjugorje. The locutionist was patient with them and answered each question as if it were fresh and new.
Because there were no crowds and none of the visionaries were in residence, there was no pressure to go here or there or to see this or that. Instead, the village was quiet. There were no sounds of cars or buses, no trains, no television sets blaring away. Because of the silence there were no distractions. I could sit in the garden in the sun and pray or read. I could walk around looking in here and there or take photographs with no one to stop me. All was quiet. People talked in hushed tones.
Instead of being a tourist and having my curiosity satisfied, I found myself making a silent spiritual retreat without a spiritual director. The entire village of Medjugorje was my retreat house. I was able to find more books to read, including a compilation of the messages of Our Lady to the visionaries. My days were spent primarily in prayer or reading. Did I see the sun dance? No. Did my rosary turn gold? No. Was I disappointed? No. I remain satisfied with my retreat at Medjugorje.
There was an urgency to the messages of Our Lady. Repent. Change your hearts. Turn to my son, Jesus. Pray. Fast. The war in Bosnia did erupt and eventually died but not until many atrocities were committed. Ten years of apparitions did not prevent man’s inhumanity to man. (Similarly, Our Lady’s apparitions at Rwanda did not prevent the genocide there either.)
Mary continues to appear to some of the visionaries, but she no longer appears daily. The Catholic Church has not given its stamp of approval to the visions or to the messages or to the visionaries. One possible reason is that the Vatican rarely approves visions and visionaries while they are still ongoing. The decision is always made first by the local bishop. To date the local bishop has not approved the apparitions. The Vatican appointed a special commission to review Medjugorje but no report has yet appeared on their findings.
I am convinced that the Medjugorje apparitions to the visionaries are real. Mary always seems to come at a time when people need to return to God and stop destroying each other. The sheer length of these ongoing apparitions speaks to me of urgency. “Please have a conversion of heart before it is too late.”
Our Lady of Medjugorje is called the Queen of Peace.
Medjugorje through the writing of Wayne Weibel http://www.medjugorjeweible.com/
The Medjugurje website http://www.medjugorje.org/