Medjugorje: No verdict yet, but faith, conversions abound

A woman prays against a crucifix on Apparition Hill in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, June 25. Millions of pilgrims from all over the world have visited the site where six village children first claimed to see Mary in June 1981. (CNS photo/Dado Ruvic, Reuters)

A very generous benefactor found out that after 10 years of writing for the Catholic press, I’d never been to Medjugorje, the site of purported Marian apparitions. The next thing I knew, a travel itinerary was delivered to my inbox.

Just before departing, a devout Catholic friend told me I should be visiting Fatima or Lourdes instead. He questioned the authenticity of the apparitions in the former Yugoslavia. Another dear friend, a priest, forwarded an anti-Medjugorje article from Crisis Magazine that featured a picture of a wolf in sheep clothing.

Recalling my late parents’ admonition to ‘never look a gift-horse in the mouth’, I decided to check out Medjugorje for myself.

I knew even before making sure my seat was in a fully upright and locked position — it took five planes and a two-hour van ride to reach our destination — that the Church has neither officially condemned nor approved the activities at Medjugorje, other than saying that parishes or dioceses should not sponsor pilgrimages. The late Blessed John Paul II was reportedly a supporter of the Medjugorje visionaries.

Allow me to cut to the chase: I did not see the Blessed Virgin Mary during my week-long visit. The links on my rosary beads did not turn to gold, nor did I see the sun spinning.

What I can say is that I was absolutely stunned by the outpouring of faith and heartfelt devotion I encountered. Our visit took place during the 31st anniversary of what the reputed visionaries say was their first encounter with Our Lady back on June 24, 1981. The village was inundated with thousands of pilgrims from all over the globe.

Indisputable fruits

Every day there were long lines for confession, where priests heard penitents tell their sins in more than a dozen languages, some I’d never even heard of before. Masses were jammed and reverent. Every night at 10 p.m. the amphitheater was packed with over 15,000 pilgrims who came to adore the Eucharist.

Even with such an enormous crowd, there was utter silence as the King of Kings was venerated. We knelt there in the gravel and I felt myself overcome with emotion. In the midst of such a huge crowd, packed with the sick and infirm, pilgrims of every age, and religious sisters from around the world dressed in their various habits, it seemed I was just a tiny speck, entirely insignificant in this vast sea of faithful.

It was then that I felt the Lord whisper a word of love to me that I — I who am so undeserving — am indeed precious to Him. A love beyond understanding filled my heart as tears streamed down my cheeks, so that even now as I write these words, I am brought back to that moment of profound peace. Our God loves us in spite of ourselves.

I saw fellow pilgrims climb barefoot up a 1,700-foot peak, praying the Stations of the Cross, oblivious to the sharp rocks they trod. One man was missing a leg and was making the climb using metal crutches.

I met a pediatrician and her dentist husband, who met during the Bosnian war in the 1990s when they both worked to save the children coming out of the refugee camps. They are sponsoring one of the dozens of kids who live in Medjugorje’s orphanages. I listened to former drug addicts who live in a community dedicated to helping men and women break free from the bondage of addiction. Theresa Burke, the founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, a ministry that helps women wounded by abortion, received her inspiration from Medjugorje.

The message of Medjugorje is simple. It’s a call to conversion: Pray the rosary daily from the heart. Fast on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays or perform some other penitential act. Read the Bible. Receive the Eucharist frequently and go to confession monthly.

If more Catholics lived that way, we would surely have more peace, stronger families and an increase in vocations. I’m all for that.