I first heard about Medugorje in 1982 when during my year of candidacy with the Franciscans in Kennebunkport, ME. A few of the people who came to weekly Holy Hour for vocations had heard about the purported apparitions, boarded a plane with a small bag of clothes, and a sleeping bag and off they went to Yugoslavia. It was a pretty courageous thing back in those days, since, Yugoslavia was a communist country. When they arrived, there were no hotels, so they were prepared to sleep in the fields, if not for the generosity of the local villagers. Upon their return, they gave us a photocopied booklet about the goings on in this little, isolated village.
Through the years, I devoured every book related to Medugorje that I could get my hands on. Finally, in 1993, during the midst of the war between Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia, I had the opportunity to see with my own eyes. It was the 12th anniversary of the apparitions. It was the longest trip that I had ever taken in my life. My mother and I flew from Providence to meet the group in New York. From their, we traveled with the group to Zürich, Switzerland and on to Zagreb, Croatia where we had a six-hour layover before flying on to Split, only to have another three-hour bus ride to Medugorje.
I will never forget when the bus arrived in Medugorje. The first sight was St. James Church, the left side of the street was lined with gift shops, restaurants and small hotels. After passing by the church, there was nothing but a small dirt road and a few homes on each side. It was 1:00 am, and my first though was, “What am I doing in this God-forsaken place.” The bus made another few turns down another more dirt roads and we arrived at our destination.
As soon as the bus pulled up at the home, a man and woman met us at the bus. Inside, there was a meager meal of soup, salad and bread waiting, and finally a bed. We were told that because of the war, there was no running water at night, only a few hours during the day and our flash lights were the only source of light until daytime, electricity was also rationed during the war.
That was the first of about 15 personal pilgrimages I have made to Medugorje. Throughout the years, I have like many other millions of people made the sacrifices necessary to travel to this distant place between the hills. I have seen many phenomenon that I can not explain, are they the work of God, are they natural or the work of some other force? I have seen what many refer to as the “miracle of the sun”, seeing the sun pulsate and spin, emanating a range of colors swirling with it, literally staring into the sun for 45 minutes at a time. The fact that I have stared at the sun so long should have caused irreparable damage to the retina, yet, not damage was detected by my ophthalmologist. The fact that I saw a multi-ton cement cross on a hill spin and even disappear causes me to wonder why and what it’s all about. Having the smell of roses on a barren hill suddenly appear and just a quickly disappear as I prayed the rosary with a group of thousands of people. All of these things I personally experienced, and many more, but the question remains as to why.
The true miracles that moved me every time is the thousands of people who go to confession every day, the thousands of people who go to Mass and the thousands of people praying the rosary in many languages in an organized manner that one hardly sees in a local parish.
There have been times that I have questioned if the “apparitions” are from Our Lady, but I always come back to believing that it is her who is the one acting in Medugorje. From the many vocations, conversions and faithful who are deeply moved to a more active participation in their Catholic Faith upon returning home, I can’t believe otherwise. Also, the deep, deep, peace within my soul causes me to believe there is something of God’s work in Medugorje.
Many good people, and some who are friends of mine, are convinced that it is not Our Lady appearing in Medugorje. Some ask why Our Lady would appear so often for the past 31 years, that is not how she appeared in any of the approved apparitions. I say, is God limited by what He has done in the past? Does the fact that Our Lord only permitted His mother to appear for a few apparitions in the past mean that she can only do the same in the future? Or, because Lucia and Bernadette became Religious mean that the children of Medugorje must become Religious? Vatican II did give the Universal Call to Holiness. Each of us, regardless of our vocation in life is called to be holy. And, in a time when married life is under such attack by society, there need to be faithful men and women who are dedicated to the vocation to marriage and family.
Some are disturbed that Our Lady did not tell them to enter a Religious vocation, but they must choose on their own. I can only say that as a priest, I had to choose my vocation freely. I had the ability to accept this way of life. No one is forced into a vocation.
What about the question of obedience to the Bishop of Mostar – they say that the Bishop has condemned Medugorje. Canon law states that the local Bishop has authority over cases of apparitions in his jurisdiction. That is true, however, when the Bishop of Mostar published his condemnation, the Vatican intervened and placed it in the hands of the Conference of Bishops. Each time there was any negative statement, the Vatican has intervened and not given a final judgment. The Holy See is the supreme authority in the Church. As we all know, there is now a commission working directly under the authority of the Holy See. Some say that there will be a statement as soon as the end of this year. That is left to be seen. If they do not wish to condemn, they will neither approve so long as the apparitions continue.
Yes, I believe! Until the Church speaks otherwise, I will believe. Something inside tells me so, I call it grace, you may believe I have gas. But, if no one was traveling to Medugorje, and if no one believed, there would be no need for a Commission to investigate. Good people believe and good people reject Medugorje. That is ok, because we all need the guidance of Holy Mother Church. As a good friend of mine once said, “I don’t believe, but I hope I am wrong.” I believe and I hope I am right. We can all talk about and debate the events of Medugorje until we are blue in the face.
What we all must do is pray and wait, because only Our Lord and Our Lady can save us from what we are going through in today’s world.