Updated November 30, 2020
30th Special Anniversary Originally Published on Nov. 30, 2018 A.D.
On this day, November 30, 1988, 32 years ago, Our Lady gave a message in the home of our founder and his wife, Annette, that has been considered by many across the world as one of the most beautiful messages ever given in the messages of the Medjugorje apparitions. Our Lady appeared around 10:30 p.m. Medjugorje visionary, Marija, relayed afterwards:
Our Lady came and was very happy. She blessed and prayed over everyone. Marija recommended all those present to Our Lady and She prayed “The Lord’s Prayer” and the “Glory Be.” Our Lady extended Her arms and prayed in Hebrew over everyone. Her message:
Then Our Lady made the Sign of the Cross and left saying, “Go in peace.”
There are many ways we can speak about this message. Some people will only scratch the surface of this message, taking it superficially without realizing how this message might be lived. We want to share with you just one example from our history that shows how this message came to life.
“Caritas” means love and charity. Our Lady has mentioned love over 30 times in messages She gave at the home of our founder and his wife. However, if there is any one message which best describes the mission of Caritas of Birmingham, it is the November 30, 1988, message that defines what what Our Lady would call our founder, also known as a Friend of Medjugorje, to accomplish and to foundation the Caritas mission and Community upon.
In the year 1999, our founder and his wife, went to the Holy Land. They were looking forward to visiting Cana where they planned to renew their wedding vows during their 25th wedding anniversary year. The entire Caritas Community prayed a 54-day Rosary Novena for them to be “filled to the brim” as that is what happened in the miracle of the Wedding Feast of Cana. “Jesus told them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ So they filled them to the brim.” Luke 2:7 They were deeply disappointed when they arrived in Cana only to find that the Church of Cana was covered with scaffolding for major renovations, not the most inspiring scene to renew their wedding vows. However, since the novena had specifically mentioned Cana as the place for their renewal, our founder and his wife arranged for their priest to assist them in restating their vows which happened in front of their whole group under the scaffolding at the entrance of the church. They could not help but be disappointed that the scaffolding prevented them from going inside the church. But as Our Lady says that nothing is by chance, the grace from the novena at Cana was still beautiful, but a greater grace awaited them in Bethlehem at the Crib of Jesus. It was there that they received a grace of truly experiencing Jesus born in their hearts. So deep was this grace that both of them fell to their knees weeping and they could not stop themselves. Even the priests were moved by their reaction, and while other pilgrims were being prodded to move in and move out, our founder and his wife were allowed to stay. They eventually scooted back into a corner as they could not force themselves to leave. For the next two hours, their tears flowed endlessly.
Days later, when visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was Crucified, laid in a tomb, and was Resurrected, they had an encounter with a priest who was assigned to the Church. It seemed that this was an encounter prepared by the hand of Our Lady as it led to the priest inviting our founder and his wife to a private Mass in the tomb of Jesus the next day. The love showed to them by this priest was very touching and added to the experience of their time in the Holy Land. They believed it to be another grace from the community’s novena for them.
This contrasts sharply, to another time, shortly after Marija was first here in the home of our founder and his wife, again, 32 years ago this year. A priest, we will call him “Fr. Paul,” came to Birmingham in 1988, intending to stop what was taking place here, believing that Medjugorje was the only place Our Lady should be appearing. Fr. Paul, an American priest, believed in the apparitions and was able to move to Medjugorje to serve the English speaking pilgrims through the contacts and assistance our founder made on his behalf. Fr. Paul remained in Medjugorje for many years and often did the homilies at the English masses. Our founder recorded and distributed many of his homilies, as they were often powerful and very orthodox teachings. Another priest told our founder that he considered Fr. Paul to be a great homilist. Because our founder had structured the mission of Caritas to be able to give material away for free, Fr. Paul became known worldwide through our founder’s free distribution of the cassette tapes of his homilies.
However, over the years, Fr. Paul slowly began to lose his belief in the Medjugorje apparitions. He started speaking against Medjugorje from the pulpit in St. James Church. His homilies and his countenance became dark and hypocritical, no longer filled with light. Some pilgrims would go to Confession to Fr. Paul only to come out saying that Fr. Paul told them that though Medjugorje maybe was real in the beginning, it was not real now.
Seeing this direct action against Our Lady’s apparitions, our founder could no longer direct people to Fr. Paul’s homilies. He made the decision to drop his cassette tapes from the Caritas inventory, no longer making them available. In doing this, he knew it may not go well for him, but our founder never spoke an unkind word to or about Fr. Paul and continued to greet him warmly and with love whenever he was in Medjugorje. One day, after the English Mass in Medjugorje, our founder walked up to Fr. Paul outside St. James Church to greet him. Fr. Paul, in front of dozens of pilgrims started to yell at our founder. Fr. Paul yelled at him, “You’re a murderer! You’re a murderer!” Our founder realized that Fr. Paul had calculated this encounter to publicly humiliate him for dropping his cassette tapes. He was very, very nasty, in an extreme way. He intended, by this outburst, to draw people away from our founder and his mission in spreading Medjugorje. And it worked. Many of the people who heard Fr. Paul’s attack, began to ostracize our founder, realizing that if they kept their friendship with him, the ire of Fr. Paul may come back upon them. Word spread about what Fr. Paul had done and many others in the movement also began to disassociate themselves from our founder. Obviously, our founder, his family and the mission suffered from this, but he never regretted his decision knowing it was the right thing to do. He intended to live as Our Lady said, with love, like Jesus, continuing to sacrifice for love.
In all the years that followed, and many untold stories of persecution which resulted from this, our founder never spoke an unkind word about Fr. Paul, often greeting him warmly and with love. Sadly though, Fr. Paul eventually left Medjugorje, an unbeliever in the apparitions. This incident with Fr. Paul and all the fallout from it only showed our founder, those who were true friends and those who were not.
It is said that time heals all wounds. Yet, all the while, our founder strived to live as Our Lady said with love, he continued to be ostracized from the Medjugorje movement. His name was smeared in the mud, as was the mission of Caritas, yet the mission continued to grow and prosper. This incident was just one more thing added to the cross that Our Lady asked our founder and his wife to carry, as Her words spoken in the Bedroom of Apparitions on November 30, 1988, said:
Years later, as was relayed at the beginning of this article, after having gone through such a time of purification, our founder felt called to go with his wife to the Holy Land. The community’s novena prayer, asking that they be “filled to the brim” with special graces was answered when they renewed their vows in Cana, but even more profoundly, when they were before the Manger in Bethlehem.
Knowing the community had invested so much fasting and prayer for their pilgrimage, our founder and his wife wrote a letter to the community at the end of every day relaying the events of each day. The community gathered together each day and were thrilled to hear all the stories and blessings being received. On March 19, 1999, our founder and his wife visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. What follows is taken directly from his letter to the community in relaying a “miracle” that happened that day.
“…Upon leaving the Crucifixion Spot, we go around and down to the Tomb, where the line is very long. Our guide then says, now we come to the most glorious spot in Christendom…
“Waiting for an hour to get into the tomb because of lines, we knew our time would be limited inside, so we began praying our prayers outside of the Tomb. While in line, the Greek Orthodox [priest] kept hollering for people to move in and move out. Once we finally got in, I understood [why].”
He described in detail the experience of walking into the preparation room, where the body of Jesus was laid and prepared with ointments and the shroud, and then further in was the actual tomb. He was surprised at how small both rooms were, but especially the actual tomb. The doorway was so small, you had to duck to get inside. Our founder continued in his letter:
“So, the most you could squeeze in would be 4 or 5 [people], and then not all of you could kneel down at the same time. We hated to leave and of all the places we visited, it was the most serene, peaceful and somehow connected with our hearts, not as strong as at Bethlehem, but certainly more so than any other visited site…
“Upon leaving the area we knew we would not get to do what we did in Bethlehem, but just the same we prayed in thanksgiving, realizing the birth of Jesus and His Resurrection are so much of what our life is about. The novena speaks so much about Christmas in the Field and our community being a community of future, of life and birth. The two most logical spots would be Jesus’ Birth Place and His place of Resurrection [where we would be touched by the grace of the community’s novena].
“Upon walking around, we had many questions. Seeing a priest, I humbly greeted him and asked him if he would mind answering our questions. He didn’t seem to want to talk and I sensed Annette and I were being brushed off. After one or two questions he walked away. We walked to another area and I suddenly remembered the words from one of Our Lady’s messages, ‘love makes things great’. So when we saw this same priest later, I decided to persist and be kind. He answered more questions but again, I could tell he was too busy for us. So, he walked on into the sacristy.
“The priest walked by and a third time I began asking questions. ‘Then a miracle happened.’ It was as if I could not silence him. He knew incredible details and Annette and I devoured what no guide could possibly tell us. He became a personal guide for us and showed us the actual pillar where Jesus was scourged, and many other things. He became incredibly friendly like a grace descended upon him. Perhaps being persistent and being very kind, remembering Our Lady’s message ‘love makes things great,’ really brought down the grace. He spent two whole hours with us and I can tell you, we learned more than in three days with the guides, in regards to what happened where. He then brings up, out of the blue, that he will be saying Mass at 5 AM inside the small tomb, by himself and asked if we would like to come. We were thrilled and I could not believe it! How “love makes great things.” The priest became so kind to us that he walked us out of the old city showing us where to turn so that at 4:30 AM we would know where to go to get back in. (It’s a maze.) He then walked us to his room to show us where he stayed.
“The next morning, Annette and I were up by 4:00 AM and arrived outside the tomb. We prayed the Glorious mysteries and the priest showed up.
“Annette and I were on both sides of him during Holy Mass, and it almost didn’t seem real. The candles, the closed-in effect, laying our hands upon the stone Jesus laid on almost throughout the whole Mass, Annette and I doing the readings, all could only have been orchestrated by Our Lady, through the Holy Spirit.
“To receive the Holy Eucharist, and drink from the Chalice, Holy Wine over Jesus’ burial slab, was a grace we could not have dreamed of the day before. We prayed for our family and for all of you in the community and are awed at where God brings us. For, the miracle that I wrote about earlier in this letter, and listen closely… when I wrote ‘Then a miracle happened,’ it was not what I just wrote you about, but rather the miracle was, ‘the priest’… for he was…
“Love Makes Things Great.”
AFOM & Annette
March 19, 1999
The message of Our Lady that our founder was quoting was April 12, 1987:
In a world when many do not know what real love is, when spouses are willing to call it quits over disagreements, when people go to their deathbed with grudges and unforgiveness in their hearts, Our Lady shines a light on love. Love is powerful. Love wins, every time. Never underestimate the power of love, though painful, though hard, calling quits on your spouse, your church, your family is not the answer. Our founder, a Friend of Medjugorje, has witnessed to us in community and in life, more than any book or people, how to love. The sacrificial love of Jesus, Who “died out of love for you,” is the answer.
Love Makes Great Things,
The Community of Caritas
P. S. Here it was that a Friend of Medjugorje had given his life to something, only for it to turn against him. One of the most well-known Medjugorje writings in the world, To Love, was birthed in the years that followed. To Love took a Friend of Medjugorje only a couple of minutes to write. He had lived this to such a degree, in so many situations, there was no need to prepare to write it, he prepared by what he lived. Here below is, To Love, a first-hand glimpse into many hidden stories. While many in the world have told us that they relate to, To Love, there is within this writing, many stories untold, like the one told above for the first time.