A Friend of Medjugorje – Biography
When they arrived, the founder spoke to the woman again about his dream and the image that he saw. He then asked her to go to the Field of Apparitions, to sit and pray until she was inspired to draw. It was a breezy day in the Field and she read the sign that was propped up against the altar that had the following message of Our Lady on it:
Traveling southeast of Rome, Italy, one comes across a fortress, a “City on a Hill,” named Rocca d’Arce with a population of only 900 people. At the highest point in this city and the whole region, a cemetery seems to touch the sky. The families of the loved ones buried here can imagine the soul of their deceased simply stepping into Heaven. This is the ancestral cemetery of a Friend of Medjugorje. His last name covers stone after stone there, a rarity where one can isolate mostly one’s lineage to a single point. Thirty minutes from the small town of Rocca d’Arce is another larger, but still small town, again on top of a hill, called Pofi. Both Rocca d’Arce and Pofi, whose population is about 4,400 people, are in the Province of Frosinone, in the Lazio Region of Italy, a little more than an hour from Rome. Pofi’s Church at the town’s center at the top of the town’s hill is dedicated to Our Lady, St. Mary Majors. Next to this Church was a small cemetery. It was later relocated because of construction. The relocated cemetery has the same simple crosses marking the graves, one of which reads “Girolamo,” the great grandfather of the founder. From his humble beginnings in Pofi, Girolamo’s son, Giovanni (Johnny), came to America to find a better life and was proud to become an American citizen. Working hard in the coal mines of Colorado and Alabama, Johnny raised a large family. A tough Italian, Johnny was known to many as “Dr. John” because of his wide knowledge of homeopathic medicine that he learned before he came to America. His first child was a son, Antonio Frank (Tony), the first generation of Americans from this family. Tony is the father of a Friend of Medjugorje. A Friend of Medjugorje is second generation Italian American and holds this heritage dear to his heart.
Born on April 24, 1953, in Birmingham, Alabama, to parents Tony and Mary Ellen, the founder of Caritas was raised in a very strong Italian Catholic family. His parents instilled in him strong work ethics. Love of their Italian heritage and the Catholic faith filled their lively home. Mary Ellen would bake bread for the local parish priest and have it delivered by her sons every Friday to the Church rectory. The founder recounts riding in the car with his mother, carrying a loaf of freshly baked bread, still hot, wrapped in a towel. Mary Ellen would stop the car at the rectory of Blessed Sacrament Church in West End of Birmingham, Alabama, and the founder of Caritas or one of his brothers would get out of the car and knock on the door. Monsignor Keys would smile, taking the fresh loaf and wave to Mary Ellen who smiled back from the car. The founder recalls how his mother, Mary Ellen, would see to it that he would be on time to serve the early morning 5:00 a.m. Mass in the convent Chapel for the nuns. The Sisters of the Most Holy Sacrament taught all of the classes at Blessed Sacrament School. Blessed Sacrament is where the founder also received his first through eighth grade education. His father, Tony, was a man who led more by example and less by words. Having been born in a cave on a cold January night in Colorado, and tough like his father Johnny (Giovanni), Tony served his country in the South Pacific in World War II as part of the newly created air rescue squadrons, finding downed pilots at sea. After the war, he opened an appliance repair business in Birmingham, often helping everyone, especially the less fortunate in the working poor neighborhoods of Birmingham.
Jump 50 years ahead to May 10, 2001, at Tony and Mary Ellen’s Golden Wedding Anniversary, a beautiful celebration was held honoring their 50 years of marriage. Many friends, family and old neighbors came to the microphone and recounted stories of Tony and Mary Ellen’s charity to them through the years. Growing up between these two examples of Christian love would leave indelible marks on the founder’s life and future.
Their family was well known in their neighborhood for their love, Catholic faith, charity, fun, hospitality and great food. They were not takers, but givers. “Their home,” neighbor Phillip Sessions recalled at the anniversary celebration, “was the home all the kids in the neighborhood came to.” Caritas’ founder, his siblings, and the other children in the neighborhood looked forward to the early evening when their fathers would all return from work and sit together under an Elm Tree that shaded the yard next door. They gathered there because the next door neighbor was a postman and would arrive home first. He would start the stories about the news of the day adding his comments. Sessions belonged to the Church of the Nazarene and had a strong influence on the founder of Caritas, adding to his upbringing. While the mothers made final dinner preparations, the youth would sit at the feet of the fathers of the neighborhood who would each join the group as they returned from work. The neighborhood kids would hear the fathers discuss what had happened in the world that day and how to interpret it from a Christian point of ‘truth’-view. America was going through huge changes in the 60s and the neighborhood children soaked up all the wisdom the men had to offer. These men were of different denominations, but all were Christian, and the founder learned how to speak, how to evangelize and how to think, through these evenings under the Elm Tree. He was ingrained with, as he called it, “Elm Tree Philosophy,” and he carries that witness with him still today.
Mary Ellen’s sister, Susie, recalls that her sister was faithful to her husband, children and the Catholic Church. Many of her neighborhood friends admired and emulated her. Embracing her vocation as wife and mother, she is still full of life and hospitality:
“…I remember the smell of Mary Ellen’s cooking emanating from the kitchen. I can still picture in my mind how the whole neighborhood would hover around her door whenever she baked fresh bread. I also saw how no stranger was ever turned away from their door. Everyone was welcome to eat. I saw and learned about the dedication of faith when Mary Ellen went to Wednesday night service for a year praying for the healing of a friend’s sons who had cancer…”
Caption for picture below:
When they arrived, the founder spoke to the woman again about his dream and the image that he saw. He then asked her to go to the Field of Apparitions, to sit and pray until she was inspired to draw. It was a breezy day in the Field and she read the sign that was propped up against the altar that had the following message of Our Lady on it:
Caritas’ founder is the second oldest of six children, four boys and two girls. His little sister, Toni Marie, was a consolation to her mother amidst all the boys. At the time of her birth, the second daughter was not yet born. Sweet natured and the apple of her family’s eye, tragedy struck their home when Toni Marie entered the hospital at 4½ years of age. The doctors discovered that Toni Marie only had one functioning kidney and her system was getting poisoned. At the time, well children were not allowed in the hospital rooms, even if they were a sibling. The founder of Caritas and his brothers remember standing on the street while their parents helped Toni Marie to the hospital window. Her kidneys were failing and the doctors gave no hope. Their last memories of Toni Marie were waving at her several stories up from the street, at a window they could not see through. Naturally they were upset they could not visit her. The doctor knew she would die, yet the overly strict rules of the hospital blocked them from going to see their sister while she could still respond before uric poisons set in. At the time, Birmingham had only one dialysis machine and people were in line to use it. Toni Marie would have to make it two more weeks before it would be her turn. She made it just short of the two weeks and then they lost her. She died on July 15, 1962, without a last kiss from her brothers. This loss was etched in the memory of the founder. The entire family had offered a tremendous sacrifice and surely Heaven heard their tears. Part of “family” died with Toni Marie. These types of sacrifices, though difficult as they would be for anyone, move the Heart of God; they are part of His plan. Years later, in 1988, Marija, visionary of Medjugorje, would come to the home of the founder of Caritas of Birmingham for three months and have apparitions of Our Lady each day. What brought her to his home in Alabama? A failed kidney. Marija was the donor to her brother, Andrija, who needed a kidney transplant. The fingerprints of God: Toni Marie entered Heaven after a struggle with failed kidneys. Twenty-six years later, Heaven came to Birmingham through Our Lady through the means of failed kidneys. It was not by chance.
Seeing so many depravities taking place around him in the decades of the 50s and 60s, the founder made a bold personal decision that would set a course of direction for his life. In eighth grade, at age 14, the founder of Caritas remembers sitting on the top step of his small front porch listening to other kids talking about drinking. When they left, he sat there thinking about what he had heard and really reflecting on what was said. He suddenly felt a clear, strong impulse, more than just a thought inside himself, saying, “I am not to drink.” It came inwardly as if talking to himself. “I am not to drink any alcohol.” The strength of the moment was very powerful and etched into his heart. This was not a decision made on a “whim,” but more of a decision he “felt” he was supposed to make. He never questioned the strong prompting that day. Growing up in an Italian home, this was no small decision. But, the clarity of mind it brought set him apart to be readied for a work that God would do through him years later. And while it brought about constant teasing by other kids in school, it never bothered him. He didn’t care what others thought, knowing what he was called to do in his heart. Going through four years of high school and being popular, when invited to parties where everyone was drinking, he would leave. At one particular party he attended, the parents were out of town. When the founder walked in on the scene with one of his friends he looked around and at that moment, he realized that at 18 years of age, he had passed through high school, the most difficult age of temptation, without ever drinking alcohol. He had been pressured to drink, jabbed at, made fun of, listened to many friends saying, “Come on, come on, just one drink!” Yet, the four most dangerous, highly pressured years of high school had passed and he had never been tempted to take even one swallow. It was at this point that he realized that he could do this for life. He left that party, and later made a vow to God to never drink alcohol for the rest of his life. No doubt, such resolve would come into play for his future. Unbeknownst to him, years later, Our Lady would ask the prayer group of Medjugorje to each give up something for life. They each carry a common sacrifice. As if uniting him with Her plan, Our Lady inspired this in Caritas’ founder in his youth. He was being prepared for Medjugorje before there was a Medjugorje apparition phenomenon. The Sufi Muslim prophet, Hasan Shushud, in 1980, foretold Our Lady’s apparitions, the region they would take place in and that it would be a global event. Within a year, Our Lady began appearing in Medjugorje. He also said that there would be people who would, from their birth, be prepared for the events without even realizing it. It is clear that with a Friend of Medjugorje’s vow, and many other things in his life, God was preparing and forming him for the calling Our Lady would bestow upon him later.
Throughout school, the founder of Caritas of Birmingham would often skip lunch and spend his time in the school library to learn everything he needed to know about the trade he wanted to learn and the business he wanted to start. He had a deep aversion to college, often saying, “Why do I need to go to college to go from the book, through the professor, to me? Why can’t I just go straight to the book instead?” He did not see how, after four years of college, a piece of paper could make one more qualified to perform any work than another who could learn or apprenticeship under someone and be just as, or even more, qualified. Such simple logic would make a great businessman and is one of the reasons that Caritas of Birmingham is so successful today.
Though strong in his conviction and determined on a path for his future, Caritas’ founder was no “angel” in school. He did not necessarily “follow the rules.” Frequently, he was punished for this behavior and remembers writing, “I must obey, I must obey, I must obey,” not 100 times or 1,000 times, but literally thousands of time. At that time, a typical punishment from the nuns would be to write the sentence 100 times. His punishments graduated to 500 times. Grade after grade he received this punishment. Classmates recall that the founder couldn’t stay in his desk, so the nuns simply took the desk away from him for the last two to three months of the school year. He sat on his books where his desk once was, on the first row on the left between the first and third desk. Most of his trouble came because of his practical jokes and sense of humor. The teachers didn’t appreciate his timing; the students did. The apple, however, doesn’t fall far from the tree. At his father Tony’s military division last reunion, fellow soldiers reminisced about his practical jokes when they were stationed with him in the Pacific Islands. He was in communications and made use of the broadcast system for fun, one time even announcing the end of the war, when it wasn’t over! On the island where they were based, everyone began to celebrate by shooting and blowing off heavy guns for fireworks. At the last reunion of his father’s military division before they all passed away, fellow soldiers reminisced about Tony, the founder’s father’s, practical jokes when they were stationed with him in the Pacific Islands. Tony, and his buddy who was in on it, buried their joke that got out of hand. It came to light decades later when they shared the secret at their military reunion. Everyone died laughing. Though they may have caused trouble, acquaintances of both the founder and his father, Tony, relay that their humor, though it had its repercussions, made lasting cherished memories. It is also no doubt that the thousands of times he
The Grace and the Works
Marriage, College & Business
While still in high school, Caritas’ founder started training horses and then started a tree surgeon business after self-studying for the state exams and he became the youngest professionally licensed tree surgeon in the state of Alabama. He married his wife, Annette, in 1975 and they had six sons and one daughter. They began to build a life together, continuing to grow the business he started in the early 1970s, first called Toni Marie’s Tree Surgeons, and making it a top company in Birmingham with a good reputation and nice equipment. It was very successful, but the tree trade is not profitable enough and he sold everything, paid off all of his bills, and started over with nothing.
The four years of this business, however, was his “college education.” He began all over again six months after he was married. Century Landscape and Excavation started with just a couple of shovels and a wheelbarrow. The founder and his wife worked hard and made sacrifices early on so that every dollar they earned could be reinvested in their growing business. The founder’s father, Tony, would often tell him that, “the best credit is no credit” – meaning, that you never want to take out a loan, but pay as you go. Such financial advice taken from his father, a man who had endured the hardships of the Great Depression, would make the difference between success and failure. The founder of Caritas of Birmingham recounted that early in his business career, when he was around 18 years of age, when he was in need of money to pay a bill, he appealed to his mother, Mary Ellen, for help. She refused to help him. The founder told his mother that he would pay her back right away and she flat out said no. He did not like her reply at all, but it was the best thing that could’ve happened. It taught him how to get through a wall when at first you can’t find a way through it. Caritas’ founder relates that he learned you climb over the wall, dig under it, go around it, or swing over it. In other words, you work and strive, going forward until you find a way, a solution. He then worked extra hard to come up with the money to pay for the bill. Years later the founder would say, “My mother did me a favor by not helping me out and I’ve taught my kids very much the same way. I will teach them how to fly, but I won’t fly for them.”
The new business had good profit margins and Caritas’ founder and his wife were very soon able to purchase their first piece of equipment, making enough to buy a new one-ton truck without the bed, which he fabricated and welded himself with little money. From there, he fabricated his own trailer and soon had cash for a grading tractor. Each piece of equipment purchased made it easier to pay cash for the next piece of equipment. It grew from there, as he worked patiently, until he reached the point of heavy equipment purchasing. The founder said of his first purchase:
“I was so grateful for my first dump truck. I could run and buy a load of sand, go to the worksite and dump it, but then we had to hand shovel it into a wheelbarrow, and hand wheel it behind the house or building since I still didn’t have a loader yet. It’s funny, I didn’t complain about having to move a dump truck load of sand by hand without a loader, I was just so grateful for the dump truck to get it to the jobsite.”
The loader and other equipment did come, and the founder and his wife were able to pay off everything as they grew. They were very grateful and felt God’s blessing. Such was the mentality of gratitude that he was raised with.
A Friend of Medjugorje, when thinking about the land he wanted to purchase, had a great desire to have enough property that his children and his children’s children could play in the same creeks. Kyle, the son on the right turned 40 in 2017. Casey is one year younger.
One Second Away
These decisions he made on growing his business would place him at the right place at the right time when Caritas was founded and Our Lady would be able to use him. Those decisions to grow his business debt-free would give Caritas of Birmingham a solid foundation to begin, grow and prosper. These physical aspects gave grace more power to fruit into what Caritas became because of the path of decision he made years before, all of which placed him in perfect timing to coincide with Our Lady of Medjugorje’s apparitions. No doubt his vow of renouncing alcohol for life added to a special grace given to navigate him to a position Our Lady wanted him to be so he would be ready in order to choose him for Her work at the right time She called him.
His business continued to grow and soon he was able to buy a loader after the dump truck. He possessed a mentality of gratitude that he was raised with. He could hardly believe God was so good to him and his wife. One quote that can be repeatedly heard from the founder of Caritas of Birmingham is, “Gratefulness begets another favor.” After many years of toil and struggle, Century Landscape and Excavation became very lucrative. The business owned dozens of pieces of equipment and employed approximately 30 people. Often his work was done with one of his sons upon his lap in his equipment. His wife and children worked alongside him. It was a blessing to be able to work so closely with them. The founder’s desire was to create a multigenerational business that he could pass on to his sons. Even in the midst of a booming business, his faith life never wavered. He had achieved business success by the age of 30, but he never allowed that success to get in the way of his relationship with God. He began to feel in his heart there was something he was supposed to do. He, however, had no hint of what that would be. Meantime, they were building their dream house little by little.
In the beginning of their first two years of marriage, Caritas’ founder and his wife bought their first five acres of land in a rural area about 30 miles from Birmingham, Alabama. It was 1977. With this purchase, he envisioned building a “live and die house” that he and his wife would never leave. He wanted enough acreage around him so that his children and grandchildren could play in the same creeks. The final decision to purchase the piece of property that they did was in itself a miracle. The founder and his wife spent a great deal of time searching for property to buy and build their home on. They found a small tract on Bear Creek Road. At that time, nothing was on Highway 280 all the way from Bear Creek Road to the Birmingham Water Works, about 20 miles. It was a very long way out and very isolated. Bear Creek Road, or County Road 43, was so isolated that it was not unusual that between 7:30 a.m. and noon, not one car could be seen driving by. The founder’s wife was, therefore, very reluctant and really did not want to buy the property. He and his wife had looked at other places, but nothing seemed right. He felt strongly that the five-acre tract on Bear Creek Road was it. After a couple of contacts with the owner, a deal was made. However, his wife still felt that it was too far out of the way. Then, there was a period when it became difficult to get a hold of the owners. All doors seemed to be closing. Several weeks went by and many attempts were made, but neither party was able to connect with the other. His wife then began to have stronger misgivings about buying land so far away from the city, so Caritas’ founder began to think that maybe it wasn’t supposed to be, yet, he knew that this was the ideal property to later add land to and to raise a family on. Because of his wife’s wavering, and because there was no response from the landowner, the founder made a decision to abandon the idea and forget the property. He would make only one more last attempt. Being decisive, he knew that if he could not reach him, he would move on and accept it wasn’t to be. He dialed the number and the phone began to ring. It rang five, 10, 15 times, twenty times, but there was no answer. He was sickened because he felt so strongly that he was to have this land. By that time, it was obvious there would not be an answer. It was so difficult for the founder of Caritas to make the decision to give up so he said to God, “Do you want me to have this land?” And as the phone was still ringing he made a decision that after two more rings he would hang up and give up on the property considering it not to be God’s Will, and look for property closer to town. By now, the phone had rung close to 25 times. The first ring came and went. The founder felt sick when the second ring began, that it was all finished. No answer. Just as the second ring was ending, he resigned himself and moved over to the phone base to hang up when he heard a man breathing heavily, saying “Hello!” It was the owner of the property. He said that he had just gotten to the door with arms full of groceries and heard the ringer, and fooling with the keys to get the door opened, he spilled the groceries all over trying to get the phone. The founder of Caritas was stunned and in disbelief at that emotional moment, going from one side of the spectrum of great disappointment to the other side of relief and jubilation in the span of a single ring on a telephone. He knew it was miraculous. Like the firm decision he made not to drink, he was firm in the decision he made about the two telephone rings and the property. He knew he would not have gone back on his decision even if the man had called him back because he had made a deal with God, that if it were His Will, he would show him in two rings. Caritas’ founder was able to make the offer and close the deal with the gentleman while he was on the phone with him and before he knew it, the property was in his hands. It is almost frightening to think that all of the things that have happened in the founder’s life and on this property, hung on the end of a one second stretch at the end of the phone ring.
It wasn’t until Our Lady came to the property through Her apparitions to Marija, that he realized to a greater degree what happened. The whole story of Our Lady’s visits to his Home revolves around the land. When the founder thinks about it, it almost scares him that one-second was all that was between what would not have happened and what did happen. It began a saga that set into motion an important plan of conversion already planned in Heaven choosing Caritas’ founder and his family as the foundation on which to build.
In 1981, without borrowing any money, they began to build their home, stone by stone, while living in a mobile home. The house that would, in six years, host the Queen of Heaven, was finally completed in 1987. The founder and his wife figured that with all the work and clean up left to do, it would still take them two weeks before they could move into the house. They had already experienced several obstacles that delayed their finish date. But out of the blue, the founder’s mother with family and friends suddenly called and said that they were all coming to help clean the house and move them in “tomorrow.” It was accomplished that next day as promised and without connecting the dots until later, they realized that the “day” they moved into their home, with no prompting of their own, was June 25, 1987, the anniversary of the apparitions of Medjugorje. They spent their first night in their new house on Our Lady’s anniversary of Her first apparition in Medjugorje… another fingerprint of Our Lady claiming their already consecrated house, that was given to Her from the beginning, as Her own. He could not necessarily say that he gave his house to Our Lady at that time; this would slowly materialize. But he did give the house to God.
In the same year that they started building their house, 1981, the Virgin Mary began Her own building project—re-building the “House of God.” The Virgin Mary was reported to be appearing in Medjugorje, a tiny village in the former Communist country of Yugoslavia. Knowing about Fatima growing up, but never having seriously looked at it, he began reading a book concerning Fatima before he had heard of Medjugorje, and he became enthralled. It was 1981, and the nation had come through the 60s and 70s into the beginning of the 80’s with no supernatural or miraculous events. While popular now, there was no concept or interest in apparitions in the desert period of the 60’ and 70s. He remembered thinking while reading the book that it seemed impossible for a “Fatima” to happen again. The feeling in the world at the beginning of 1980 was one of “bone-parched dryness” because the spiritual world seemed dead. This emboldened many across the nation to protest. Signs were carried stating, without shame, “God is Dead.”
In June of 1981, Our Lady began appearing. Being already on the land in the summer of 1981, the founder of Caritas remembers finishing the Fatima story in their mobile home. He recalls promising, speaking out loud to himself, that “if She ever appeared on earth again, I will go there.” He closed the book and put it down, and completely forgot his promise; it was wiped out of his memory. In 1983, he found out about Our Lady appearing in Medjugorje. Three years later, he was in Medjugorje. In 1986, he went to Medjugorje three times, in the months of July, October and November. Coming home on his third trip in November, while driving down Bear Creek Road to his house, an instant “flash” came into his thought and he saw himself five years ago on the couch. He saw himself closing the Fatima book, getting off of the couch and watching himself make the statement, “If this ever happens again in the world, I’m going there.” There was no memory from the book being closed five years earlier to the moment of the “flash” he had just experienced. Our Lady was giving him confirmation: I am with you. I am and have been walking with you. I have a plan. He also realized that his reading of the book on Fatima in late summer 1981 was moved by the grace of Our Lady beginning Her apparitions a couple of months before in June of 1981. Our Lady must have been scouring the earth for souls whom She put into motion to cross Her path for implementing Her plans. After three trips to Medjugorje, however, the founder was still in the dark about what Her plans were. But one thing he realized was that Our Lady was listening to him five years before on the couch and this began a walk with Our Lady in a live way that he would not have believed had he not lived through it.
First Trip to Medjugorje
A Friend of Medjugorje started Caritas of Birmingham in May 1986 for the purpose of spreading the Catholic faith in mostly Protestant Alabama. Being free from debt, the founder was able to fund Caritas with his own money. He could not have known then that the direction of the organization he founded was about to be drastically changed. On the first of the founder’s three trips to Medjugorje in 1986; he had taken his family on a pilgrimage to Rome, Fatima and, lastly, Medjugorje. A year before, he decided he wanted to formally consecrate himself to Our Lady, so he spent an entire year preparing for this consecration. Part of that preparation was praying daily the 15 prayers of St. Bridget of Sweden for an entire year from the “Pieta Prayer Book.” While in Rome, on that pilgrimage, Caritas’ founder ended his year of the prayers. Recently, he recounted what unfolded while in Rome:
“The summer of 1986, I was with my family—at the time, my wife and two sons, Kyle and Casey, on our way to visit Medjugorje for the first time with the Fatima Blue Army group. We stopped overnight for one full day in Rome. I had been praying the St. Bridget prayers from the “Pieta Prayer Book” with our two boys and my wife all year, not knowing by the end of the year we would be going on a pilgrimage. It just so happened the one day in Rome was the last day of our year commitment in praying these prayers. One of the basilicas the group had scheduled for us to visit was St. Paul Outside the Walls. When I entered the church, I vaguely remembered there was something about this church. Fr. Ken Roberts led us to St. Paul’s because he was ordained there and wanted to show the basilica to the 200 pilgrims traveling with us. But there was something else about this place I had read about. I asked Fr. Ken, ‘Isn’t there something about St. Bridget and a cross here?’ He said yes and pointed me to a large side chapel. I was stunned when I realized that here we were, on the last day of our St. Bridget prayers, staring at the actual large crucifix where Jesus twisted his head towards St. Bridget and told her of the prayers and the promises that go with them if they are prayed for one year, without skipping a day. Filled with excitement and disbelief, I knelt before the Crucifix with my wife, Annette, and Kyle and Casey and prayed the prayers for the last time to end our year. We learned that the head of the Crucifix had come to life and turned to St. Bridget during the time she received the prayers. Afterwards, His head remained in that same position, unnatural looking, where no sculptor would make it that way, which actually gives validity to the story. For centuries, popes and saints to peasants in the pews have revered it. Having this experience just before arriving in Medjugorje prepared my heart for a profound and deep encounter with Our Lady when She granted a miracle of allowing me into the apparition room on my very first visit to Medjugorje when only priests were being allowed in.”
After this experience in Rome, the group went to Medjugorje. While in Medjugorje on the evening of July 4, 1986, a Friend of Medjugorje was speaking to Fr. Ken Roberts, with whom he was good friends. Fr. Ken and about 20 other priests would be going into the apparition room in Medjugorje. A Friend of Medjugorje was standing in the crowd of about 400 or 500 people packed around the rectory at St. James Church when a woman on the top of the steps of the rectory motioned the priests to come up the steps. After they entered, the woman, an American named Anita, looked directly at a Friend of Medjugorje in the crowd 20 feet away and signaled him to come up the steps. It was July 4, 1986, Independence Day in America. In the apparition room he joined the priest-only crowd. Fr. Slavko was also present with three or four lay people. The apparition room at the time was Father Slavko Barbaric’s office/bedroom. Shocked, a Friend of Medjugorje realized the gift that had been given to him, being present in an apparition. The Rosary began and when it was almost finished he realized, “I’ve been in prayer for a year to be consecrated to Our Lady. Where in the world would it be better to be consecrated than right here, just before Our Lady appears?” A Friend of Medjugorje leaned over to Fr. Ken Roberts and asked him, “Would you consecrate me to Our Lady?” He was again shocked when Fr. Ken Roberts boldly stopped the whole Rosary and asked all of the priests present to lay hands on him. Fr. Ken said a prayer to Our Lady out loud, praying, “Mary, we are giving this son to You in consecration to be solely used for all of Your intentions…” The prayer continued, but a Friend of Medjugorje was so deeply moved that he could no longer hear what was being said. As the consecration prayer finished, it was apparition time and two of the six visionaries, Marija and Jakov, began their apparition prayer and suddenly Our Lady was in their midst. When a Friend of Medjugorje came out of the apparition room, he wept profusely. He didn’t know why, and his wife, Annette, kept asking, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” He was unable to speak for about two hours; he would try, but he was silenced and not even able to answer his wife’s questions. When his wife first saw him coming down the steps of the rectory after the apparition, she remembers being stunned by his appearance. At that time, the only thing she could compare his “look” to was the face of Charlton Heston in the scene from the movie the Ten Commandments when Moses came down from the mountain. The look she saw on his face worried her and she remembers feeling a little scared. She explains that there was something in his countenance that was changed. She knew he had experienced something powerful and when she tried to have him explain what he experienced, he couldn’t. His tears overwhelmed her; his emotions infused into her that something supernatural had taken place. In this July 4, 1986 consecration and apparition, a seed was profoundly planted deep in his heart, a seed of apostleship for Our Lady. The impact of the moment for him is not able to be expressed in words. He knew something profound had happened. To this day, he cannot explain it.
A Friend of Medjugorje soon returned to Medjugorje and personally witnessed many people’s healings, both physically and spiritually. He was able, once again, to be present with the visionaries in the apparition room. The path to his second visit to Medjugorje began in September 1986 when the parish priest of Medjugorje at that time, Fr. Tomislav Pervan, came to the United States for a meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, with those who had been to Medjugorje. Several of those present were on the pilgrimage with a Friend of Medjugorje in June/July 1986 and felt deeply called to spread news of Our Lady’s apparitions in Medjugorje. It was during this meeting that a Friend of Medjugorje received permission from Fr. Pervan to present a question to Our Lady through Marija. This decision to ask Our Lady a question was not entered into lightly, but with profound humility. He had made a decision to let someone else write the question as he felt unworthy to ask Our Lady anything when in Her actual presence, in person, in an apparition. God interrupted this decision to let another come up with how and what to write concerning the question so it fell back on the founder. Though there was no one else involved in writing or presenting the petition, a Friend of Medjugorje could not bring himself to write it in the first person of “I”. Who was he to think he could go before Our Lady on his own behalf? Therefore, he went before the Blessed Sacrament in his old neighborhood Church, Blessed Sacrament, and wrote the petition stating “we” not “I” even though there was no “we” involved.
“Dear Blessed Mother, if it is God’s Will, we humbly ask that the conversion taking place in Medjugorje be allowed to take place in the Parish of Blessed Sacrament in Alabama and that it ‘divinely’ be spread throughout the whole region. We surrender this Parish to you and ask if there is anything you request.”
A Friend of Medjugorje went back to Medjugorje in October 1986, with his question for Our Lady. He tried several times to talk to Marija about presenting his question to Our Lady, but every opportunity failed. He gave up, as the last apparition of his visit was only a few hours away. He was quietly disappointed. Resigned, he went to the Church to pray. While sitting outside, someone tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around. It was Berta, a Croatian guide who was trying to get to Marija to explain what a Friend of Medjugorje wished and to give her the question. Berta said, “We must go now, she is waiting.” A Friend of Medjugorje was able to sit down at Marija’s house and explain to her the region in Alabama and the condition of his country, the United States of America, and the direction it was going. Marija told him to meet her at the parish house at Rosary time for the apparition. When they separated, Marija held on to the paper with his question written on it as she preferred to take it herself to that night’s apparition.
Before the apparition, Marija explained to him that though many people present questions and petitions to Our Lady, they receive no answer, not even priests. It was October 6, 1986, when a Friend of Medjugorje was present in the apparition room with visionaries Marija and Jakov. He was kneeling right next to Marija during the apparition. After the apparition, he noticed that Marija and Jakov immediately went into the rectory kitchen. His heart was in such deep gratitude, that even if Our Lady had said, “No,” he would have been honored because he knew that permission for every word from Our Lady must be given by the Father. The thought of his question being presented before the throne of God both excited and humbled him. Marija wrote on a piece of paper Our Lady’s reply to his question and petition, which was then translated into English. While the petition was written in plural, “we,” Our Lady answered his petition by answering in the singular, “you.” She addressed Herself to one man, singular, the one man before Her on October 6, 1986:
The founder was taken aback by the message as She addressed him and not the parish, as he expected She would if She responded. Our Lady’s message for a Friend of Medjugorje was a clear “Yes,” to his question, “…you will attain what your desire is…” by the condition of praying and living in humility.
Showdown with God
A Friend of Medjugorje took this message from Our Lady back home to Alabama with him and began to pray to find the fuller meaning of it. Even though he had a successful landscape/excavation business, he still felt God was calling him to something more. Through his deep prayer life, he experienced Our Lady and God’s closeness in a particular, detectable way. On another pilgrimage to Medjugorje in the summer of 1988, a Friend of Medjugorje felt drawn to the woods across the field behind St. James Church. It was not motivated by impulse. He was pulled toward this isolated area. Once there he didn’t pray. In his own words he said, “I didn’t have to begin prayer as I felt as if I was already in prayer.” Immediately a question was posed to him and he understood it was from God. “Will you give up everything?” While the question was not specific, he interiorly knew exactly what God was asking: “Will you give up everything?” Though the word was “everything,” he distinctively knew that the most difficult thing for him to give up would be his business. He scrolled quickly through a list in his mind, even wondering if he would have to give up his house. He recalled some months before, when fueling up at his gas pump behind his house, a powerful, voice-like thought of God asking him in his heart, “Do you want to leave your kids money or a way of life?” And he, in his heart, strongly answered God, “I want to give my children a way of life.” But this simple question and answer from months ago would now be put to the test. Would God really require him to walk away from the business he loved? Why was he feeling such a pull to close the doors of his business, which he established to hand down to his children? What was on the other side of the decision? During one of his trips to Medjugorje, a Friend of Medjugorje explained this difficult time of letting go of the business he and his wife had worked so hard to build:
“I loved my business. My wife and I built it from the ground up. It was what we intended to give to our kids. I was funding Caritas through my business, so I reasoned with God that I should keep it for that reason. The hardest part of God asking me to give up my business is that I knew that I could say no. I knew that God still loved me, even if I chose not to walk away from it. But God would come back with the question:
“Will you give up everything?”
I kept answering, ‘But God, it is funding Caritas.’
“Will you give up everything?”
‘But God, let me at least hire a manager so I can pass it on to my children.’
“Will you give up everything?”
“You’ve told Me for the last two years you would give everything. Say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
“I don’t want your money. I want not only your business talent, but to use you.” I had nowhere to go. I knew God would not punish me if I said no. But, finally, after more than two hours of intense, agonizing prayer, weeping, I gave God my ‘yes,’ my full ‘yes’ to walk away from my business and everything else. I knew I had to give 100%, not 99.9%. The light of truth was shining on my soul showing that it needed to be a full ‘yes’ or a full ‘no.’ Every condition I made with God was met with, “Will you give up everything?” Finally, I gave a full and unconditional ‘yes,’ with one stipulation; one condition that God accepted. I said, ‘I will say yes, but, this could be from satan to take away my ability to fund Caritas of Birmingham.’ I told God that I was saying, ‘yes’ fully, but on the condition that He would do everything to make it happen so that I would know it was His Will I would not lift one finger to make it happen. An amazing peace flowed over me. When I arrived home, God took care of everything without me lifting a finger. Closing Century Landscape and Excavation went so smoothly that I knew it was confirmation of my request. All 26 of my employees found other jobs. Everything was perfect in the way that it happened. There are no words to describe what it was like to say ‘yes’ to give up what I loved doing the most. But, I loved my God more than my desires and plans. Coming home and closing everything was not difficult. The most difficult thing with the whole event was in those woods behind St. James Church…saying ‘yes.’ Everything else, in reality, was easy. Sometimes we do not understand that when we give our ‘yes’ to God then He gives you all the necessary grace to do what He asked you to say yes to. Within no time, I would learn how profound that ‘yes’ was and what would come of it.
And what happened within three short months of shutting down my company? Something astounding! Our Lady came to our home for nearly three months. I would never have been in a position to host Our Lady, establish Her plans and grow the mission if I would have said ‘no.’ When I said ‘yes,’ I was given no insight of what and how incredible the plan was that would unfold in a few short months of so great a decision of changing everything in my life. That yes would have impact on millions of people in the future.
From Founder to Friend
After his experience with Our Lady, he quickly realized, with a deep clarity, that the purpose of Caritas of Birmingham should be solely dedicated to the events and apparitions surrounding Medjugorje, and specifically more focused on the messages of Our Lady of Medjugorje. The newsletter he began continued to expand, spreading to people of faith all over the country and other nations. He never signed his name, wanting to “live in humility” as Our Lady told him on October 6, 1986. He never intended to continue writing the newsletter long term, but he witnessed the effect it was having on the readers. People from all over the country wrote testimonies relating how the newsletters were helping them. By January 1987, six months after it began, Caritas of Birmingham was a national organization and would become an international organization within one year. Caritas of Birmingham was well on the way to becoming, and is now, the largest Medjugorje center in the world. At this time, the founder of Caritas of Birmingham signed nothing by name nor did he have the name of “a Friend of Medjugorje.” He wrote anonymously. If forced to be recognized, it was only as “the founder.” It would be 1990 before a Friend of Medjugorje became his alias. He had written his first full-size book, Words from Heaven, and TAN Books and Publishing was going to print it. Thomas Nelson, from TAN Books and Publishing, called the founder and told him, “You didn’t put a name on your book.” The founder responded by saying that he knew there was no name and he did not want to put a name on it. A debate began between Thomas Nelson and himself in which Nelson said that he could not publish it unless the founder put his name on it. The founder said “No.” He was strong on Our Lady’s message to him to “live in humility.” He knew that Words from Heaven would be a success and didn’t want any credit given except to God. Nelson argued back, “Then use a pen name like ‘Mark Twain’ who was in reality Samuel Clemens.” Again, the founder said “No.” He did not want to be known by name, not even a pen name. Nelson persisted, “Then I’ll come up with something that’s not a person’s name.” “You do it then,” was the founder’s response. The publisher then came up with “A Friend of Medjugorje.” The founder explains why he is so adamant about this:
“I have never had an ambition or desire to write. I do so only because God has shown me, through prayer, that He desires this of me. So, from the beginning, when I was writing to only a few people, I prayed to God and promised I would not sign anything; that the writings would have to carry themselves and not be built on a personality. I prayed that if it was God’s desire for these writings to be inspired and known, then He could do it by His Will and grace and that my will be abandoned to it.
“The Father has made these writings known and continues to spread them to the ends of the earth. These were Our Lord’s last words before ascending: ‘Be a witness to the ends of the earth.’ These writings give testimony to that desire of Our Lord to be a witness with one’s life. It is not important to be known. It is important to do God’s Will.”
October 6, 1986 Begins to Manifest
During this time, he continued his frequent visits to Medjugorje, each time deepening his friendship with the visionary, Marija. On one of his subsequent trips to Medjugorje in August of 1988, a Friend of Medjugorje found out that Fr. Slavko was being transferred from St. James Church at the time. On August 21, 1988, a Friend of Medjugorje passed by the rectory as Fr. Slavko was packing his things. After lending Fr. Slavko a hand for some time, a Friend of Medjugorje saw him reach for the Crucifix that hung on the wall in his room, where hundreds of apparitions had taken place to the visionaries. Fr. Slavko handed the Crucifix to a Friend of Medjugorje, whose initial reaction was to refuse the gift, stating that something this crucial must be preserved through the ages. A Friend of Medjugorje believes so strongly in the apparitions of Our Lady and realizes that when She appears, the visionaries see Her in more reality than we see each other. Therefore, a Friend of Medjugorje concluded, the Mother of God’s presence before this Crucifix makes it a significant relic of Medjugorje. He explained to Fr. Slavko that he simply couldn’t accept this Crucifix. Back and forth the Crucifix was passed between the two men until it rested in a Friend of Medjugorje’s hands at the firm and final insistence of Fr. Slavko. Leaving the rectory, a Friend of Medjugorje knew he was holding something in his hands of great impact for the future. Before returning to Alabama, he took the Crucifix to the visionary, Marija’s, home. He explained how Fr. Slavko had given it to him and asked Marija to pray over it for our nation, the United States of America. He, Kathleen Martin and Marija stood closely, circled around the crucifix cradled in Marija’s arms. He does not know what Marija prayed, but she held the Crucifix in her arms as a baby, closed her eyes and prayed with such fervor that tears filled both her eyes and the eyes of a Friend of Medjugorje. Before placing the Crucifix back into a Friend of Medjugorje’s hands, Marija brought it to her lips and kissed it so reverently that a Friend of Medjugorje realized to a much greater degree the importance of what was being placed in his hands. Marija went into such a depth of prayer over the Crucifix that a Friend of Medjugorje, deeply moved, said at the time that he hoped to reach that state of prayer at least one time before he dies. Returning with the Crucifix in his arms the whole trip back home to America, he and his wife asked the Holy Spirit to enlighten them on where to hang it.Over their bed was definitely not one spot that his wife wanted. The Crucifix sat on a limestone slab next to the fireplace until the moment the Holy Spirit wanted to act.
Within the following month, the founder and his wife invited some of their Medjugorje friends to their home. It was September 25, 1988. After dinner, around 10:00 p.m. he said to them, “Let’s get into the truck and ride out into the Field and pray a rosary.” Seven or eight piled in and they pulled up next to a big pine tree. The founder clearly remembers the moon being incredible that night. It was a harvest moon, huge and round near the horizon line but stayed large even as it rose into the sky. It was so bright it was like daylight, and the moon was completely full. As the group sat in the back of the truck, all felt an unmistakable, mysterious feeling. A Friend of Medjugorje said to the group, “I don’t know how to say this, or how it could be, but I feel Our Lady is coming here.” Those in the group asked, “Do you really think that?” But no one scoffed at the remark because that night in the field, everyone felt something. A somber silence fell over the group. The air was full of mystery and a deep peace. They also saw what the founder had been through and what Our Lady had already done and they did not question his statement. They all felt something credible in what he said.
In October 1988, a Friend of Medjugorje returned to Medjugorje. It wasn’t until the end of his time in Medjugorje that he went over to see Marija. Stopping by her house, he was surprised to see her in a very serious state. She explained to him that her brother was in kidney failure and was in need of a transplant. She said she would even donate her kidney to her brother. A Friend of Medjugorje was paying little attention to the subject because he was amazed at what he was hearing. First of all, no one was around. It was just Marija and himself. This had never happened in Marija’s home; there were always four or five people around. What really amazed him was that Marija at that point only knew broken English. It was usually difficult to communicate with her. Marija, turned the kitchen chair, faced him on the couch and began to speak in perfect English. This astounded him, wondering ‘how could this be’, so he couldn’t think deeply of the kidney subject being discussed. Marija was saying words perfectly in English like “dialysis,” “transplant,” “recovery,” and other terms that he knew she couldn’t say. He offered her his sympathy. What else could he do? He had come early to visit her that morning because he was leaving that day for America. On the plane ride home, all a Friend of Medjugorje could think about was Marija speaking perfect English to him. Upon getting off the plane and walking down the terminal, he saw in a newsstand a large headline declaring that Birmingham was just named the foremost leading hospital in kidney transplants in the U.S. in which the Birmingham Post Herald newspaper blared, “City Hospital Number 1 Kidney Transplanter.” Standing there in the airport terminal, he stopped in his tracks and just stared. He suddenly had a “flash” thought of the October 6, 1986, question he was able to ask Our Lady through Marija, “We humbly ask that the conversion taking place in Medjugorje be allowed to take place in…the region…” The connection immediately happened-“Is this why Marija was speaking perfect English!” The signs of God were astounding and confirming that He was orchestrating events to bring Our Lady here.
Placing the Crucifix
Upon arriving home, a Friend of Medjugorje told his wife the whole story. It was clearly tied to the October 6, 1986 question and answer. By then Annette was almost eight months pregnant; her fourth child due on December 16, 1988. He began to make phone calls to see if it was possible to bring Marija and her brother to the Birmingham hospital for the kidney operation. After speaking with the hospital, he called a close friend of his, Cyril Auboyneau, a Frenchman who was translating for Marija in French and English and living in Medjugorje at the time. Cyril encouraged the founder to come back immediately to Medjugorje and explain to Marija how the #1 kidney transplant center of the United States is in Birmingham, Alabama. Only having been home for a day or two from his last trip to Medjugorje, he told Cyril he would try and work it out in the next several weeks. Cyril insisted, “No, you must come immediately.” Cyril said that Andrija was becoming worse and Marija was very worried. The founder told Cyril it would be difficult. Cyril insisted again. He felt it necessary to come now. The founder spoke to his wife and then made arrangements to return to Medjugorje within the week. The first morning he was in Medjugorje, he met with Marija and her brother, Andrija, along with Cyril and family members. The founder explained the circumstances of the article he saw in the airport, let Marija and Andrija know that he had already spoken to the hospital the newspaper article referenced and offered them his home before, during and after the procedure. He was not expecting the immediate decision he received from Marija. Before going into much detail, Marija said in her broken English, “We go.” The founder was taken aback when Marija said “now.” The quickness of her response shook him as he began to realize what was happening. When he asked Marija, “Right now?” She, again immediately responded, “Now.” In an emotional whirlwind, he knew Our Lady was coming to Alabama…to his home. Leaving Medjugorje, Marija and the founder flew to Belgrade to the U. S. Embassy to see about getting a visa for Marija. What they heard when they arrived was negative; they were told they would have to wait three months. Because of the condition of Andrija, Marija was sickened with the thought of waiting that long. The founder immediately thought to call a good friend of his in New York. He dialed the phone number of a man he had taken recently to Medjugorje, the President and Chairman of the Board of ABC News Network Worldwide, Tom Murphy. Tom Murphy and his wife Suzanne had gone to Medjugorje the past summer with the founder. At that time, the media was greatly respected. Most of the world’s news came through ABC and more people knew of Tom Murphy around the world then he knew of them. His position gave him access to anyone in the world; presidents and kings to the man on the streets. The founder, calling from the U.S. embassy in Belgrade explained to Tom Murphy the situation. Murphy told him to sit tight. He’d make some phone calls. They needed a miracle. In one hour, Marija’s visa was approved. Our Lady was coming.
Back home in Alabama, Annette had stayed behind to prepare for Marija, her brother and those who would be coming with them. And also Our Lady. It was November 17, 1988, when the Holy Spirit moved to direct Annette in making a significant decision while her husband was away. In the middle of the night, she was awaken from her sleep three times with a fire in her heart to take the Crucifix Fr. Slavko gave to her husband off of the mantel shelf and hang it above their bed before her husband arrived home the next morning with Medjugorje visionary, Marija. Annette hesitated but after having awakened three times with the unrelenting fire, finally hung the Crucifix as the well as a statue of Our Lady she purchased in Fatima.
Years after the first apparitions at his home, miraculously, a Friend of Medjugorje developed a role of film that had been misplaced for a while. He was shocked to see that the pictures spanned from August of 1988 to November of 1988. Not a single picture was between the one showing the Crucifix on Fr. Slavko’s wall to that same Crucifix on his own bedroom wall. He wrote the above note and placed in in the photo album along with the pictures.
The movements of God were recognized in the heart of the founder and how every door was being miraculously opened. He with Marija began the flight home to America. Also with them was Kathleen who was an American friend who lived with Marija, Cyril and Marija’s brother, Andrija. On the plane flying home, A Friend of Medjugorje tried to imagine how everything would unfold back home. He felt a pasture near his home was part of the plan, yet it could not be as he did not own it. But Heaven continued to shower down signs as the plan unfolded.
The owners of the pasture next to his land, the founder knew, would NEVER sell it. For five years the founder had made offers to the owners to purchase the property. Nothing. Though something made him feel that the land was part of God’s plan, he also wondered if he had misdiscerned this because the owners were an obstacle that he could not get around. But the strong feeling in his heart wouldn’t go away that the land was in the plan of God in some way. After all attempts failed to purchase the land he stopped pursuing it. But on the late evening that the founder arrived home with Marija, he received a phone call. It was their neighbor, Tanner’s wife, of the Hale family, the family that owned the field. She said they didn’t really want to sell the property but made a decision to do so. She had a contract already drawn up. She had no idea that Marija had just arrived from Medjugorje and the founder does not recall telling her. The very next morning, the morning of the first day in which Our Lady would appear to Marija in Alabama. The neighbor, before she had to go to work, knocked on the door. It was 6:00 a.m. and she had a contract in her hand. There was no way she could’ve known that a visionary from Medjugorje who sees the Virgin Mary was upstairs sleeping in the bed. The founder signed the contract with awe at God’s hand and humbled by Our Lady’s plans. How miraculously all the events kept unfolding. He knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that the land was God’s, not his. The circumstances coming together were just so miraculous.—that it was almost unbelievable, yet they witnessed it unfolding before their own eyes.
Both the founder and his wife thought that during her time in Alabama, Marija would have her apparitions in Blessed Sacrament Church, in Birmingham. The first day after Marija arrived in Birmingham, they went to Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church. After the Mass, a Friend of Medjugorje felt something that he couldn’t explain at the Church. He sensed coldness and felt pushed away and Marija confirmed the same. They sensed very strongly in their hearts that the apparitions were not to take place in the church. Not having a “Plan B,” they went back to his house for the apparition. Our Lady had told Marija the day before that her apparition on November 19th would be at 10:40 a.m. They had to rush back to the house to be there before Our Lady appeared. Marija had arrived so late the previous evening and had left so early that next morning for Mass that she had not been given a complete tour of the house when she arrived. Now, together at the house again, the founder and his wife showed Marija around, thinking that maybe the apparitions should take place in the living room because on the balcony overlooking that room was a life size Crucifix, which is now in the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages.
However, when walking Marija around the house that morning, the three of them, finishing the walk-through, went into the library and then into the couple’s bedroom. When they walked into their Bedroom the three stood at the foot of the bed, with Marija between a Friend of Medjugorje and his wife. Marija saw the Crucifix on the wall, the same Crucifix that she knelt before during her apparitions in Medjugorje, the Crucifix that belonged to Fr. Slavko, the Crucifix she had prayed over for the conversion of the United States, immediately upon seeing it, she stated very firmly, “The apparitions will take place here.” A Friend of Medjugorje and his wife just looked at each other, shocked, thinking “our bedroom?” The action of a Friend of Medjugorje’s wife hanging Fr. Slavko’s Crucifix where she did connected their story with the script God was writing through Medjugorje
For the next three months, Marija received her daily apparitions in their home, primarily in the Bedroom. Our Lady gave messages almost every day during these three months – including three monthly messages for the world. Inevitably, word spread that the Virgin Mary was appearing in a small rural area outside of Birmingham. People began flooding in from all over the country, and even from other countries, to be in the presence of Our Lady. Cars, buses, and pilgrims on foot clogged the normally quiet two-lane country road. They gathered by the thousands a few hundred feet from the house in the adjacent, empty field, near a lone pine tree, that God has just place in the founder’s name. The founder had repeatedly asked Marija to ask Our Lady to appear outside. Hundreds of people were surrounding the house. But Our Lady never responded after several apparitions, so he quit asking. Then, out of the blue, on November 23, 1988, during Her 10:30 p.m. apparition to Marija in the bedroom, Our Lady said that the next morning She would appear in the field next to their home near a large pine tree and Our Lady extended an invitation for all to come. A Friend of Medjugorje and those present were stunned at the actions of Our Lady that night. It was one of the first clear signs that She was not just following Marija. She was instituting a plan with, and placing significance on the place where She would be appearing. Our Lady was not to just “appearing to a visionary;” they began to see She had plans “here.” The problem with the apparition being the next day in the morning was that it was already almost 11:00 p.m. How could they spread this at that late of night? They called a few people after 11:00 p.m., telling them Our Lady would appear in the Field the next day. Our Lady overshadowed everything going on. They did not realize the next day was Thanksgiving. They had lost all concept of time through so much of the activity surrounding Our Lady’s apparitions. In 1988, there were no cell phones. With many people in bed asleep, a Friend of Medjugorje knew few could be there the next day for the Rosary beginning at 9:30 a.m. leading up to the 10:40 a.m. apparition. Plus, people had unbreakable plans for Thanksgiving. On top of all of that, a Friend of Medjugorje had to bush hog a bunch of four to five-foot-tall pine tree seedlings from the large pine tree so that people could gather. He had barely finished when the first people began to arrive at 8:30 a.m. Because everything happened so fast, and the circumstance of Thanksgiving plans, he thought maybe 20 or 25 people would come. The crowd, however, grew to over 400 people. So on November 24, 1988, Our Lady appeared in the Field with the people present. This day was extremely significant. Our Lady choosing Thanksgiving Day, a feast day in the United States where we give thanks to God for our nation and all the blessings He has bestowed upon us, spoke volumes to them. The message Our Lady gave that day, Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1988:
Conversions were sweeping the area, healings of hearts were taking place, vocations were born, and Our Lady was giving many messages when She had stopped doing that in Medjugorje years before. People began to notice the uniqueness of the apparitions, even Marija who said that Our Lady was doing something different here. Father Robert Faricy, a Jesuit priest teaching at the Pontifical University in Rome, was present during the apparitions on December 13 and 14, 1988. Fr. Faricy had been going to Medjugorje since the beginning of the apparitions and had several books on the apparitions. He was amazed and said:
“I visited Marija in Birmingham and prayed with her and the others when Our Lady came to her in the bedroom. Not even in Medjugorje did I feel so strongly Mary’s presence as I did during Her apparition [in the Bedroom] to Marija in Birmingham.”
A Baby and a Community are Born
With thousands surrounding their home, and hundreds in and out of it through the three months Marija was there, a Friend of Medjugorje and his wife continued to give everything they had for Our Lady. Their brand new home was being “broken in” by hundreds of people seeking to be close to Our Lady through Her apparitions to Marija. They were tireless in their effort to serve both Marija and her brother’s family, Andrija’s wife and children had arrived just before Christmas as a surprise, and the pilgrims that came, and that was no easy task as a Friend of Medjugorje’s wife was 8 ½ months pregnant at the time. She gave birth to their fourth son during the time Marija was in their home. As a “kiss” from Heaven, the baby was born on December 30, the Feast of the Holy Family. Marija and her brother whom she donated her kidney to, Andrija, are the child’s godparents. There was a brief period when Our Lady stopped speaking. The period began towards the end of Annette’s pregnancy and lasted until the first two weeks after the baby came home. Without the daily messages of Our Lady, things calmed down somewhat around the home. At first everyone thought Our Lady did this to allow Marija time to recuperate. But she recovered within days of her surgery. They thought it was just for Marija, but she recovered within a few days. They slowly began to realize Our Lady was respecting Annette’s need for rest—before her birth, and about two weeks after the birth. Marija was up and well by the time little Joseph was born. It became evident it was out of consideration for Annette that Our Lady stopped speaking for that time to quiet things down. Marija herself said this in seeing how exhausted Annette had become in caring for all the needs of her guests, the pilgrims, Marija and Andrija after their operations, her family and home. The sacrifice and trials of daily hosting hundreds of strangers who came into the house was a heavy cross which was offered with love during the last months of a Friend of Medjugorje’s wife’s pregnancy. They were very moved by how sensitive Our Lady was to them.
Significant events continued to take place throughout the three months Marija stayed in a Friend of Medjugorje’s home. On December 13, 1988, when Our Lady appeared, She conveyed to Marija Her desire to start a Community at the site. Marija turned to a Friend of Medjugorje and his wife and said to them immediately after the apparition, “Our Lady wants to start a Community here.” He and his and wife were deeply struck by these words. A Friend of Medjugorje did not take this profound request lightly, yet at the same time he did nothing to “seek out” community members. He was not told what type of community it would be, who would come, or what the community would do, but through much prayer and petition before Our Lady for Her to make of the community what She wanted, a committed and united Community has grown up around a Friend of Medjugorje’s home. The Community of Caritas is a community of both families and single consecrated men and women who have all come together to live and spread Our Lady of Medjugorje’s messages following in the witness of a Friend of Medjugorje.
On January 15, 1989, the pause in the messages was over. A Friend of Medjugorje and Marija were in the loft during this apparition because the down stairs living room was packed with people for Mass. Our Lady appeared to Marija when she came back to the loft after receiving Communion. Our Lady said on January 15, 1989:
That next day, January 16, 1989 Our Lady appeared with a beautiful smile on Her face and blessed the newborn baby making the Sign of the Cross in his direction. From that day, until the day Marija left, Our Lady spoke words. The significance of Her January 15, 1989 messages can be easily overlooked. But Her simple words were a huge statement. First, Our Lady acknowledged that ‘yes,’ She was intentionally giving messages in a Friend of Medjugorje’s home and would begin again. Secondly, She chose the location. There was an intentional act on Heaven’s part. This would be discovered years later as a Friend of Medjugorje contemplated on the fact that the world cannot be healed if the family cannot be healed. The family cannot be healed if the husband and wife’s relationship is not healed. The Bedroom of Apparitions continues to be a place Our Lady chooses to appear in repeatedly when Marija returns to their home at Caritas. Pilgrims still come to place their intentions on this family “altar.” Many marriages have been saved after an encounter with Our Lady in the Bedroom of Apparitions even just by reading about it. Our Lady has appeared in The Field of Apparitions, The Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages, and now even at the Cross on Penitentiary Mountain. However, Our Lady Herself has chosen the Bedroom of Apparitions to appear in more than any of the other sites combined.
The time eventually came for Marija to leave. The last apparition took place in the Bedroom on January 26, 1989. Our Lady’s last words before She left during that first visit were the same words She began with in the first message given in the valley. In Her last apparition on January 26, 1989 She said:
Her first words on November 20, 1988 were:
With Our Lady’s visit, the recipe was complete. A Friend of Medjugorje had been gathering, through God’s grace and life’s experiences, all of the “ingredients” for years preceding Our Lady’s visit and request for a community. The things that were already “in the kitchen” before Marija’s visit were: building the house on the property, having a “debt-free” philosophy, formally consecrating himself to Our Lady in Medjugorje, having deep encounters with God in Medjugorje and during the construction of his house, not following the establishment, giving up alcohol for life, having correct concepts of family and work, knowing he is a sinner, a wretch, and that all good he did was only God’s good, having the knowledge that he could do nothing, being loyal to the Catholic Church despite the persecutions he received from those within it because of his belief in the apparitions, and being unwavering and obedient to his faith. These ingredients, combined with what was being added by Our Lady to the recipe, foundationed what was to come. These first three months of messages set the formation for the Community’s way of life. The home of a Friend of Medjugorje has hosted not only the Queen of Heaven through her apparitions to Marija, but Our Lady has come there with angels, sometimes three, sometimes five, with Baby Jesus in Her arms on Christmas Day 1988, with smiles, joy, surprises and peace. She has left many beautiful messages and has done remarkable things. A Friend of Medjugorje has grown in an intimate way with Our Lady more each day, since his first taste of Medjugorje. With a clear vision of his role in Her plan, he presses forward each day inspired with new ways to “get hearts” close to Our Lady’s. This passion and drive were the direct request of Our Lady’s.
May 31, 1995 Message
In May of 1995, a Friend of Medjugorje visited Marija’s family at their home in Monza. On May 31, 1995, the Feast of the Visitation, he was with Marija in Italy at her home. There were only the two of them present for the apparition on this day. Marija’s in-laws, Dino and Milli Lunetti, had called and told Marija they were coming over. Their apartment is in the same complex as Marija’s. Moments later, they called back and said that they were lying down because they felt so sick. Marija ran to check on them and came back just moments before the apparition time rosary was to begin. Marija kept saying, “So strange. So strange.” The apparition lasted longer than normal. At the end of the apparition, Marija immediately left to go into the kitchen but said to him to remain in prayer and to recite the “Magnificat.” It was a privilege to pray the “Magnificat” on May 31st in closing the apparition on the feast day in which Our Lady Herself recited it before Elizabeth. A Friend of Medjugorje knew something happened during the apparition because of its length and realized when Marija sat down immediately with pen and paper that Our Lady had given a specific message. Though for years he had been around the apparitions and many times received messages, never had he experienced Our Lady giving an individual a message without being prompted by a question first, and then, too, of the many people who have asked a question of Our Lady, rarely an answer was given. But all became clear after the apparition when Our Lady gave the message. Dino and Millie suddenly becoming sick made even clearer the significance of the moment. Had they been present, this message could not have been taken as a message specifically for a Friend of Medjugorje, his mission and community. This happening made the message all the more important. Anyone who persecutes a Friend of Medjugorje and Caritas is actually attacking what Our Lady birthed and literally nurtured. Marija then relayed that the message was for him, his family, and the community. This message he understood, by a special grace during the apparition, was a clear mandate; that Our Lady had brought this mission and community to a special point by trials and the purifying fire of tribulations in order to now be used by Her in a special way.
Our Lady said to literally “get souls” close to Her heart and bring them to God. She wants of him and the community to be Her extended hands, Her tools, which She desires to use just as any craftsman uses his tools. Our Lady said on May 31, 1995:
Marija was very surprised by this. She knew immediately by Our Lady’s intimacy in saying “Little Children” that it was also for the Community of Caritas and its mission. Marija was questioned by a Friend of Medjugorje about the words “to a way.” Marija said specifically Our Lady meant “to ‘a’ way of salvation.” This was important to him because of the spirituality at Caritas and what it is he believes Our Lady has shown by way of this path of salvation, namely of turning away from certain ways and things the world offers. By Our Lady’s words, a Friend of Medjugorje understood clearly Her desire to lead others along this way, and that She was strongly endorsing and blessing this path. After She spoke this message, Our Lady gave a blessing before returning to Heaven. He understood that he and the community were not to frown on or look with indifference on other paths of salvation, but to be strong in gathering hearts and showing them what Our Lady has taught them and how She has guided their mission and the community. The advice and encouragement Our Lady gave to a Friend of Medjugorje on October 6, 1986 extended through this May 31, 1995 message, to the community of Caritas who is following in this “witness,” this “way of salvation.”
The Grace and the Works
Since Marija’s first visit to his home, a Friend of Medjugorje has hosted Marija many times through the years and she has had close to 200 apparitions as of August, 2017, either in his home or on the grounds surrounding it. His inspiration for every event with Marija and Our Lady reflects the theme of his prayer first prayed in the apparition room on July 4, 1986, “for his own conversion, the conversion of his family, and the conversion of our nation.” Believing that Our Lady of Medjugorje has a specific plan for the United States of America, he has written many novenas, prayers, books and short books about the healing of our nation through Our Lady’s hands.
A Friend of Medjugorje is now the author of hundreds of books and short books on Medjugorje and has written more on the messages of Our Lady than any other person in the world. A Friend of Medjugorje rejects the notion that Medjugorje is a “movement.” Medjugorje is not a “movement;” it is a plan for the whole world . A movement would be contained within the body of a population. Medjugorje is to cover the whole population of the world, to change the face of the world. It is not man-made. It is “‘man’dated” by Heaven itself. His writings offer a deeper spiritual look into Our Lady’s messages, which help people grasp the messages and concretely live them out in their lives. The spiritual fruit that has come from his writings cannot be measured. His writings now expand to fill the thousands of pages of Medjugorje.com while continuing the monthly newsletter of Caritas of Birmingham, and adding to his list of books. At the request of those who follow him asking for “more,” he began and is the host of RadioWave and Mejanomics, radio shows that are listened to from every corner of the earth. A Friend of Medjugorje continues to pray to be inspired daily with new ways to get Our Lady’s messages to the “ends of the earth.” Since the beginning of his involvement in Medjugorje, there have been thousands of testimonies sent from those whose lives have been completely transformed through his writings, radio programs and direction. Worldwide, the life witness of a Friend of Medjugorje has affected millions of people. He has and continues to give his life for Our Lady’s plans taking seriously Her call to be Her apostle. Over the years, a lot of slander and defamation of character has taken place against a Friend of Medjugorje and is on going. It has never been his way to refute or retaliate. If one really looks at the fruit he has produced (see Works section) it is very evident where his heart is: full of a desire to bring souls to Medjugorje and to Our Lady. It is doubtful one can find another individual who has done as much as a Friend of Medjugorje has for Our Lady of Medjugorje. His works speak for themselves. From the moment he looked into Marija’s eyes while she was in ecstasy on October 6, 1986, when she presented his original question to Our Lady, something changed inside him; no doubt existed and a firm resolve that he would never deny these apparitions swept over him. Every breath he breathes is for Her plans.
We in Community, writing these pages, believe that a Friend of Medjugorje’s call from Our Lady is something that even we who live amongst him do not understand. There is more to his story than can be written in these pages. Our “ink on paper” will never do justice to his walk. Both St. Louis De Montfort and St. Maximilian Kolbe gave everything for Our Lady and taught of Her powerful intercession in a world turning against God in so many ways. No one can deny their influence on how others now see and love Our Lady. They were raised up in their time, to bring souls to Christ through Our Lady’s Motherly hands. Their writings and prayers reflect a deep, intimate love and understanding of Our Lady that is supernatural. Their words of Consecration to Her are now prayed around the world. They were Her apostles then. Now, we have apparitions in Medjugorje since 1981. Who is running the presses non-stop for Our Lady like St. Maximilian did then? Who is tirelessly praying, sacrificing, writing, speaking, printing, recording and spreading Our Lady of Medjugorje’s messages? Where are Her words talked about daily, intertwined into a way of life, archived for the future, inculcated into every part of life? Who is taking seriously God’s drastic action of opening Heaven each day for Our Lady to come down and bless the world?
As Paul was not one of the twelve apostles and was never able to see Christ, yet came to grasp the message of the Gospel in a most in-depth way, we too believe that though a Friend of Medjugorje is not one of the six visionaries chosen by Our Lady in Medjugorje, he has been given a grace to grasp the significance of Our Lady’s messages in a most profound way. He has stated that he will never deny these apparitions, nor betray Our Lady’s presence in any way…even unto death. We, the Community, authenticate his words through witnessing his life.