Caritas of Birmingham was founded in 1986 in Birmingham, Alabama. It is known as the “Medjugorje of America,” sometimes fondly called “Mejabama.” A 501(c)3 non-profit, Caritas of Birmingham operates in the top tier of financial efficiency for non-profits in the United States, a result of how its founder formed its structure, operating debt free, and giving away millions of dollars, retail value, of spiritual materials and products every year. Caritas of Birmingham’s rich history is impossible to capture completely on paper. It is a machine of such depth and strength that most say it takes several visits to Caritas of Birmingham just to begin to grasp its reach. As one of the largest non-profit organizations in Alabama, and the largest Medjugorje center of the world, Caritas of Birmingham, under the guidance of its founder, remains true to its mission. If Caritas of Birmingham had a slogan, it would be the words that its founder, a Friend of Medjugorje, repeatedly states:
Prayer is the foundation of the success of Caritas of Birmingham. As a Friend of Medjugorje also says:
In a multi-faceted mission as large as Caritas, a work force of 400 is needed, but only 40 people operate it! The philosophy of prayer over tiredness is essential to the success of Caritas because through prayer, Our Lady grants the grace to overcome tiredness and receive also the assistance of the angels. Through their help, more is accomplished than what is often humanly possible to achieve, something that community members testify to often.
During the period of late winter to early spring of 1986, Caritas of Birmingham was established as a revolution against the “pre-managed” system, the “establishment,” which placed itself over the Church. Inspired after a meeting he participated in at a local parish in the area, Caritas’ founder realized that the rebuilding of the Church would come from the outside, not from within. In this meeting, the parishioners asked him to speak on behalf of the parish, expressing their desire to leave a beautiful crucifix hanging in the church above the main altar instead of a proposed “Resurrected Jesus.” The meeting went very well and all present believed that the arguments the founder presented were sure to sway the decision and accomplish their hope of keeping the crucifix. The founder, however, felt differently. He walked away with the feeling that the meeting was held simply to let people think they were being heard when the decision was already made, that it was a pre-determined outcome. He was right. Despite the eloquent words and passionate disapproval of the people, the crucifix was taken down and the Resurrected Jesus was hung in its place. This was happening while at the same time in Medjugorje, Our Lady was pointing and calling the faithful back to the cross signified by the crucifix. She was reminding believers of the power within the Sign Her Son had left. To lose Christ on the Cross was to lose the understanding and the power behind uniting one’s suffering to the suffering Christ endured for us on the Cross.
The night of this experience was such a defining moment for him, he decided to create his own non-profit organization while crossing the parking lot before he even arrived at his car. What he did not recognize at the time was that it was an inspiration. The non-profit would be named Caritas of Birmingham. The founder knew that Caritas would not be part of the “system.” He wanted to create a voice that would defend the truths of the Church and educate believers of attacks that were happening in the Church. Remaining faithful to the Catholic Church, he would nonetheless operate outside the established bureaucracy within the Church where changes were being made that were often not aligned with the Church hierarchy or Church tradition. He knew as a layman he was free to evangelize and promote the Catholic faith, and as a Catholic who grew up in predominantly protestant Alabama, he wanted to use his organization to be a voice for his own faith.
The crowds of people going to confession, Mass, hiking mountains in prayer, and converting put a longing in a Friend of Medjugorje’s heart to beg God for this grace in his “region.”
In July of 1986, shortly after Caritas of Birmingham opened in a borrowed space in the back room of a small clothing boutique, the founder of Caritas went to Medjugorje for the first time. He was deeply touched by what he experienced and his life was changed by what he witnessed. So impacting was this first encounter with the apparitions of Medjugorje, he began to realize that God inspired him to start Caritas of Birmingham for the purpose of Medjugorje. God had used the experience of the crucifix being replaced in the Birmingham church to inspire the creation of a new organization, yet after his experiences with Our Lady, he quickly realized more clearly that the purpose of Caritas of Birmingham should be to solely bear witness to the messages of Our Lady of Medjugorje and to spread the messages, testimonies and history of the apparitions and their impact on the world to as many souls as possible.
Inspired by the countless conversions he saw taking place in Medjugorje and the number of Croatian pilgrims he saw there during his visits, Caritas’ founder felt pressed, through prayer, to ask a question of Our Lady through the Medjugorje visionary, Marija. Through miraculous circumstances, he traveled to Medjugorje in October with a note from Fr. Pervan, parish priest in Medjugorje, granting him permission to present the question to Our Lady through Marija. He received a direct answer from Our Lady on October 6, 1986, through Marija.
Our Lady’s answer to this question was:
The original hand-written message showing Our Lady’s answer given to a Friend of Medjugorje through Marija on October 6, 1986. This is Marija’s handwriting.
This answer from Our Lady was a “yes” and gave clear instructions to the founder on how to attain what he asked.
By November of 1986, he had established BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary) Caritas Medjugorje Pilgrimages to bring pilgrims to Medjugorje to be able to experience the apparitions and feed their conversion. (BVM Caritas Medjugorje Pilgrimages still operates to this day, being the longest running pilgrimage going to Medjugorje from North and South America, BVM Caritas Medjugorje Pilgrimages continues to bring the largest groups from the USA, at the lowest price and is rated by pilgrims as the #1 pilgrimage to go to Medjugorje.)
In January of 1987, the founder began writing a newsletter on Medjugorje through Caritas of Birmingham and offering it free to anyone requesting it. The newsletter began with a mailing list of about 200 people, primarily made up of Medjugorje pilgrims. Within five months, by word of mouth only, Caritas of Birmingham was a national organization whose followers had increased to 6,000; within a year Caritas went international. In a few years the mailing list grew to well over 100,000 households with a quarter million readers. Hungry for the words of Our Lady that a Friend of Medjugorje provided, along with his unique perspective on Our Lady’s words, more and more people began to seek his writings. He not only wrote from his own experience in trying to implement Our Lady’s messages in his own life and that of his family, but as he began to see the world through the “eyes” of Our Lady’s messages, he also began addressing the attacks within the Church and attacks on our Christian culture. He refused to accept political correctness in whatever form and in whatever subject it was being pushed. Our Lady’s messages and the events of the apparitions in Medjugorje in Communist Yugoslavia were informing his conscience. There was a great void and silence within the Church and the culture addressing these issues and mentalities that were shaking the core foundations of faith, family and culture. A Friend of Medjugorje stepped into that void, empowered by his belief in Our Lady, and refused to be silent, even though the subject matter sometimes drew criticism from a minority of those receiving the Caritas Newsletter. A Friend of Medjugorje welcomed the criticism because he saw it as a culling out of those who spiritually would not align with Our Lady’s messages. It helped to build a strong belief base of Caritas supporters.
In the middle of building the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages, the founder felt pressed to write about a controversial subject concerning divorce and annulments. A temptation came to him that if he sent this newsletter out, it might damage his ability to raise the funds to complete the building. But what was stronger in his heart was that Caritas never compromise the principles from which it was founded upon. He decided to send the newsletter out and leave the building to God. Just as he suspected, several letters came in from people asking to be taken off the mailing list. But as the newsletter spread, for every one person wanting to be taken off, 20-30 new people wanted to be put on. People recognized truth, and even though truth can be difficult to hear, the heart hungers to be reconciled with God. This particular newsletter led to many marriages being saved, being made holy and in the grace of the Church. This was a defining moment for a Friend of Medjugorje. He promised Our Lady that he would write what She inspired regardless of the negative consequences it may cause him or the mission. Being true before God and true to himself was given first priority. He learned not to consider the consequences when making a decision of what to write or say or do concerning the truth of Our Lady’s messages. He made his decisions in prayer based in what was right. The consequences he would leave to God. That means there is always an ebb and flow of those who come to the mission and those who leave, but at the same time, a Friend of Medjugorje has amassed a larger faithful following that is continually increasing because of the many who have found truth in his words, resulting in deeper conversion and commitment in living out their faith as apostles of Our Lady. The founder, through endless ideas and inspirations to lead hearts to Our Lady that he successfully implements and brings to completion, continues to grow and expand Caritas’ mission, giving Our Lady greater influence and outreach of Her messages around the world.
Today, Caritas of Birmingham reaches, in regular mail alone, well over 120,000 households in over 130 countries. But with the revolutionary technology the internet provides, the numbers are incalculable as how far-reaching the mission is. Add to that the numbers of people reached, through the efforts of so many of Caritas supporters, who are continuously spreading the materials Caritas provides. He knew when he encountered someone through the day on travels it was difficult to speak of Medjugorje. He decided to have printed many various ways to inform people of Medjugorje. His direction was to mass produce the materials to empower individuals to have evangelization materials to give away. It helped indivuals to receive material in bulk for only the cost of the paper or cassettes, at the time, CD’s etc. Literally millions have been introduced by what he created in the infrastructure of the mission into spreading Medjugorje further around the world. It will only be in Heaven that we will know how many of the planted seeds eventually bloomed into full faith in Our Lady and Her messages through Medjugorje.
By 1988, Caritas of Birmingham was a major source of information about Medjugorje in the United States. During the end of 1988 and beginning of 1989, Medjugorje visionary, Marija (Pavlovic) Lunetti, stayed in the home of Caritas’ founder and his wife over a period of three months. Our Lady appeared every day and gave many messages. Even in Medjugorje at that time, Our Lady was no longer giving daily messages. But while in the home of the founder, Our Lady was speaking everyday, giving clear indication that She was doing something different, different from what She was even doing in Medjugorje at the time. During one of these apparitions, Marija relayed that Our Lady wanted a Community established “here.” The Community that has sprung up around the founder’s home is from a direct request of the Blessed Virgin. The mission of the Community is to continue in the witness of the founder, a Friend of Medjugorje, and that of his family, to live and spread the messages of Our Lady.
The Bedroom of Apparitions in 1988.
The story of the crucifix and the “Resurrected Jesus” that inspired the founding of Caritas of Birmingham did not end with the taking down of the crucifix. As if continuing the story where it left off, a Friend of Medjugorje found himself in Medjugorje in October of 1988. Fr. Slavko was being transferred from St. James parish at the time. The founder of Caritas passed by the rectory as Fr. Slavko was packing up his things. After lending Fr. Slavko a hand for some time, Slavko reached for the crucifix that hung on the wall in his room. Hundreds of apparitions of Our Lady had taken place in front of this crucifix. Fr. Slavko offered the crucifix to Caritas’ founder whose initial reaction was to refuse it, believing that something so sacred should go to someone of more importance. Milona Von Habsburg was also helping Fr. Slavko that day. Milona had left everything in her life to devote herself entirely to Medjugorje. She worked tirelessly with the visionaries and priests, often translating for them as they spoke to pilgrims around the world. She was also Fr. Slavko’s devoted assistant. She was in the room working alongside Fr. Slavko and Caritas’ founder when Fr. Slavko made the offering of the Crucifix. Her eyes locked with the founder’s as Slavko was trying to give it to him and the founder could see a longing in her eyes to receive such a holy gift; he could see that she believed as he did that the Mother of God’s presence before this crucifix made it a priceless relic of Medjugorje. For these reasons, he could not understand why Fr. Slavko would offer it to him and he felt unworthy to accept it. He said to Slavko to give it to Milona. Fr. Slavko pressed the crucifix into his the founder’s chest and said, “No, you take it.”
Back and forth the crucifix passed between them until it rested in the hands of Caritas’ founder at the firm and final insistence of Fr. Slavko. Leaving the rectory, the founder knew he was holding something in his hands of great importance, yet he still was overwhelmed that such a gift was placed in his hands. Before returning to Alabama, he took the crucifix to visionary Marija’s home. He explained how Fr. Slavko had given it to him and asked Marija to pray over it for the United States, for its conversion and return to God. Marija, her friend Kathleen Martin and a Friend of Medjugorje stood closely together, circling around the crucifix that was cradled in Marija’s arms. He never knew what Marija prayed, but she held the crucifix like she would a baby, closed her eyes and prayed with such fervor that tears filled all of their eyes, even Marija’s. Before placing the crucifix back into the hands of the founder, Marija brought it to her lips and kissed it so reverently that the founder was deeply moved, once again, of what was being given to him. He said at the time that he hoped to reach that depth of prayer at least one time before he dies. He was not only humbled by it, but he felt to be given such a gift carried a grave responsibility, such that he knew intuitively he had to live up to.
Returning back home to America with the crucifix, the founder explained to his wife, Annette, how he came to be in possession of it. He wanted to seek from God where it should hang in their home. The only place Annette expressed a desire for it not to be hung was above their bed in their bedroom. Not being raised a Catholic, she did not understand the custom of placing a crucifix over their bed. Not having a preference for where the crucifix would hang, the founder told his wife he didn’t mind her objection. He only wanted to hang it where God showed them. He placed it on the limestone slab next to their living room fireplace. They were not anticipating anything from receiving it; they were just at a loss as to where it should go. Less than a month later, the founder had gone to Medjugorje to bring Marija back to Alabama where she was scheduled for surgery to donate one of her kidneys to her brother. Annette, having stayed home to prepare for Marija’s stay, woke not once, not twice, but three times in the middle of the night of November 17, 1988 with a fire in her heart to take the crucifix Fr. Slavko gave them off of the mantle shelf and hang it above their bed before her husband arrived home the next day with Marija. Annette hesitated, but after having awakened three times with an unrelenting fire in her heart, finally hung the crucifix as soon as the sun rose.
It was thought that Marija’s daily apparitions of Our Lady while in Alabama would take place at a local church in Birmingham, but after arriving at the church, the founder felt strongly, and Marija confirmed it as well, that it would be better to return to the home of a Friend of Medjugorje and his wife for apparition time. Marija, being shown the house, finally came to the couple’s bedroom. When Marija stood between the couple at the foot of the Bed, Marija said full of confidence,
Fr. Slavko giving a Friend of Medjugorje the crucifix, Annette’s heart being on fire to hang it over the Bed when she originally did not want it there, and Marija being moved seeing the crucifix she had prayed over in Medjugorje hanging now in their bedroom, all were manifestations of a visible trail of Our Lady’s fingerprint of a plan She Herself was putting together. Over the next three months, Our Lady appeared upon the Bed in front of that crucifix, and has continued to choose this spot each of the many times Marija has returned to Caritas of Birmingham, from 1988 to 2017.
In the home of Caritas’ founder and his wife, Annette. The limestone slab to the right of the fireplace is where the crucifix given by Fr. Slavko was tucked away until the Holy Spirit prompted Annette to hang it over the bed. This happened the night before the founder returned from Medjugorje with Marija in November, 1988.
A crucifix taken down…a crucifix hung.
God’s story was beginning to come full circle. The event of a crucifix being taken down started Caritas of Birmingham. The event of a crucifix being hung up started the beautiful script Our Lady continues to write in the life of a Friend of Medjugorje, his family, and the Community of Caritas…a story of how important family is and how Our Lady has come, primarily, to heal today’s families. A Friend of Medjugorje’s heart was for the healing of the United States of America. By what Our Lady laid out, he began slowly to understand that through the healing of the individual, the family is healed, and that will lead to the healing of the nation. Because the Church turned away from the Cross, it is today suffering for it. Our Lady is showing that the Church will be healed by holy families turning to the Cross. There is evidence that Our Lady was initiating a plan with the founder of Caritas and his wife, in their home that involved returning to the Cross so to heal the family in order to heal the nation.
1. The crucifix, blessed in Medjugorje and transplanted in Alabama.
2. The message Our Lady gave to the founder on October 6, 1986, saying to him,
3. The message given to he and his wife in Ivanka’s June 25, 1988 message in Medjugorje,
4.Our Lady’s request to the founder and his wife in their home on December 13, 1988 through Marija that She wanted a community to be birthed “here.”
That Our Lady was initiating a plan here wasn’t understood immediately, but through time the founder became convinced of it. And what happened to the church where the Crucifix was taken down? Years later, in the year 2000, the church was oddly struck by lightning and burned totally to the ground. Though no one who did not know the details of the script God was writing could see the significance of that event, a Friend of Medjugorje profoundly understood the connection.
Now and For the Future
The Community of Caritas, that Our Lady requested, operates the mission of Caritas of Birmingham and all of its many divisions, including BVM Caritas Medjugorje Pilgrimages, Medjugorje.com, Radio WAVE, the Patriotic Rosary movement, among many other outreaches, all under the guidance of a Friend of Medjugorje. The community, donating all of their labor alongside a Friend of Medjugorje, strives to be as self-sufficient, or as “God-reliant” as possible, to keep the mission’s costs down and to be always able to distribute its newsletters, books, CD’s and other materials for free, below cost in volume, or as close to cost as possible. Caritas of Birmingham produces its materials with its own equipment, from computer graphics to printing and shipping, all debt free. A Friend of Medjugorje with his wife, knowing just how much Our Lady has invested in them, and fulfilling their commitment to Our Lady out of love for Her, continue to give their lives for Her plans now and Her plans for the future through Medjugorje, that the world thirsting for love will come to find it in Her Heart.
In a personal message given to the founder, his wife and family, and the community through Medjugorje visionary, Marija (Pavlovic) Lunetti, in Marija’s home in Italy, Our Lady said:
The Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages. The Motherhouse of Caritas of Birmingham in Alabama, named such to truly house and protect the messages, significant events, history and details of Our Lady’s apparitions through Medjugorje.
Caritas of Birmingham is always growing. It has expanded through the years to be the “head” of a multi-faceted system of operations all devoted to Our Lady’s plans through Medjugorje. A Friend of Medjugorje and his wife have hosted Medjugorje visionary, Marija, many times over the past 30 years. When Marija comes, thousands gather at Caritas to be present for the apparitions of Our Lady. Two hundred apparitions have taken place on the grounds with over one hundred thousand pilgrims experiencing profound conversion. Caritas of Birmingham was the first and only American organization able to access the area around the village of Medjugorje during the war in 1991 for the first month of the war, and over the next three years brought in tens of millions of dollars’ worth of aid to the war-torn areas. Caritas was also the first group on the scene in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to help the victims of the hurricane in 2005 in the Bay St. Louis, Mississippi area. Caritas has initiated 9-day fasts on bread and water while praying and spreading novenas for the healing of our nation and its return to God. It is the home of the “Patriotic Rosary,” prayed in cloistered convents, churches, prisons, military bases and houses around the globe, as well as the United States Pentagon. It has become a powerful prayer movement for the United States spread to all 50 states.
Without prayer, this powerful tool in the hands of Our Lady would be an empty shell, working for itself and not for God. With prayer, Caritas of Birmingham is a powerful machine that has been “retooled” with new equipment in all its departments, ready for the three secrets that will be released through the visionaries of Medjugorje and for the Great Evangelization that will result. A Friend of Medjugorje knows that the written word will persist, and the state-of-the-art print shop in the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages is testament to this. Prayer and sacrifice are the foundation of the success of Caritas of Birmingham. Regardless of the success of the mission in all its different areas, the community strives for only one thing: to be successful in prayer.
A partial view of Our Lady’s print shop on the first floor of the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages.
It is not simply the equipment that runs 100% for Our Lady, but the Community of Caritas operating the equipment with 100% love for Our Lady that makes Caritas of Birmingham a “machine” ready for the moment of the Great Evangelization, when the Ten Secrets of Medjugorje begin to be released.
Caritas of Birmingham rarely outsources any of its projects. The founder has always held close to the age-old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” And by doing it yourself, it gives the capability to do much more with every dollar spent. The graphics for Caritas of Birmingham’s “Mej Truck” were designed in-house in the mission’s graphics department. Members of the Community of Caritas drive the truck and run this “Mission House on Wheels” when it stops at its destinations. A Friend of Medjugorje receives many requests to speak in locations around the world. When speaking in the United States, this truck travels with him, hauling across the country thousands of dollars worth of materials which are given away free. It’s always a joy to receive calls and letters from those who have caught sight of the “Mej Truck” while traveling, who either have been to Medjugorje or who look up “Mej.com” and are moved to contact the mission. During one of the Caritas sponsored New Communities Conventions, hosted at Caritas of Birmingham, a Friend of Medjugorje asked all present to pray over the truck to consecrate it to Our Lady. He prayed that it would be a tool in Her hands for the conversion of many hearts and that everyone who even sees the images would receive a blessing and be led to discover Our Lady of Medjugorje.