In Medjugorje, on June 24, 1981, six young people entered into an experience that has continued nearly three decades later. With their experience, they have drawn men from every continent on the earth to Medjugorje; people from every race, religion, every walk of life, the rich and the poor, the simple and the intelligent, believers and atheists, those known by the world and those unknown. Is the experience of the so-called visionaries real? Can reasonable people accept their testimony? Are the visionaries seeing what they say they are seeing? Can an average person discern for themselves if their experience is authentic?
On October 6, 1986, I was in Medjugorje. It wasn’t my first time. My first opportunity had been in July of the same year, with a pilgrimage group that had first gone to Rome, then to Medjugorje and last to Fatima. We had heard about Medjugorje, and decided immediately to go as a family. Making the pilgrimage, we did not even know if it was possible that the Virgin Mary could really still be appearing there. From the moment I arrived, I was amazed at what I saw. A few thousand people were in the village that seemed to be still living in the Middle Ages. No modern conveniences were available. Many of the villagers still did not have indoor plumbing. But the atmosphere of the place was spiritually charged.
The above window was stared at in reverential silence by thousands kneeling in the gravel during the moment of the apparitions. To say that even the air felt electrically charged is an understatement. Those were beautiful, very beautiful days with Our Lady in Medjugorje.
We visited there on July 3, 1986, two hours before apparition time, and then the bus drove us back to Dubrovnik, three hours away. I was moved and was very excited but I did not know quite what to think of it. The next day, July 4, 1986, we traveled back to the old village with a wonder of what to expect. By some miracle, I was able to be present in an apparition, even though only priests were allowed in at that time. That experience in Medjugorje was one of the most moving experiences of my life. I was taken totally by surprise of how powerful grace can be felt in the heart, shaken to the depth of my being. As I came out of the apparition room, my wife and children and some members of my group began to ask me what happened. For some reason, I could not speak for nearly three hours. No words could be spoken. It was as if I lost the power of speech. I wept. All too soon, it was time to board the bus to travel on to Fatima. What was going on here? For what purpose was Our Lady appearing everyday for six years? I had to have the answer.
Upon returning home to the U.S., I immediately booked another trip, with Medjugorje the only destination. I wanted to devote my full attention to the experience of this village that was attracting people from every corner of the earth. I was a very serious Catholic at the time. I was very involved in my faith. I knew satan existed and that he had strong powers in the world. I did not want to be deceived.
When I returned to Medjugorje in October 1986, I came with questions. I came with firm belief in the apparitions being supernatural, but could they be of the devil, I wondered? I kept my mind open to objectively look at the experience of the visionaries. If this was not from God, I wanted no part in it. But, at the same time, I was attracted by Our Lady, falling in love with Her. I was moved by the prayer, the impressive conversions, and the physical signs manifesting themselves in the village. Could all this be from satan?
I was able to be in another apparition on October 6, 1986. I knelt right next to Marija, the visionary, during the apparition. It was very moving to me, but at the same time, I wanted to be sure that this wasn’t a deception. Marija knelt, facing a couch which held all kinds of religious articles to be blessed. Above the couch hung a Crucifix the visionaries looked at as they prayed. When Marija went into ecstasy, I entered into a deep, fervent prayer. I was positioned at the end of the couch, with her next to me, in front of the couch. While Marija’s eyes were gazing upward, oblivious to everything around her, by some impulse, I leaned over in the apparition so that I was face to face with her. I looked right directly into her eyes, concerned this could be satan’s doing. I intensely prayed to God, asking Him to reveal to me if this was truly Our Lady appearing to Marija. During that moment that seems to have been outside of time, I felt something physically move in my body, that I can only describe as something electrical. It permeated me entirely, in a strange way, with physical peace. At the same time I was feeling this physically, a grace hit my heart so strong, so concretely, that I knew in that single moment I would spill my blood before ever denying Medjugorje. When the apparition ended, I knew Medjugorje was more than real. Our Lady is appearing there. I needed no more signs.
Some believe, as I did, instantly. Others believe with time, still others reject the notion altogether. Somehow I knew it was real before I went to Medjugorje. I believed it was supernatural. Yet I’m not inclined to believe such things or follow after so called apparitions. Only later did I wonder during the apparition, “Yes, this is supernatural, but could it be from the devil?” Everyone who goes to Medjugorje has to wrestle with these questions, and determine for themselves, is it real, is it from God? There is no question in my heart, even now, nearly 25 years after my first visit that the Virgin Mary has appeared and continues to appear to these six individuals. Scripture states, “Seek and you shall find, ask and it will be given, knock and the door will be opened.” For millions of pilgrims who have come to Medjugorje, and those who have not been able to come but still believe, the reality of this Scripture has born true in their own lives. They simply believed God would reveal to them the truth of these apparitions, and through their asking, they received the gift of faith. One example among the millions of pilgrims who have gone to Medjugorje is the story of woman who found herself in a crisis of faith on her pilgrimage.
She was troubled while on her pilgrimage in Medjugorje and started having some difficulty in believing in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Just before Communion, she sincerely prayed to Jesus and Our Lady, “Just show me, help me to understand if it is really You, Jesus, that You are truly here as King.” While the crowd was lining up for Communion, as they traditionally do in Medjugorje, and the two lines finished forming, from the other side a priest entered from 100 yards away, holding up the chalice with a Host held just above it. She was struck speechless, as she had just finished her plea to Our Lady to make her understand. She saw the Host majestically carried, with great dignity as due to a king, by a priest wearing vestments. The priest passed before hundreds of subjects who had formed a straight corridor, fifteen feet apart, and the woman watched as the people gave respect and honor that is only due a king. The thought then came to her, “It really is Jesus. This could not be if He were not present.” The priest never stopped, but passed up everyone and came all the way down to the end where she was the only one standing and stood before her with the Host. By then she knew, while others around her did not, that her prayer had been answered and she had received not only a miracle, but the King.”1
When the six young people began seeing Our Lady in Medjugorje, they repeatedly asked Her to give the curious crowds that were growing by the thousands as each day passed, a sign that would prove to them all that the visionaries were not lying, that they were truly seeing Our Lady. Our Lady repeated the words of Jesus, Her Son, that He spoke 2,000 years ago, “Blessed are those who believe who do not see.” In those beginning days, Our Lady spoke often about “faith”. When the Medjugorje visionaries asked Our Lady, “What do you expect of us”, She answered:
June 28, 1981
She would eventually require the same from all those who would become Her followers from around the world. And so for those who approach Medjugorje, who wonder what Our Lady is asking of them, what should their response be, the first answer is simply to have faith. Anyone who has an open and willing heart to seek, to ask, to knock…then they will find, it will be given, the door of faith will be opened. This has been the experience of not one, not a hundred, not a thousand, but millions of people throughout the world, throughout the past nearly 30 years since the apparitions in Medjugorje began. It is because of this that I have often said that the tables have turned and that the greater burden lies with those who do not believe and who wish to disprove Medjugorje, rather than with those who believe, to have to prove that the visionaries are truly seeing Our Lady.
We end where we began. People from every race, religion, every walk of life, the rich and the poor, the simple and the intelligent, believers and atheists, those known by the world and those unknown have been to Medjugorje. Is the experience of the so-called visionaries real? Can reasonable people accept their testimony? Are the visionaries seeing what they say they are seeing? Can an average person discern for themselves if their experience is authentic? Millions of people from around the world, from their own individual and varied experiences in and with Medjugorje, discovered that the answer to each of these questions is “yes.” In the face of this magnitude of faith that has compelled multitudes of people to return to the Church, to change their lives, to pray and fast, to become active in living their faith in all aspects of their life, the burden to disprove their experience is great indeed.
Caritas of Birmingham
Operated by the Community of Caritas
1. Medjugorje 2001-2002 Pilgrimage Brochure, Caritas of Birmingham