The Community of Caritas: One Heart, One Mind
It was Our Lady, Herself, who stated Her desire for a community to be established in the location where it exists now at Caritas of Birmingham in the United States. For two and a half months, from November 19, 1988, until January 26, 1989, Medjugorje visionary, Marija, stayed in the home of a Friend of Medjugorje, founder of Caritas, and his wife. Immediately after the apparition to Marija on December 13, 1988, Marija told a Friend of Medjugorje:
Those eight words brought an unexpected change to the lives of a Friend of Medjugorje, his wife, and family. At that time, he had already begun making changes in his life and transforming his family into a little community based on Our Lady’s messages. He and his wife were deeply struck by these words and did not immediately understand how the community was to form, but Our Lady soon gave him the understanding in deep prayer, and the community began to form within three years, according to that understanding.
A Friend of Medjugorje has stated numerous times for more than 30 years (as of 2017) he believes a return to community life is a concrete part of Our Lady’s plans in Medjugorje.1 This is what the early Christians did after the crucifixion in the early years of Christianity – they separated from the ways of pagan society and formed communities with others who had the same Christian convictions, not to seal themselves off from society at large, but rather to be able to live more fully the Christian way as a body of people and thereby have the strength and unity to be a shining “city on a hill.” The power of witness is multiplied in community, whereas when its members stay amalgamated with the culture, they remain weak and are affected by the culture’s ways.
But how does one go about forming a community with other people? How do you select them? Rather than coming to those decisions on his own, a Friend of Medjugorje did what he had so often done in his life: he prayed to Our Lady. There were individuals who desired to join him and his family in spreading Our Lady’s messages. They came to Alabama to join them in making concrete changes to their daily lives, through the imitation, adoption and application of these messages. He didn’t have to pick and choose; the process was self-screening. Many were screened out, for example, when they learned that they would have an hour of silent prayer every single morning in the Field beginning at 5:00 a.m., rain or shine. This revealed very quickly if their calling to the community was real, because these and other hardships cull out souls or purify them to stay.
Our Lady is looking for a community of people with “one mind, one heart, one spirit.” As one community member put it, “For years we have prayed for God to stop people from coming who were not of the same mind and heart as we. Not just anyone can live here. There are times that we are accused of all being exactly the same, as if that were something bad. But in fact, it was Jesus who said to be of one mind and heart, with Saint Paul confirming, “thinking the same thing.” We see our unity as a community as the most beneficial gift Our Lady has bestowed upon us for the salvation of souls because nothing advances a mission more than unity. But unity is not possible without love. And since Love is our name, Caritas, Our Lady desires us to live a profound unity for the sake of the salvation of the world. What that means is that there is a lot of dying to self that takes place in the community, but through death new life rises.”
The “way” of life that has bloomed forth from living the messages is not an easy way. Much like any pioneer who had to clear a new path through a forest, it was often a lonely walk, but at the same time, a Friend of Medjugorje had very clear discernment placed in his heart concerning “witness” and what exactly was to be formed. This interior understanding was something precise, not vague. A priest, who had observed Caritas’ founder for some time, said he had never met anyone with so clear a vision of the path God desired him to walk. The path through the forest a Friend of Medjugorje cleared, with his wife and family beside him, made it possible for others to follow. This is how the community began.
Ultimately, the community grew through the witness of a Friend of Medjugorje. He built this life upon the messages of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Medjugorje that expanded his witness into a Way of Life with the community; similar to the life lived in the early Christian Communities. In 2001, the Bishop of Birmingham at that time, asked a Friend of Medjugorje to write the Rule of the Community of Caritas. A Friend of Medjugorje preferred not to live by a Rule, so he called it, “A Way of Life in a New Time.” A Friend of Medjugorje describes the calling of the Community of Caritas and how Our Lady desires them to live:
“To live the Gospel as they did, a profound life in simplicity, sharing everything in common, where not only all temporal goods are given over to God to possess through consecration, but even our lives. We do not view life as our own, but rather it is to be spent bringing others to the joy of eternal life. This is to be accomplished by “witness.” Everything we live, every move we make is to reflect the full length of living that authentic Christian life; a life of love and sacrifice for God and He being first in everything and in all decisions.
“It is a walk in charity where one is real with oneself in consciously always continuing to turn away from self interests, moving through a life of love in obedience to God’s Commandments…to look for no rewards or compensation, but rather, to look forward only to the rewards in eternity; a life of service, of holy and diligent work. Wasting no time, particularly with so much excessive pleasure available to man today. It is a life guarded, walking each day as the saints to be always mindful of the heart and what enters it; a study and imitation of the earliest part of the Christian church, and its full application to our life and our children’s as well. Not with words, but put into action.
“Our witness is our tool to convict, to help move hearts and change all those we come into contact with. The community members cannot expect to convert everyone, for Jesus Himself was not able to, but by walking and testifying to a way of life, by our lives, to tens of thousands in our country and other nations as well, we already have a history, through God’s grace, of many who have rooted their conversions to this mission.”
The formation of small communities is Our Lady’s desire for the whole world. Given this understanding and the fact that Our Lady literally founded the Community of Caritas, illustrates that this community in particular is to be used by Our Lady as a visible, concrete witness of Her messages transformed radically into life. The community is a road map of “how to” form and live in community – a teaching and witness for those alive now, but also, and perhaps even more important, a witness for generations yet to come in the future.
1. A Friend of Medjugorje’s conviction that return to community is a part of Our Lady’s Medjugorje plans is based on an in-depth, prayerful study of Our Lady’s messages for more than 30 years, deep prayer, and a concrete living of the messages that has further unlocked deeper understandings. Additional supernatural occurrences that happened as part of the Medjugorje apparitions shaped this conviction of a Friend of Medjugorje as well. One specific occurrence was a vision that occurred in the early days of Medjugorje that was witnessed by many Medjugorje villagers, including, visionary Marija’s brother, Andrija, and others. A Friend of Medjugorje conducted several interviews with Andrija to obtain the proper description and understanding of the vision, which manifested in the sky above Cross Mountain, and consisted of small churches surrounded by four or five houses descending down from the sky to the earth on Cross Mountain. There were hundreds of such little villages descending down to the earth. A Friend of Medjugorje’s book, It Ain’t Gonna Happen, contains a more detailed description of the vision and the concept of the Community of Caritas as a “prototype” of what the future will look like.