The Community of Caritas: One Heart, One Mind
BELOW: The founder of the Community of Caritas and his wife, Annette, have six boys, (one of whom died in Annette’s womb), and only one daughter. Being their last child and first girl, each memory and moment with her is treasured by the family as well as the rest of the community. Little Bridget runs barefooted to Rosary in the Field, just as her brothers did before her, as well as each community child. Rosary is a joy for all of the children. While the adults pray…they play.
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.
Site of the December 13th, 1988, apparition when Our Lady revealed to Marija that She wished for a community based on Her messages in Medjugorje to be established. In this room that became known as the “Bedroom of Apparitions,” Our Lady gave birth to what was already forming in the thought of a Friend of Medjugorje. Even so, after Marija shared what Our Lady had said to her with them, Caritas’ founder and his wife looked at each other and said, “A community? What kind of community?” Marija believed it to be a community with both families and individual men and women, who would all consecrate themselves to Our Lady, Who desired to lead them into a deeper spiritual walk with Her.
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.”
Unity brings order. Order in the heart breeds peace and contentment through which comes forth harmony and love between God’s people. “A community of one single people where the Word of God is carried out” will produce good fruit with every good-willed decision made. From the beginning formation of the community, a Friend of Medjugorje knew that unity was a necessary ingredient to the establishment of a way of life. In the above picture, at a public fountain in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Caritas children wet their feet, and without being told to do so, they lined up their boots in order. People walking by began to take pictures of their boots. The kids have been taught to line up their shoes and keep order. Order is always a part of life for anyone wanting to progress in the spiritual life.
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.
“Rock Banging” is a term used by all the Caritas kids when referring to the action of pounding a rock with a larger rock until it is completely ground into the finest sand. This game was created at Rosary time when the kids gathered around the feet of Our Lady’s statue in the Field of Apparitions to join the community in the daily Rosary. Its an example of how the children find joy in “work.” A visiting priest, seeing the children taking these large rocks and pounding them down to dust suddenly saw the reality of how one could move a mountain with just a simple faith; you do it one stone at a time. In much the same way, the changes that a Friend of Medjugorje and his wife made in the life of their family, one stone at a time, cleared the path and moved mountains for those who sought to follow Our Lady in a more profound spiritual walk.
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.”
Womanly virtue is rarely taught in today’s society and its power is greatly underestimated. Our Lady has come to lead women back to the heart of motherhood, from which She desires to birth holiness back into the world. Here some of the community women “play dress-up” with some of the younger girls in the community. Whether it is one of the Moms or one of the single consecrated, the women of the community are always looking for opportunities to instill virtue in the hearts of the little ones. The desire of the community is to live and witness in fullness the Christian way of life in every aspect of life. They are the first to admit that it is difficult to reach for such a goal in today’s feminist world, but with Our Lady leading the way, they are confident that She will win the grace for them to change, as Scripture says, from glory to glory, until they have reached the glory of womanhood again. In this picture, a Friend of Medjugorje’s wife, always wanting to make events more fun, often calls the single consecrated women to join her in the fun.
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.