3 Things I Learned as a Medjugorje Pilgrim

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This photo collage was put together by Stella Mar Films, the makers of the Medjugorje Documentary Apparition Hill…who we met and ate with for the week!

“Dear children, I am calling you to accept my words which I am speaking to you as a mother, with a simplicity of heart, so that you may set out on the way of complete light and purity, of the singular love of my Son, man and God.

“A joy—a light indescribable in human words—will penetrate your soul and the peace and love of my Son will take hold of you. I desire this for all of my children. Therefore, you, apostles of my love, you who know how to love and forgive, you who do not judge, you whom I encourage, you be an example to all those who are not going on the way of light and love or who have diverted from it. By your life show them the truth. Show them love because love overcomes all difficulties, and all of my children thirst for love.

“Your unity in love is a gift to my Son and me. But, my children, remember that to love also means to desire the good for your neighbor and to desire conversion of your neighbor’s soul.

“As I am looking at you gathered around me, my heart is sad, because I see so little brotherly love, merciful love.

“My children, the Eucharist—my Son alive among you—His words will help you comprehend, because His word is life, His word makes the soul breathe, His word brings about cognition of love.

“Dear children, anew, I am imploring you as a mother who desires the good for her children: love your shepherds, pray for them. Thank you.”

These beautiful words came from the Blessed Virgin Mary’s message to the visionary Mirjana Soldo during her apparition on the June 2nd, 2018. And on this bright, sunshiny morning, for the first time in our lives, my dad and I were there to experience the event with our very own eyes…

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This is the Blue Cross where Our Blessed Mother appears during the 2nd and 25th of every month, at the base of Apparition Hill.

If you don’t know anything about Medjugorje (or even how to pronounce it!), it is a small village in former Yugoslavia, modern Bosnia Herzegovina, where the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared to 6 young people atop Apparition Hill on June 24th, 1981 and continues to appear today. Her simple yet profound messages of conversion to God, love, prayer, fasting, and peace have changed the lives of millions worldwide…

After nearly 40 years, the visionaries have undergone extensive scientific and psychological testing, and all are healthy and sane. There are 10 secrets to be revealed concerning the future of the world, and a lasting visible sign in Medjugorje is one of them. Yet most important is not to worry about tomorrow but to live every day, every present moment with Holy Love in our hearts for God and neighbor, as “apostles of love” of Our Mother Mary and Her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Me reverencing the Christ Resurrected Statue in Medjogorje that miraculously and constantly “weeps” drops of water from the side of its right knee…

Traveling through Stella Mar Pilgrimages allowed us the unique privilege to stay in the residence of the visionary Mirjana Soldo! Our mornings usually began with a light home-cooked breakfast (the food there was so simple, fresh, and delicious!) and then a short, scenic walk to the Saint James Church where English mass began at 10 am. After mass, we were free to stay, pray, shop, and explore until a large, late lunch (and late I usually was!) was served to us by Mirjana, her friends and family around 2pm. Then, we had some more free time until the afternoon sessions, which started around 5pm with the recitation of the mysteries of the rosary and confession by the main Church. The international masses held outdoors behind the Church, which were packed with thousands of people from multiple countries and many priests at the altar concelebrating (there are no need for lay Eucharistic Ministers in Medjugorje as the many priests distribute Communion down the packed yet reverent lines of people). After mass, there would be the recitation of 7 Our Father’s, Hail Mary’s, and Glory Be’s- the formula Our Lady first advised the children start with before working up to a daily rosary. We were lucky enough to experience the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi on Thursday, May 31st, which included a procession of the Blessed Sacrament- Jesus in the Eucharist- through the streets. We also attended a jam-packed nighttime Adoration with thousands of other Pilgrims gathered to adore Our Lord on the Altar with deep prayer and beautiful song.

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Though it was a little hot in the summer afternoons, the beautiful, brisk walk from Mirjana’s house to the Church really made the Medjugorje experience that much more memorable.

Along the way, we met many amazing, interesting, and hilarious friends that kept the journey joyful. Some of these were Cathy, a woman who has been caring for daughter with a traumatic brain injury for the last 7 years, Donna, a Texan who could have easily passed for a stand-up comedian, John, a college student and active member of his charismatic campus ministry, Teresa, the Vice President of Walsh University who hiked Cross Mountain entirely barefoot, Melinda a convert from Lutheranism who advised us to simply invite our neighbors to mass, James, a South Bend local who was finally returning to the miraculous place after over 20 years, and Stacey, a funny, friendly women who called me the future Pope!

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My dad and I (aka “The Gregs”) as we finally finish the Cross Mountain Stations of the Cross hike! And what a view it was!

Reflecting back on my time at this special place, here are three beautiful truths I learned that I would love to share:

1. The greatest of all miracles is the Mass…

Many people travel around the world to see great signs and wonders like the sun spinning, the visionaries in ecstasy, and rosaries turning gold…but do they realize that the greatest miracle of all happens every single day in the Catholic Church down the block from their home? To illustrate this, our tour guide, Miki, asked us, “Do you want to see miracles?” “Yes!” We excitedly replied. Then, Miki simply pointed us toward the confessionals, saying “Here’s where the real miracles happen,” encouraging us to start our pilgrimage off with a clean slate and cleansed soul from a good, thorough confession…

Indeed, as Catholics we believe that Jesus forgives our sins in all their entirely through the absolution of the priest, His representative on earth. And this “soul cleansing” is what allows us to be in a state of grace in order to receive greatest of all miracles: the Eucharist, where Christ is fully alive and present from the moment of the priest’s consecration, yet hidden for love for us in a tiny piece of bread. Yes it’s true: every day, in tabernacles and on altars all around the world, Jesus Christ, the God of the Universe is really and truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, gently yet eagerly awaiting our presence to commune with us, strengthen us, in a word, embrace us with His Love.

Knowing this, it’s no wonder that Our Mother Mary is calling us back to monthly confession and more frequent reception of the Eucharist as two of her “Five Stones“. Her words to us, “If you knew how much I loved you would cry for joy,” echo those  Saint John Vianney spoke over century before: “If we knew what the Mass really was, we would die from joy.”

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“Nothing is by chance: neither pain, nor joy, nor suffering, nor love.” Our Lady told us on the September 2nd apparition of 2016. And so, is it really a coincidence that this unusually large Parish was named after Saint James, the Patron Saint of Pilgrims, back in 1969 when Medjugorje was just a small, rural village with only around 80 or so families…

2. Evil is very real, but not nearly as strong as Love.

Saint Padre Pio once said that, “The field of battle between God and Satan is the human soul. It is in the soul that the battle rages every moment of life.” At Medjugorje, I definitely experienced the reality of this battle…

One morning, after hiking up Apparition Hill, I was praying on my hands and knees before the Mary statue (pictured below). Suddenly, a woman being held back by two others, one on each side, grabbed for the fence right next to me and looking up at the Mary statue, uttered loud, angry and-dare I say-evil sounding words.

At first I felt startled and afraid, but I quickly remembered the words my Aunt Julie had told me before my trip concerning spiritual warfare in Medjugorje, that my two best options were to either stay and pray fervently and fearlessly, or else leave quickly and quietly. Apparently, fear attracts evil. So then, I reasoned, love must repel it! For, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear…” (1 John 4:18)

Thus, I kept kneeling and praying decade after decade of my little finger Rosary of the Unborn, trying my best to feel love in my heart for this poor woman, a soul loved into existence from the depths of God’s unfathomable Love and Mercy, destined to return to Him as His child forever… After a few minutes, her cries calmed down until she essentially collapsed in the women’s arms, and I was able to begin my track down Apparition Hill in prayer and peace.

Later on, I found out from other Pilgrims who witnessed the event (my dad included) that there were many people behind us praying for her, and one of them was a priest! The whole experience was a serious reminder of the reality of evil, demons, and the devil, who constantly tries to distract our every free moment from loving prayer to God. It really made the spiritual warfare that Protestants often discuss feel that much more intense, and yet I felt all the more confident in the power of prayer, the power of Love. For as Our Lady said in one of her messages, “Do not be afraid of Satan. That isn’t worth the trouble, because with a humble prayer and an ardent love, one can disarm him.”

Perhaps this is why Miki, our tour guide, told us while praying the Stations of the Cross up Cross Mountain to take out our “weapons”- our rosaries. “When you pray the rosary, the devil is fainting with fear….” He smiled, “Let’s keep him constantly fainting.”

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Me praying at the foot of the Mary Statue on Apparition Hill just before the above incident occurred. This site is said to be where the “permanent, indestructible, and beautiful” sign will be given to all of humanity to convert quickly back to God.

3. A heart full of God’s Love has the power to change the world…

While the week held many memorable experiences, one of my personal favorites was hearing Mirjana speak to us Pilgrims. Despite the multitude of crowds that swarm her on the day of her big monthly apparition, here, in the privacy of her own home, it’s clear to see that she is so humble and down-to-earth as she graciously shared her story (probably for the hundred thousandth time) with us. She told us of her upbringing in Saravejo and how she would visit her family in the rural hills of Medjugorje during the summers, where she and Ivanka first saw a gloriously beautiful Lady on what is now Apparition Hill in utter fear and disbelief. She told us how the then Communist government began cracking down on the Franciscans of Saint James parish and the 6 young visionaries (Mirjana was kicked out of school and even spent time aggressively interrogated by Communist Officials). She even briefly spoke about the 10 secrets that Our Lady entrusted to her. For anyone who hasn’t heard her full story, I would absolutely encourage you to read her beautifully written book, “My Heart Will Triumph” which is up there in my favorite books of all time!

During the Q&A segment of her talk, her charming sense of humor was made apparent, and she joked with us about her husband’s reaction to the Italian pilgrims (they’re known for being very pious yet a bit pushy!). “We have to joke of course…” she told us, “Because if you want to be an example of God’s love, of God’s joy….well have a joy. Smile. No more of those angry, suppressed, or serious faces. Let it be seen on us that we are trying to live God’s love.”

At one point, however, she was asked, “What does it mean to have an open heart?” To that Mirjana responded, “An open heart is a heart ready to forgive, a heart ready to sacrifice itself for others, a heart full of love.”

Each of the 6 visionaries were given a mission of a certain group of people to pray for, and Mirjana’s is for unbelievers. Yet Our Mother Mary respectfully describes them, her children and our brothers and sisters, as “those who have yet to experience God’s love.”

This Truth, that only a heart full of love makes the soul beautiful, that a only heart full of love can illuminate others, that only a heart full of God’s Love can endure and even embrace every Cross, big and small, like Christ did…this is what the Good News, indeed life itself, is really all about. As Mirjana writes in her book:

“Few people realize that kind words and gentle embraces can change the world. How we treat others spreads exponentially. It affects the future more than anything else. ‘God is love,’ Jesus taught, ‘and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.’”

“Let her [the Blessed Virgin Mary] lead you to love. Eventually, others will see in you what they’re looking for, even if they didn’t know they were looking for it, and your peace will spread to the people around you.”

Indeed, let us all pray to have hearts constantly filled of God’s Peace…God’s Joy…and most of all God’s Immeasurable Love. For as Mirjana told us Pilgrims:

“Every morning I wake up early, around 5am and I pray. And I pray to God for only one thing: for the gift of love. Because when you have love, the you have everything.”

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“Mirjana, have you met Greg yet?” “Oh yes. My daughter said he is always smiling.”

Quote (from Our Lady’s Message on August 2nd, 2017):

“Do not be afraid. Do not be uncertain, I am with you. Do not permit yourselves to be discouraged because much prayer and sacrifice are necessary for those who do not pray, do not love and do not know my Son. You help, by seeing your brothers in them. Apostles of my love, harken to my voice within you, feel my motherly love. Therefore pray, pray by doing, pray by giving, pray with love, pray in work and thoughts, in the name of my Son. All the more love that you give, so much more of it you will also receive. Love which emanates from love illuminates the world.”

Video of the June 2nd, 2018 Apparition (in which I make a cameo at 0:48!):

Verse:

“And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.”

-1 Corinthians 13:2 (NABRE)

 

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