My Trip to Medugorje, Yugoslavia
In April of 1989, a therapist came to Zip for advice in planning a trip to Lourdes, France. She planned to take several sick clients, who had shown remarkable progress under her care, to this renowned healing place. Zip and her son Bill decided to go along to help. Suddenly I wanted very much to go too. I wanted to learn from Judy whatever I could to help my own clients. But I had commitments for the last week of April, when they planned to leave.
After half an hour of wrestling with myself I decided I could take care of my obligations, and asked to join the group. Already the departure date had been moved into May, when I was free—an encouraging sign to me that I was making a good decision.
A couple of years earlier Eva had written me from Mexico: “I have just returned from Medugorje, where I had a complete healing! You must go!” Physical pain and grief were wiped away and she was filled with joy.
Unable to go at that time, I had filed the information away, deciding that the next time I went to Europe I would include Medugorje without fail. I searched in vain for the information she had sent me, so I set forth on this odyssey knowing only that Medugorje was somewhere in Yugoslavia.
Lourdes was a surprise, as we never caught up with Judy. I was impressed by the hundreds of invalids on litters and in wheelchairs pulled by loving caretakers carrying candles and singing as they marched in a procession that filled the church for evening rosary and spilled over to fill a football-field sized area. The first day we watched; after that we participated.
We were urged to go to the baths, which I supposed would be like a spa with healing waters. I went prepared with bathing suit and towel. In the dressing room I was told to disrobe and put on a smock. I had to wait for my turn, wondering what was coming next.
I was escorted by a nun into a tiny square room—a sunken concrete tub. Another nun whisked away the smock so I would “stand naked before the Lord.” A third nun stood behind me and a fourth presented me with a statue of Mary, asking what my prayer to her was. Surprised, I said “cleansing and lightening of the heart”. Then I did as I was told: Kiss the statue, make the sign of the cross, sit down in the COLD shallow water to submerge all of me but my head, hands and arms; they lifted me out, told me to dress without drying my body, and not to shower for 24 hours. I felt marvelously clean, exhilarated and blessed, having experienced an unanticipated baptism.
I hoped to connect with friends and relatives all over Europe after Zip and Bill left for home. Almost nothing worked as I planned, and no one I encountered had ever heard of Medugorje as I wandered about. Finally a friend in Vienna took me to a Yugoslavian travel agency, and soon I was on my way to Split by train, a cheap and relaxing 36 hours in a coachette. (Plane to Dubrovnic would have taken one hour and cost 10 times as much.) On the train I had put into a small knapsack the few things I expected to need in case I decided to stay in Medugorje overnight, and stored the rest. After a shower and night’s sleep in a “bed and breakfast,” I was up early and eager for the next bus to Medugorje. With a breakfast break and a rest stop, the 60 mile trip took three hours, giving the passengers plenty of time to get acquainted. I met a young couple from Kalamazoo and Tom, a young man from Rochester, N.Y., and we four were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. They seemed to know where to go and I followed.
After a ten-minute walk we saw the church and hurried inside, tossing our daypacks into a corner of the vestibule. English mass was in progress and I followed Tom as he worked his way forward through the standing crowd. When the priest asked us to “pass the peace” to our neighbors, we enthusiastically participated by shaking hands with each other and all our neighbors until a girl in the milling crowd stepped on Tom’s foot, apologized as she looked up into his face, and cried “Tom!!” It was his cousin Sue from home who had literally bumped into him in this crowd of more than a thousand people. She was there with a tour that was leaving the next morning.
After church we picked up our belongings and followed Sue to the family home where her group was staying, and we were able to stay there too. (I believe there are several miracles mentioned in this story so far; did you notice them??)
Sue’s tour left right after church next morning. After we said goodbye to our new friends, we went browsing in the book store annex and were accosted by Peggy, an Irish nurse in Medugorje for the 12th time, who offered to be our guide when she learned we were on our own instead of with a tour. She made cheese sandwiches and we set out across the fields to climb Mt. Krizevac, atop which a 30-foot cross was erected and dedicated to peace in 1933 in this communist country.
People who knew what they were doing were climbing in sturdy shoes (mine were in Split). I in my leather-soled sandals slid around precariously on the sharp, slippery rocks as I struggled to keep up with Tom and Peggy, 35 and 15 years younger than I, respectively. They paused at each Station of the Cross until I caught up before reading a prayer or meditation. They were very reverent, but I was too busy breathing to get much from what they said, much less think of anything original to contribute. This seemed to go on endlessly until, exhausted and overcome with emotion at the 13th station, I sobbed: “God, cleanse my heart of pain and grief, and leave room only for love!” Tom held me (I asked him to) like a little child as a I cried what felt like all the unshed tears of my life. Then we all walked together to the next station, the cross at the top.
After about half an hour of quiet at the the foot of the cross we started back down the mountain.
The return trip was even more perilous than the ascent. I walked barefoot to avoid slipping and breaking a leg or twisting an ankle. I met people coming up on crutches; parents carrying babies and small children; people who appeared to be in their eighties—as I picked my way among the razor-sharp rocks. When I shoved my swollen feet into my sandals at the foot of the hill, I found one cut on my big toe; the cut was gone next morning.
We got back just in time for rosary, so of course we went. Then Peggy said “After all you’ve been through, you may not want to join me, but I’m going to walk up Apparition Hill. On Monday nights the Virgin often meets the children there where they found her the first time. It’s on the other side of town, but not nearly so steep as the mountain.” Having survived so far, I was willing to make the effort for a possible chance of encountering Mary the mother of Jesus, whose appearances before six children since June 24, 1981 put this tiny hamlet on the map. I didn’t realize yet that only the children see, hear, or talk to her, although many say they have felt her presence, and many miracles are reported.
Small groups of people clustered around the many crosses that dotted the hillside. They were meditating, praying, or talking quietly. Peggy soon learned that the children had gone to a secret meeting place, and guided us down the slippery hill in the darkness with her flashlight. We walked home just in time for 9 P.M. dinner and called it a day and a half.
Next morning after mass, Peggy attached us to a group going to Ivan’s house. Listening to him, I was impressed with the universality of the message: Love God above all and put Him first in your life. Share love and peace with all people everywhere. Take care of one another. Pray and meditate regularly. Fast (Wednesday and Friday on bread and water.) He said that Mary identifies herself as the “Queen of Peace” and gives personal information to the children individually, in addition to ten secrets. When the 10th secret has been given, she no longer appears to that visionary. They are told when and to whom to divulge the secrets.
Shirley, Peggy’s roommate, had joined us. Over lunch she told us an amazing tale: A year before she and a friend spent the night on Mt. Krizevac. They were sitting at the foot of the cross about midnight when Shirley looked up and saw Jesus hanging there real as life, unlike any picture she had ever seen. She described in vivid detail his matted hair, square jaw, distended tendons in the arms, and eyes that opened, looked at her, then closed. There was movement above and beneath the cross but she remained focused on Jesus. Her friend acknowledged having essentially the same experience. Shirley had returned hoping for more clarity on the meaning of this event for her life, and planned to spend Friday night at the foot of the cross again, and welcomed our joining her.
An event not-to-be-missed (said Peggy) is a trip to the prayer healing service in Father Jozo’s church, an hour’s bus trip away in the mountains. (Father Jozo was a new priest of the parish when the children first saw Mary, and was imprisoned for hiding them from the authorities. After a year and a half he was released on condition that he never return to Medugorje.) Daily services in Croatian are translated, and we bought bus tickets to English services next day.
We returned to the church for rosary, then joined the crowd outside watching the setting sun, which seemed to spin and pulsate as we stared at it. (I merely squinted, unwilling to risk my sight even though we were assured it was harmless.) Many photos were taken of the sun and of the cross on the hill, which had a purple aura. Could something in the atmosphere cause these unusual appearances?
Father Jozo’s church was packed. We were on the first of about ten busses and got good seats, the first and only time I ever had a seat in church; in Medugorje I always had to stand.
The young looking priest with dark curly hair spoke for nearly two hours, beautifully and simply, judging from the translation. Then the congregation was dismissed, and those interested in the healing blessing were invited to remain; no one left. A young Irish priest started singing simple, devout prayer songs and the congregation soon joined in, creating an atmosphere of devotion and sacred beauty which moved me very deeply. How I wished for a tape recorder! It included many familiar Bible verses set to music and repetitious, so I could join in. This lasted for more than three hours. Several times I was moved to tears. I kept praying for God to send energy through Father Jozo as he placed his hands on two people at once. About half the people toppled into waiting arms behind them, signifying their “openness to receive the Holy Spirit.” I prayed that I might be worthy to receive.
I didn’t see what happened to Tom. He was ahead and others crowded in between us. He said he felt a jolt of energy go through him and next thing he knew he was lying on the floor. I started to lock my knees from habit, then realized that might block the process, relaxed and just crumbled in a heap. It was a great relief. A voice whispered in my ear: “Don’t be afraid! There is nothing to fear.” I thought: I wonder why she is saying that; I’m not afraid. Then I remembered Sue had told us that Father Jozo tells you what you need to hear, and I realized that my thyroid and heart problems may both be caused or aggravated by fear: old fears like confronting, being true to myself and speaking out, asserting myself, fear of loss of face, of being wrong, of being alone in the world, of loss . . . perhaps the list is endless. And fears of the present and future, of developing my potential and moving out in the world, of making commitments . . . probably this list, too, is endless.
By now the church was half empty. We returned to our seats and continued singing, holding the energy for ourselves and those still waiting. We had sung: “Fear not, I go before you always,” and it felt very important to me. I wanted to remember it and all the other beautiful songs.
Finally it was announced that another service was scheduled in the sanctuary, so this service would be concluded in a small chapel. We decided it was time for us to go. Our bus had left without us, but Tom hitched a ride for us on another bus full of people talking excitedly. As we started down the mountain in the rainy evening, the tour leader played a tape of beautiful singing by nuns, and the buzzing of talk soon subsided. I wanted only to be quiet and integrate the whole experience.
We got home at 10 P.M.; the eight hours we had been gone had just melted away. We were fasting, and it didn’t matter that we were late for dinner.
I was determined to retain the sense of purity, light and freedom. I could feel subtle tensions returning to my body, and consciously released them. Feeling very vulnerable, I prayed for protection and invoked the white light, and fell asleep.
Thursday was a free day, waiting for the mountaintop experience Friday night. Tom wanted to go alone to Apparition Hill; he meditated for a long time and had a good cry. Although Catholic, he had not been to church or confession for many years, and he didn’t know what he wanted to do about it. Peggy was leaving at noon, and I spent the morning with her in the garden. In the afternoon we took a taxi to nearby waterfalls to swim and enjoy the beauty and sunshine. The water was too cold for comfort, and the current too swift for me. A young man had drowned there a week earlier, and we were very cautious.
Doing my laundry while waiting for dinner, I became aware that my Medugorje experience was finished. No way was I going to try a night climb in my sandals up that precipitous mountain. I probably already had experienced my quota of miracles.
Next morning I was sure I had made the right decision. I bought my bus ticket to Split, and waved good-bye to Tom and Medugorje at noon, without fully realizing that I had just experienced the high point of my entire journey.