Editor’s note: As Colleen points out in her article, the apparitions in Medjugorje have not been approved by the Church. For more information on the Church’s teachings on Medjugorje visit this helpful resource at EWTN. LMH
There were many firsts for me this year. For starters, I got a passport. Secondly, I accepted a once-in-a-lifetime invitation from my father to travel to Split, Croatia to visit my youngest sister who plays professional volleyball overseas. It would be an eight-day trip to Europe without my husband or my four kids (that’s right – another first!). Why me? My mother was battling a bad case of vertigo and didn’t want to make the trip, so my dad invited me along.
My youngest sister was our tour guide; her fellow teammate the trusted interpreter. The only known destination on our Adriatic adventure was visiting Medjugorje, roughly a 2 ½-hour drive from Split. Honestly, I didn’t know much about this popular religious pilgrimage. It is not officially approved by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. I had every intention of conducting research and checking in with subject-matter experts before the Lenten visit, but time slipped away and there we were…driving across the border of Croatia to Bosnia on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day.
Wearing a touch of the green, our humble travel quartet waited anxiously as the Bosnian checkpoint officer reviewed our passports. Once waved through, the first point of interest that jarred me out of my jet lag were two white industrial vans marked with words similar to “Land Mine Rescue.” This was a solemn reminder that not too long ago, this region was completely upside down in war.
Our tiny red Renault was dwarfed by the dozens of Italian tour buses as we careened into the town. Armed with absolutely no knowledge about what to do first, we spotted a throng of pilgrims each donning a colorful neckerchief to identify with their respective travel group. (My sister and I called these bandanas “prayer scarves” and joked if our cozy group of four got to have one, what color would it be?) Thinking we stumbled on the exact entrance to Medjugorje and the spiritual place where it has been revealed that six teenagers witnessed the Virgin Mary on June 24, 1981, we quickly discovered that we were crashing an Italian prayer service outside one of the bed and breakfasts. We were such tourists! Making a U-turn out of this deluge of hundreds was no easy feat, but breaking away from the crowd gained us access to a friendly shopkeeper on a corner lot who pointed us on the right path toward Apparition Hill.
It has been said that Mary chooses those who visit Medjugorje. Millions of pilgrims have traveled to this sacred hamlet, sandwiched between mountains of rugged, desert-like terrain and mild Mediterranean climate. The trek to Apparition Hill is rather treacherous, as the rocks are so slippery from the wear and tear of so many travelers afoot – with and without shoes. At times, the jagged crevasses have you collapsed on all fours as you steady yourself along the 25-minute journey.
Once reaching the summit where a white cross of the Virgin Mary rests, it was remarkable that so many people were shoulder-to-shoulder with me, speaking in different languages. Prayer is universal and I witnessed that on March 17th. Years from now, I will forget what I was wearing that day or what we purchased from the roadside vendors, but I will always remember an Italian priest leading a group as four men gripped each corner of a miniature stretcher holding a very sick boy. The child’s face was the color of an eggplant. There was such a powerful sense of urgency with this group as they climbed upward toward the summit, praying in unison. Here I was, free from my daily grind and kid-free from the minutiae of motherhood. Instantly, my thoughts and intentions of “help me, help me, help me” transformed into “thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Later that night upon our safe return to Split, my abbreviated family of father, sister and I reminisced about our day trip to Medjugorje. We agreed that we were immersed in a community of spirit-filled citizens, many of them survivors from a devastating war some 20 years ago. Their resilience and shining goodwill were inspiring. Here we were, visiting a foreign country for the first time with no expectations and witnessing the spontaneity of faith happening along the way.
Copyright 2012 Colleen McNatt