For the last two weeks I was away, first on pilgrimage and then on holidays motorbiking around Ireland. It's good to be back. This week I would like to share with you a few thoughts on where I was on pilgrimage.
At this stage I have read enough about Medjugorje and the events there to convince me either way. I have often been slated by other priests for going there or having anything to do with it. So why do I go there? Very simply because there is no other place I know of which continues to have such an extraordinary effect on people’s faith. In one sense I think it is almost irrelevant what is said to be happening there except that it continues to bring many people back to faith in God. For me, that is enough.
In 1981 on the feast of John the Baptist (24th June), it is said that Our Ladybegan to appear to six children there. The fact that it started on this feast is interesting. John the Baptist’s job was to announce the coming of the Christ and to get people ready for him. Our Lady has been doing the same thing. Since that time up to now, over 35 million people have visited that place.
For the fifty years previous to 1981 Medjugorje had been part of communist Yugoslavia and this particular area was greatly persecuted because it was very Catholic. Communism worked hard to try and wipe out Christianity in any form. The government continued to tell the people that there is no God and that their faith was an illusion. This is what was taught in the schools. When Our Lady began appearing there one of the first things she said to the children was: ‘I have come to tell you that God exists’. It was a kind of reassurance from heaven to encourage the people to continue to believe. And later when one of the children asked her why she came to that particular place, she said it was because she found many true believers there.
Our Lady’s message there is really the same message as in any of the other places where she has appeared throughout the world. It is the message of the Gospel. She asks us for personal conversion, to read the bible every day, for daily mass and to fast and pray. What is important is that the apparitions are not all about her, but she is simply acting as a sign-post to Jesus. She is saying that we must turn back to Jesus and realise that we cannot live without God. God must be in the first place. Too much of our world lives as though God does not exist, and the consequences of that are disastrous. Just read the papers if you want evidence of what happens when the world tries to live without God.
20 years ago I began to go to a prayer group here in Galway which was started directly because of Medjugorje. That prayer group brought me back to my faith and I ended up becoming a priest. Many priests I know say that their vocation came directly from Medjugorje and a huge number of people that I know personally have come back to their faith as a result of visiting this place.
Today it is said that Our Lady continues to appear to 3 of the six children every day. One of the criticisms of Medjugorje is that it seems ridiculous that Our Lady would appear so many times and for so long. Yet we don’t find it ridiculous that Jesus continues to come to us every day in the mass. Perhaps the apparitions are still going on because people are so slow to respond.
What is the Church’s official response to Medjugorje? The first commission that was set up concluded that ‘the supernatural nature of the events there could not yet be established.’ That means that they are not saying anything either way. Pope Benedict has now set up a new commission to investigate the events again.
One of the visionaries called Mirjana had an exerpience which I think is worth mentioning. About a month and a half before Our Lady began to appear to the children, Mirjana’s mother died. When Our Lady began to appear to the children Mirjana asked her about her mother. Our Lady told her that she was in heaven and was very happy. Before Our Lady stopped appearing to Mirjana she asked her if there was anything she would like to her to do for her. Mirjana asked if she could see her mother again. She recalls that Our Lady then disappeared and her own mother then appeared before her. She was able to talk to her, to hug and kiss her. Her mother told her that she was very proud of her and that she should be obedient to her grandmother who was now looking after her. Mirjana now says ‘I am living proof that there is life after death.’ It is quite impressive to listen to her recall this event.
I also read something about one of the visionaries this year which greatly impressed me. One of them said (I think it was Marija) that now because of what Our Lady has taught them, if she had a chance to have our Lady appear to her or to go to the mass, she would go to the mass first, because she realises that in the mass it is Jesus we meet and receive, and there is nothing greater than this. That impressed me a lot, because it would make sense to me that this would be the case. If we truly believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, then there is nothing greater than this.
To sum up: when any mother sees her children in trouble she will go to any length to help them. Our Lady is our mother and she can see that we are in difficulty and so she has come to put us back on the right track. God must be at the centre. We need to read the Bible, to pray, fast and go to the Holy Mass where we encounter God in the most extraordinary way.
One of the reasons why I keep going back there is because it helps me to keep going as a priest. It gives me new strength and courage to try and persevere and it also helps me to remember what is important. I need that strength and I am a firm believer in using whatever works.
Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.