by Andrew Pacholyk MS, L.Ac. (excerpt from Soul Satisfying Journeys)
(June 25, 2012) Medjugorje is a small mountain town located in western Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the Herzegovina region, close to the border of Croatia. Since June 24, 1981, it has become a popular religious pilgrimage due to reports of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to six local children.
This entire journey was a miracle from the start. Flying to Medjugorje is no easy task. Tonio started to call the airline for tickets several months in advance, always running into obstacles. Finally, after numerous amounts of phone calls, scheduling attempts and extremely expensive ticket prices, Tonio felt, “if the Virgin wants us to come, we will leave it up to her.” Weeks would go by and occasionally, Tonio would pick up the phone and call the airlines. The later it got to the day we wanted to go, the more difficult (and unavailable) the tickets became. Then, on a Saturday (the day of the Virgin), Tonio called the airline and got a representative who happened to be originally from Croatia. She said, “I will help you to get there.” She recommended the best route to go and was able to use all our frequent flyer miles to get there! This was the first miracle.
The easiest route was through London and then Dubrovnik, a spectacular city on the Adriatic Sea of Croatia. It is one of the most prominent tourist destinations on the Adriatic. Dubrovnik is among the 10 best medieval walled cities in the world and among the 10 best places in the world for a fairytale proposal of the Valentine’s Day. Although in 1991, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, it was besieged by Serb-Montenegrin forces for 7 months and received significant shelling damage. Following the end of the war, damage caused by the shelling of the Old Town was repaired. Adhering to UNESCO guidelines, repairs were performed in the original style. Today, peace reigns over this region and being there, you would never know there was such turmoil.
Dubrovnik is a beautiful jewel, perched on the azure Adriatic sea. The waters are spotted with over 175 islands and watercraft of all kind take advantage of these special places. We spent the first day of summer, swimming in the buoyant and healing salt waters along its rocky coastline. Later, we made our way to the Old Town where we had a fantastic seafood dinner alongside the ramparts of Fort Lovrjenac.
We then strolled through the Fort and Old Town. As you cross over the bridge and through the ancient walls, you are greeted by the Placa or stone main street, called Stradun. It traverses this great city, offering patrons many restaurants, shops and ancient attractions such as the massive Onofrio’s Fountain, a polygonal fountain with 16 stone carved maskerons from which the water flows. Across from the fountain is the Franciscan church and monastery with its beautiful Baroque style courtyard and next to this is St. Saviour’s Church. There are several other churches including Our Lady of Sigurata, the convent of The Transfiguration of Christ, founded in the 13th century, the Dominican church and monastery and St. Nichola’s church, one of the oldest 11th century pre-Romanesque buildings. Perched on a high hill is the Cathedral of Assumption. It’s large present-day vaulted ceilings, done in the Roman Baroque style, were designed in 1713. Then, there is St. Blaise’s Church. The Romanesque church of the patron saint of Dubrovnik, St. Blaise, was damaged in the earthquake of 1667, and destroyed by fire in 1706. In 1715 Venetian architect Marino Gropelli constructed the completely new present-day church in Venetian Baroque style.
Saint Blaise has been the patron saint of the city of Dubrovnik since 972 and formerly the protector of the independent Republic. His image can be seen everywhere, overlooking the city as guide and protector. In Dubrovnik, his feast is celebrated yearly on February 3rd, when relics of the saint are paraded in honor of his name. Saint Blaise was a physician, and bishop of Sebastea. He was martyred by being attacked with iron carding combs, beaten and beheaded. Blaise is often shown with the instruments of his martyrdom, steel combs. He blessed throats and effected many miracles. He is considered the patron saint of wool combers and the wool trade in general. He may also be depicted with crossed candles. These candles are used for the blessing of throats on his feast day. St. Blaise is traditionally believed to intercede in cases of throat illnesses, especially for fish-bones stuck in the throat.
The City Harbor of Dubrovnik is a vibrant, bustling attraction filled with boats of all shapes and sizes. Cargo and recreational vessels still traverse these waters. Built on sea rock at the foot of Mount Srd, the City of Dubrovnik is a perfect example of medieval construction and the harbor has brought life to this merchant republic for over 700 years.
Croatia has many varieties of flora and wonderful vineyards, as well as lemon and orange plantations. Rich in predominantly pine, palms, agaves, cactus and olive trees, there are also striking cypress trees that stretch skyward, giving this Mediterranean landscape a unique look.
The following day, we wanted to leave for Medjugorje. The problem was that the public bus only left at the end of the day at 5pm. The local tour buses only went to Medjugorje on Wednesday and Sundays and this particular day happened to be Thursday and my birthday! After some investigating, we had the luck and the pleasure of a private car and driver to take us to Medjugorje. The two and half hour journey was a wonderful way to see the countryside as you traverse through three of the seven countries that was once Yugoslavia. The winding coastline of Croatian allowed us to see the precious beaches, steep cliffs and beautiful bays.
On our way through the Peljesac Peninsula, our driver suggested we stop in the town of Ston. This small, quiet town in Croatia has a well kept secret – a Great Wall, hundreds of years old which is the longest, complete fortress system around a town in Europe as well as the second in the world next to China! Yet very few seem to have heard of the Walls of Ston. When they were built, beginning in the fifteenth century, they were heavily fortified not only to serve as a first line of defense for the city of Dubrovnik but they were constructed to protect a precious commodity of Croatia – sea salt and the salt mines. Nestled alongside this unique structure and town, is Mali Ston Bay. It is here that the infamous Ston Oysters are farmed.
Crossing the border from Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina happens twice, as the road between them is in part, split between the countries. The border between Bosnia and Herzegovina is only recognized by a sudden change in scenery. In Bosnia, you pass through hilly, wooded terrain. The soil is black and the mountains rolling and green. Passing into Herzegovina, we found ourselves surrounded by white limestone mountains, dusty brown soil and low ground covering brush and tumbleweed. It is here that the Dinaric Alps, the southernmost reaches of the Swiss Alps, become a wave of tall, jagged rock, that then spills into the sea. This younger mountain range is an emphatically karst area (made up of chalky limestone) with stretches of limestone expanses, coves, basins and funnel shaped holes in the limestone formation. As we drove a little ways into Herzegovina, we turned up into the hills following a small dirt road eventually leading us up a mountain pass into the town of Medjugorje.
The car dropped us off at a little hotel on the edge of town, about a 15 minute walk from the St. James Parish Church. We quickly washed up as we were eager to discover this holy place. 10 am in the morning and the sun was already scorching hot as we walked through town. The new St. James Church is a simple parish church. The construction of the old parish church was completed in 1897 but soon after, it started to develop cracks in the foundation, due to it being built on unstable ground. Shortly after the end of the First World War, the parishioners began to think about building a new church. Construction lasted from 1934 until January 19, 1969, when it was consecrated. Today St. James Church is the focus and center of both sacramental and prayer life, not only for the parishioners, but also for the millions of pilgrims that come each year. Because of the new needs of the parish, an exterior altar was built behind the church in 1989 and the surrounding prayer area extending outward with about 5000 seats, is a place of gathering in the summer time and for big feasts, reciting the rosary and prayer services.
Behind the church, a promenade was built, the Via Domini (the Way of the Lord), which starts with the Mysteries of Light and connects the old town cemetery to the newest addition, The Risen Christ statue. The statue is the work of a Slovenian artist Andrej Ajdic given to the parish on Easter, 1998. One of the many beautiful gifts of Medjugorje, standing 15 feet tall, this statue of the crucified Christ has been exuding a special liquid from one knee, continuously since the 20th anniversary of the apparitions in 2001. Although the nature of the liquid is mysterious, the fact is, it has begun to increase and now the unknown substance flows from both knees of this bronze sculpture. We stepped up to the statue and embraced his legs. We then took turns stepping up on the wooden steps wiping the endless flow of liquid on to handkerchiefs we bought in town. This was the second miracle.
Early the following morning, just before sunrise, we took a taxi to the base of Apparition Hill. It is here, that the Blessed Virgin Mary or Gospa, as the locals refer to her as, has been appearing to the six children, (the visionaries), since June 24, 1981. Ivan, Jakov, Marija, Mirjana, Vicka, and Ivanka have been receiving messages from Our Lady, in the beginning on a daily basis. Our Lady began to give weekly messages on Thursdays to the parish community in Medjugorje, and through them to the rest of the world. Since some of the things that Our Lord desired were fulfilled, from the 25th of January 1987 onwards, Our Lady would give her monthly message on the 25th of each month. This has continued up until the present.
Crnica Hill is several hundred feet above the Bijakovici town called Podbrdo, but today called Apparition Hill. The journey to the top was a dangerous path of sharp and jagged limestone. This porous rock dissolves relatively easily by rain, winter ice and the thousands of pilgrims that climb the mountain wearing down the stone over time. This action creates holes and sharp edges. As we climbed the mountain at dawn, there were several people who were barefoot. In 1989, beautiful bronze statues, the work of artist Carmelo Puzzolo, were placed representing the joyful and the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, going up the mountain. In June 2002, bronze statues representing the glorious mysteries of the Rosary were placed on the path descending towards the Blue Cross. At the foot of Apparition Hill is the Blue Cross, placed there in 1985. At this place, Ivan the visionaries’ prayer group gathers regularly, ever since July 4th, 1982. Going up the mountain, we stopped to admire the fine craftsmanship and say a prayer. On the way towards the location of the apparitions, a large wooden cross was erected, denoting the place where visionary Marija, on the third day of the apparitions, Our Lady gave the call to peace for the first time. “Peace, peace, peace – and only peace! Peace must reign between God and man and between men!”
At the very place of the apparitions, honoring the 20th anniversary, a statue of the Queen of Peace was placed. It was here that Tonio and I knelt on the rocks to say the rosary. Looking out from the top of the mountain, the town and parishes of Medjugorje stretch out through the blissful looking valley. There was only a handful of people on the hilltop that morning and it was very quiet. The sun pierced the top of the pine trees in the East and splashing warm and peaceful light across the rocky mount. For myself, my first encounter with Apparition Hill was an encounter with Our Lady through my personal prayers and praying the rosary. It was really the only time I felt peace in Medjugorje.
On the morning of the annual apparition, thousands of people flooded the little town of Medjugorje. Even before sunrise, we woke to see people of all ages, on foot, walking into Medjugorje from every surrounding town and village, over the mountains and across borders. That was a very special sight to see.
My second encounter on Apparition Hill was the evening of the annual apparition and message. The mountain had, what seemed like thousands of people gathered around the statue. You could hear a variety of different languages that night. The air was hot and damp and the absolute sense of desperation was palpable! I remember trying to sit there on the rocks in peace, yet all I could feel was an overwhelming sense of anger as people scrambled all around us, just to be close enough to the experience. Instead of taking in the beauty of nature and the opportunity to even be there in the first place, people’s sense of need, hopelessness and despondency made me very sad. Regardless, Tonio had a very different experience. At one point, he was on his knees saying the rosary and later, he described his experience as if no one else was on the mountain and he was floating with true bliss! It dawned on me then, that it was perhaps my empathic nature that picked up on other’s despair and my own lack of being grounded that made me so uneasy. The June 25th, 2012 message from Our Lady was:
“Dear children! With great hope in the heart, also today I call you to prayer. If you pray, little children, you are with me and you are seeking the will of my Son and are living it. Be open and live prayer and at every moment, may it be for you the savor and joy of your soul. I am with you and I intercede for all of you before my Son Jesus. Thank you for having responded to my call.”
This was the third miracle!
On our way down the mountain that night, Tonio slipped and fell forward on to the dangerous rocks. He happened to have a piece of rubber in his hand that we had bought earlier, as a kneeling pad. When he stood up, the pad had a huge hole in it. I could only imagine the damage he may have suffered, had he not had that pad in his hand. He was in pain from the fall and a little shaken up. I was so terrified that he got hurt and his biggest concern was that it would ruin the rest of our trip. I did some gentle acupressure on his hands and knees. The next morning, he had absolutely no pain and no bruising! This was the fourth miracle!
The following day, we had one more journey to take and that was to Cross Mountain. This mountain above Medjugorje stands 1,710 feet high. It is here on March 15, 1934, the parishioners constructed a concrete cross 28 feet tall, built in remembrance of the 1,900 years since the death of Christ. On the cross is written: “To Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the human race, as a sign of their faith, love and hope, in remembrance of the 1900 years since the death of Jesus”. Relics received from Rome for the occasion are embedded in the cross bar itself. Since then, the custom was established of celebrating Holy Mass at the foot of the cross in commemoration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, on the 1st Sunday after the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to the visionaries, in the message of August 30, 1984, Our Lady said “The cross was also in God’s plan when you built it.”Â With Our Lady’s message, the faithful started to pray the Way of the Cross on Cross Mountain. This journey was even more perilous than Apparition Hill. Extremely treacherous, the path was not only difficult because of the rocks but navigating around the sheer numbers of pilgrims was also dangerous. The view at the top was unparalleled and the climb was very rewarding.
Miracle in the Clouds. On our way out of town, we took the local bus to the airport. I remember as we were leaving Medjugorje, many people sitting in front of us, were pointing to the sky and taking pictures. As we looked out the window, we saw a single wisp of a cloud in the bright blue sky. It was clearly a cloud formation of the Virgin Mary. She was standing behind the cross of Christ as an offering of her son to the world! People on the bus were in shock, not speaking but only pointing in amazement! Again, as we were crossing the Croatian border, in a cloudless sky, there was one single cloud formation with the image of Mary surrounded by four angels! Even people outside of the bus were standing and pointing upward to this incredibly spectacular site! This was the fourth miracle.
According to the united testimony of the visionaries, Our Lady on the occasion of her apparition gave a series of messages, to be transmitted to the people. Father Jozo Zovko’s was the parish priest at the time of the first apparitions and also the one who saved the children from the authorities when no one believed that they were seeing Gospa (the Blessed Virgin). It was Father Zovko who always compared the basic messages of Gospa to powerful weapons against the enemy: “As little David won over the big Goliath with his sling shot and five stones,” he explained, “in the same way we may defeat Evil by living the five main messages of Our Lady.”Â He referred to the messages as “stones.” These five stones are: .
PEACE – Already on the third day, Our Lady stressed peace as the first of her messages: “Peace peace peace and only peace!”, after which she said twice, “Peace must reign between God and man and between people”. Considering that Maria could see a cross, when Our Lady gave this message, the obvious conclusion is that this peace comes from God. God, who through Our Lady in Christ became our peace. (Ephesians 2:14) “For He is the peace between us”…This peace, “the world cannot give” (John 14:27) and that’s why Christ commanded His apostles to bring it to the world (Matthew 10:11) so that all men could become “sons of peace” (Luke 10:6). That’s why Our Lady as “Queen of Apostles” in Medjugorje specifically refers to herself as “Queen of Peace”. (I am your mother, the Queen of Peace – Medjugorje Message, July 25, 1988).
FAITH – The second of Our Lady’s messages is faith. Already on the fourth, fifth and sixth day of apparitions, Our Lady exhorted those present to have strong faith. Understandably, she repeated this message many times. Without faith we cannot arrive at peace! Not only this but faith is itself an answer to God’s Word, which he not only proclaims but actually gives to us. Once again there is no-one who can better understand the necessity and efficaciousness of faith than Our Lady. That’s why she stressed it on every occasion and charged the visionaries to bring the light of faith to others.
CONVERSION – Conversion was another one of Our Lady’s frequent messages. This presupposes that she noticed either a weakness or a complete lack of faith in humanity today. And without conversion it is impossible to achieve peace. True conversion means, the purifying or cleansing of the heart, (Jeremiah 4:14), because a corrupt or “deteriorated” heart is the basis of bad relations, which in turn brings social disorder, unjust laws, base constitutions. Without a radical change of heart, without the conversion of the heart, there is no peace. For this reason, Our Lady continually suggests frequent confession. The request is directed to all without differentiation because, “not one of us is just”….”all have wandered, not one does right” (Romans 3:11-12).
PRAYER – Almost daily, from the fifth day of apparitions onwards Our Lady recommends prayer. She requests everyone to “pray without ceasing” just as Christ himself taught. (Mark 9:29, Matthew 9:38; Luke 11:5-13) Prayer, therefore stimulates and strengthens our faith, without which our relationship with God is disordered;-as is our relationship with each other. Prayer also reminds us of how close God is to us even in our daily lives. In the beginning, following an old Croatian tradition, Our Lady asked for the daily praying of: The Creed, followed by Seven Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s, and Glory Be’s. Later, Our Lady recommended praying the Rosary. First Our Lady asked us to pray 5 decades, then 10, and finally Our Lady wishes us to pray daily, together or individually, the entire 15 Mysteries of the Rosary (Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries).
FASTING – Already on the sixth day of the apparitions, Our Lady often recommended fasting because it assist faith. That is, the practice of fasting helps and ensures control over oneself. Only the person who can dominate himself is truly free, and is capable of abandoning himself to God and to his neighbor, as faith demands. Fasting guarantees him that his abandonment to faith is secure and sincere. It helps him to free himself from every slavery, but especially to the slavery to sin. It is on bread and water that we should fast.
To sum up, we can say that Our Lady’s messages underline that peace is the greatest good, and that faith, conversion, prayer and fasting are the means by which we can attain it. It is also no coincidence, that stones play a central role in Mejugorje. They are the main attraction on the mountain and because of this, the stones and soil of Apparition Hill are hand picked and made into beautiful rosaries, peace chaplets and decade bracelets. Real pieces of stone are also available along the streets leading to the parish church. These healing tools are all relevant in order to help one bring themselves closer to the wished of the Blessed Virgin.
The visionaries still receive messages. Ivanka receives one once a year, Mirjana receives one on the 2nd one each month, Vicka receives one every day, Marija receives one on the 25th of each month, Ivan receives an apparition daily, and Jakov has an apparition every day as well.
In addition to the messages,the visionaries have each received a total of ten “secrets” from Gospa. Only one secret has been revealed by the visionaries. Our Lady promised there would be a great sign on the mountain in Medjugorje, where She first appeared. There are also three warnings Our Lady said She will give. The warnings will be warnings on earth. The Blessed Virgin Mary warned that there is not much time for conversion. After the three warnings, the permanent visible sign will be left on the mountain in Medjugorje. The ninth and tenth secrets talk of a chastisement for the sins of the world. The chastisement can be lessened by praying and doing penance, but it cannot entirely go away.
From the beginning, the Medjugorje apparitions were accompanied by many unusual phenomena, both in the sky and on the ground, especially by miraculous healings. We witnessed many from the beginning of our journey right up through our last days there. From the weeping statue of Christ to the amazing sun and cloud phenomena that occur (we saw two) to the Cross on Cross Mountain that shines at night as though it was covered with lights yet, there is no electricity on the mountain! Amazing images captured in photographs and incredible videos of (un) natural happenings are just too many to ignore! Yet, overall I think the biggest miracle is the millions of people that come from the farthest reaches of the world to see a place that is still being graced by the powers of heaven for 30 years! Even though, Medjugorje has not yet been sanctioned officially by the church as an authentic Marian apparition site, the innumerable amount of prayers, pilgrims and penance is incomprehensible!
(August 8, 2013) Medjugorje (which means “between the hills”), is a small mountain town located in western Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the Herzegovina region, close to the border of Croatia. This is my second journey to this peaceful place and once again, it has left me with joy and tranquility and how the magic of nature plays such a major role in any sacred place.
Just before sunrise, we walked to the base of Apparition Hill. It is here on this hill, that the Blessed Virgin Mary or Gospa, as the locals refer to her as, has been appearing to the six children, (the visionaries), Ivan, Jakov, Marija, Mirjana, Vicka, and Ivanka have been receiving messages from Our Lady, in the beginning on a daily basis. Our Lady began to give weekly messages on Thursdays to the parish community in Medjugorje, and through them to the rest of the world. Since some of the things that Our Lord desired were fulfilled, from the 25th of January 1987 onwards, Our Lady would give her monthly message on the 25th of each month. This has continued up until the present.
Crnica Hill is several hundred feet above the neighboring Bijakovici town called Podbrdo, but today called Apparition Hill. The journey to the top is a dangerous path of sharp and jagged limestone. This porous rock dissolves relatively easily by rain, winter ice and the thousands of pilgrims that climb the mountain wearing down the stone over time. This action creates holes and sharp edges. Some people climb the mountain barefoot, perhaps to feel and understand how the pain of life can be transformed through understanding. It is said that the footsteps of pilgrims climbing this hill has worn a “rosary” into the hillside. In deed, at night, behind St, James’ Church, you can see the side of the hill light by lights that show this “path of the rosary”.
It is also no coincidence, that stones play a central role in Mejugorje. They are the main attraction on the mountain and because of this, the stones and soil of Apparition Hill are hand picked and made into beautiful rosaries, peace chaplets and decade bracelets. Real pieces of stone are available along the streets leading to the parish church. These healing tools can all be relevant in order to help one bring themselves closer to the goal of reaching heaven or a new spiritual place.
I have included a musical tribute to go along with this article. You can also find my hand created incense with prayer cards, Holy water, crystals associated with the Virgin, my peace candles and a special Medjugorje Pocket Stones.
3. http://www.childrenofmedjugorje.com/content/medjugorje-mainmenu-86/5- stones/13-about-medjugorje/28-5-stones
4. Sego, Kresimir – A Conversation with the Visionaries, Medjugorje 2012
5. Dodig, Radoslav – Mudjugorje, Pilgram’s Monograph, Holli Ltd 2011