9/17/09

Capturing a Village of Faith: You don't choose to go to Medjugorje, Medjugorje chooses you.


Timaru Herald photographer Natasha Martin travelled to Medjugorje as a professional, but found the pilgrimage became part of her personal experience, writes Claire Allison.
Natasha Martin went to the Bosnian village of Medjugorje as a photojournalist.
She came away with more than she expected.

Medjugorje is considered a modern-day Lourdes. Each year, 40 million people make a spiritual pilgrimage to the tiny village, hoping to experience some of the miracles that are said to occur there.
Martin's original destination was Ireland. But when that fell through, she was left with a ticket to Europe to use, and decided to catch up with her mother and two aunts who were travelling to the village.
The chance involved supports a theory Martin heard often while she was there; that you don't choose to go to Medjugorje Medjugorje chooses you.
"In many ways, I didn't really know what I was letting myself in for.
"For me, my purpose for going was purely to look at it as an editorial photographer and the opportunity that would present. But on leaving, I left with the feeling there was certainly something ... You certainly do react even when you see things through a lens, you can't not react it does affect you in a way.
"I went in as a professional, but I came out with something extra."
Professionally, Martin was following in the footsteps of a young Life magazine photographer who was sent out many years ago with a basic Box Brownie camera to shoot a photo essay of New York, and in more recent times, a fellow Fairfax photographer had used a small "point and shoot" camera for a trip to South America. The challenge of using the compact equipment and the invisibility that offered, in contrast to the traditional bulky SLR equipment, appealed to Martin.
While her knowledge of Medjugorje was limited, what she knew piqued her interest.
The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to six children in Medjugorje in June 1981, and has been appearing every day since then. From her, they receive messages for their parish and the world, and have each been given 10 secrets to eventually be made public.
"It's not something I would normally set out to do. I'm not as devout as my mother, but given the option of having a ticket, it was something that intrigued me.
"I'd read that it's one of the most amazing and important supernatural events of our time. There are supernatural things that happen, there have been miraculous healings there and also spiritual healings.
"Our Lady has been appearing every day since 1981, and this will be the last time that she appears in the world. There will not be another Lourdes or Fatima. So it has been the centre of world attention and studies."

Martin saw for the first time how important religion could be in people's lives.
"What stuck in my mind was how important religion is, and realising how devout people were. It was overwhelming at first, but towards the end of it, I realised how little I had in my own life. I felt like I could be a better person over there.
"You come back home and realise it's not as important over here. To them, religion comes first. The basic values over there are something that's lacking here."
But with the spiritual comes the commercial.
"Driving into Medjugorje at night time, and the first thing we noticed coming into the township was what seemed like store upon store upon store of religious artefacts; they were open until about midnight. There were hardly any normal shops. And most of the people who run those stores aren't even locals they're people that come in.
"So there's that tourist side of it too ... while it has created jobs, in some ways it does lose a little bit of the essence of the place."
The sheer number of people became evident at the outdoor masses.
"That's when you see how overwhelming it was every inch of ground was covered."
Huge crowds would gather to hear the visionaries speak.
"Sometimes the visionaries would appear in public as they were visited by Our Lady, but you never know when it's going to happen. It's just word of mouth. We heard one day that she was appearing on a place called Apparition Hill so we thought we'd go over. All the way up the hill, it looked like maggots. All you saw was all these people swarming up the hill ... I don't know how many people would have been there."
Professional and personal lines became intertwined, with many of Martin's images focusing on individuals' reactions, experiences and struggles.
"Maybe because it was something I felt in myself, my own personal struggles of coming to terms with faith in my life through the camera seeing people having quiet moments aside.
"I don't know whether I purposely focused on that, or whether it subconsciously reflected what I was thinking."
"I hope in some ways that's translated through the images the effect of faith on people's lives."
Martin was able to capture on camera the phenomenon of a bronze statue weeping tears, and she watched as people lined up to wipe the tears, and attempt to heal others with them.
"There are some things that go beyond your understanding of faith."
Settling back in to life in Timaru, Martin would not pass up the chance to return to Medjugorje.
"As a photographer, pilgrimages themselves are very interesting, especially to see such a vast number of people in one place you can't ignore that and have to ask yourself why 40 million people are visiting this place.
"As a photographer and as a person because I can't separate the two I would go there again without a doubt."

1 comment:

Ed Sousa, Sr. said...

Pilgrims go to Medjugorje because Our Lord and Our Lady have called them to go, and they have said Yes to their call. No one goes to Medjugorje by accident.
Fr. Jozo has said, Do not be afraid to come to Medjugorje, be more afraid of not comimg.