A Taste of Heaven on Earth

Featured article from September's Spirit of Medjugorje
Medjugorje – A Taste of Heaven on Earth
By Anita B. Cugini
     To say I was vaguely aware of Our Lady’s apparitions in Medjugorje in 1981 is as truthful as I can be. My cousin journeyed there in the early years, and returned with stories of the many blessings she experienced. She was the only one I knew of who had actually been there.
     My first gentle whisper from Our Lady, urging me to come, began with the purchase of a dingy rosary with crystal beads with blue centers purchased at a yard sale for $1.00. The rosary looked awful, but it flooded me with memories of the same rosary given to me by a grade school Sister. My attempt to clean it was fruitless.
     As I began to use it, the chain, crucifix and center medal began to turn gold. Puzzled as to what this could mean, I consulted my cousin, Joan, who said this phenomenon sometimes happened to pilgrims’ rosaries brought to Medjugorje... Her advice was to “pray on them” and see what happened. A year later, while still using the rosary, my cousin encouraged me to write my story and send it to The Spirit of Medjugorjenewsletter.
     Shortly after submitting my story, I decided to access the newsletter’s website and learn what I could about Medjugorje. As I read “The Beginner’s Guide”, I was dumbstruck when I realized that Our Lady had asked that the anniversary be celebrated on June 25th – my birthday, and the apparitions began in June 1981, the year our youngest daughter was born! I carefully studied the picture of Our Lady on the newsletter’s website, trying to memorizing how Her dress, veil, and the position of Her hands and arms looked.
     From then on, I knew that I would journey to Medjugorje. The reasons kept mounting: I found a small statue of Our Lady of Medjugorje at a yard sale, which looked exactly like the picture on the newsletter. Then, I lost my beloved rosary with the golden chains exactly two years to the day I first found it, and in the same way – while going to yard sales! Initially I was saddened by its loss, but quickly realized that it was Our Lady’s way of saying that these beads, which lit the flame of my desire to come to Medjugorje, would be placed in the hands of another in need of a spiritual boost.
     I began asking everyone I knew if they would be interested in going to Medjugorje with me. I told my cousin Joan that I would pay for her trip, if she would accompany me. She kept insisting that she was “too old” to go, and no amount of pleading on my part would change her mind. Everywhere I turned, the response was the same…no one was interested.
     Joan encouraged me to pray and said she was sure I would make the trip in “God’s time” and a travelling companion would come along. She was right. Five years later, after moving into a different county in my state, I found her.
     In 2012, my husband and I moved into a 55+ community and the first thing I did was to join a weekly Rosary group. When I got to know the members, I confided my wish to go to Medjugorje. To my shock, one of them blurted out, “I can’t believe you just said this…my niece has already been there twice and wants to return, but can’t find anyone to go with her.” My journey had begun.
     Sharon, my travelling companion insisted we use the same travel agency she used on both of her prior trips some 18 years ago and stay at the same pansion. I put my trust in God and Our Lady and prayed that I had made the right decision.
     Initially, we planned to go in May, but then for some reason, we decided to go in June, in time for the 33rd anniversary of the apparitions – my 65th birthday. After I sent my initial payment, time flew. Oddly, I felt no excitement about making my pilgrimage…it didn’t seem real…it seemed more like a dream.
     Enter the evil one. For six months prior to departure, his physical and mental attacks were relentless. Family issues with grown children, including two with Lupus, my husband’s nagging cough that five doctors and multiple studies could not explain, and thoughts of my first international trip started the downward spiral of my anxiety. I doubted everything. Would the food be too salty, was the milk pasteurized…would I get “Montezuma’s revenge” from drinking the water? Little things magnified. Would our accommodations be decent and could I share a bathroom? I was hanging on by a thread.
     June 19th drew ever closer, while my doubts and anxiety were out of control. At the beginning of June, I was within inches of cancelling. I couldn’t deal with the growing uncertainty (fueled by the evil one) that I felt within me. Then he “hit me with his best shot.” Three weeks before departure, I broke out with the worst case of poison ivy imaginable…my first in 60 years! My arms and legs were riddled with inflamed, oozing pustules which began to migrate to my trunk area. The incessant itching was unbearable and sleep was impossible. In total panic, I went to my primary doctor for relief. When his measures didn’t help, I called the dermatology office, in tears, begging for an appointment as I whined, “If I got onto a plane and sat next to someone who looked like I do, I would run screaming for the flight attendant.” Thankfully they agreed to see me.
     Then the first of many miracles occurred…one week from departure, the poison ivy had calmed down. I bought slacks and a long sleeve top to cover up the remnants, and I was flooded with an incredible sense of calm…I WAS going and everything would work out!

The pansion where Anita stayed
     Once I arrived in Medjugorje, I spent the first three days in tears…tears of joy because of all the wonderful things that began to unfold. The first morning at 4:45 a.m., I sat on the balcony listening as two roosters crowed back and forth,with the cross on Mt. Krizevac shimmering in the rising sunlight, and I glimpsed the “Morning Star”…the last star to disappear from the night-turned-day sky. It was there and then it was gone…this was the first of many blessings of the trip.
     Day after day, blessings and graces rained down, I continued to sob…I’m nobody special…did I deserve to see these wonders? I saw the sun turn a brilliant shade of turquoise, with undulating ripples radiating from it. When I saw this, I couldn’t bring myself to look away, and had no problem staring into its brilliant light.
     I watched liquid ooze from the knee of the statue of the Risen Christ, much like tear drops running down a bronze cheek. Each night, I assisted at the International Mass, drinking in the cacaphony of different languages being used to pray the Rosary…At the church in Tihaljina, I knelt on the marble floor, inching my way closer to the statue of OurLady. As I stared up into that beautiful face, her garments turned a brilliant white and the flesh on her face was alive with color, even the blush of her cheeks!
     Did the evil one leave me alone once I arrived in Medjugorje? Of course not…his determination to disrupt my pilgrimage was impressive. Two of his attempts were anything but benign!
     As a special gift for the cousin who led me to Medjugorje, I purchased a crown for her statue of OurLady of Fatima. I took it back to my room and placed it in a bag with other religious articles I had purchased. When I looked for it the next evening, it was gone…I literally tore the room apart trying to find it. It was packed in a small white box, the size of the Rubik’s Cube, making it unmistakable…it simply wasn’t there. Obviously, the evil one was aggravated that I bought this, so he removed it to assert his power. Wrong! I went back the next day and purchased another. This time, it didn’t leave my sight until I returned home.
     He unleashed his next assault in Ivan’s private chapel. Our group was invited to his apparition and we were told repeatedly not to tell anyone. The tiny chapel held 30 people and this privilege was by “invitation only.”
     We entered the chapel, Italian pilgrims on the right and English pilgrims on the left, and the Rosary began. I sat on the left side of the church, at the end of the second row. Midway through the Glorious Mysteries, Ivan’s apparition began as he widened the distance between his upturned palms (from the pressed palm position in which he prays the Rosary, to greet OurLady, as this is the way She greets him). I could see his lips moving but heard no sound.
     About five minutes into the apparition, the young woman sitting directly behind me, let out a feral scream/growl sound that I can only described as inhuman. Not since the 1970’s movie The Exorcist have I heard such a sound. She continued this high pitched keening interspersed with hissing and spitting, and I learned later that she lunged at me. Sister, who led our pilgrimage, got up from the first row (using two canes), and walked back to her. She placed her arms around the woman, who continued to scream, hiss and sob. I heard Sister repeat over and over, “You have to let it out…you have to let it out…” When I turned around, I saw the woman’s contorted face as she clutched a large olivewood crucifix to her chest. Needless to say, the entire chapel was terrified!
     The apparition ended and our guide asked Ivan if he was aware of this disturbance. Ivan answered he was not. When OurLady appears, he is in ecstasy…he sees and hears Her alone.

Ivan's Chapel
     Once outside, a woman from our group shared what she perceived to be OurLady’s voice as she knelt before the Rosary began. She clearly heard a voice say, “I am going to show all of you a sign…do not be afraid.”
     Sister spoke with the woman’s companion who revealed that this woman had been seeing an exorcist once a week for over a year. When Sister heard about the inner voice, she explained that Mary and the devil cannot exist in the same space…when the devil tried to disrupt the apparition by coming out of this woman, he was thwarted by Mary and his attempt to control the apparition was a dismal failure! One final mystery – no one knew these women, where they came from, or how they got in. They weren’t with either group of pilgrims!
     Day by day, miracles and blessings continued. I saw Vicka, touched her, and gave her a cord rosary that I made. I also gave one to Ivan. I climbed Apparition Hill and visited Father Slavko’s grave.
     June 25th dawned, and my ascent to Mt. Krizevac had finally come. Our guide said it was not an easy task, and if it rained that day, or started to rain while we were climbing, we must stop. Climbing, while difficult on dry rocks, becomes extremely dangerous when the rocks are wet. Serious injuries are common.
     Mt. Krizevac was mobbed…pilgrims from around the world prayed while waiting to begin their climb. Everyone knew that making the climb on the Apparition’s Anniversary was very special. I began to climb, walking stick in hand, praying with each step…that OurLady allow me to do this and shield me from harm.
     At the Eighth Station (Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem) it began to rain. My heart sank – I didn’t believe it! I knew…wet rocks, climb canceled! I asked for a moment’s rest to see what would happen. I looked skyward, lifting my arms, and begged Mary to stop the rain. Miraculously, it stopped!
     As I reached the giant white cross that I first beheld shimmering in the morning’s light, I praised OurLady Queen of Peace for allowing me to do this on my 65th birthday…My dream that began with a crystal rosary found at a yard sale had become a reality…Medjugorje is a taste of Heaven on earth!
Editor’s note: Anita lives in North Wales, PA. Anita shared with me, “The food was delicious, the milk was 2%, we drank well water, and there were more than enough bathrooms for everyone! None of my fears came true.“

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