Featured article from January's Spirit of Medjugorje

The Hidden Treasures of Medjugorje

By Anita B. Cugini

     Nestled in the heart of Medjugorje’s fragrant vineyards is a pansion that has welcomed pilgrims from around the world over for the last 33 years. Its humble walls reverberate with memories of Medjugorje from the beginning of the apparitions. It was my pleasure to stay with Mama Sivric in June of 2014, for the 33rd Anniversary of the apparitions. 
     Mama Sivric, although nearing 90, is a vibrant, feisty woman who proudly recalls the early days – what life was like for the people from the village, and how she and others of her generation stood toe-to-toe with the Communist regime that tried to disrupt the religious life of this quiet little hamlet. With flashing eyes and animated gestures, Mama will tell you, through Franjo, her interpreter, what it was like in Medjugorje in the first days of the apparitions. 
     When news of the apparitions first broke, Mama was at a wedding feast with a friend. Mama indicated that she believed in the apparitions from the beginning, while her companion said, “How could you believe such a thing?” 
     Mama related that all were crying and watching the sky. As the villagers watched, golden letters “MIR” [Croatian for “peace”] appeared in the sky and the words “I am the Queen of Peace” stretched across the sky from Apparition Hill to Cross Mountain. One man who could not stand was brought to Apparition Hill by his daughter-in-law, and he was cured. The man’s wife, however, didn’t like this, and started telling people that it didn’t happen.

View from Mama’s balcony with Cross Mountain in the background
     Mama was no stranger to the local police who came, trying to diffuse the situation and order the villagers to leave. She knew the Chief of Police personally and proceeded to tell him off. The following day, the village was deluged with people, news, and TV cameras, and the police who forbade people to climb the mountain. They asked, “Who is lighting the fire up to heaven?” 
     The children were strictly forbidden to climb the hill and the President of Police, who was in the next village, announced they were going to board up the church so people could not enter to pray – which they promptly did. When Mama heard of this, she ran to the church with other women and pulled the boards off of the church doors. The police told her, “We are taking you to jail.” Mama responded, “Then take me to jail!” 
     Pilgrims started to arrive in Medjugorje from all over the world, and had to register with the police. Each family took in one or two pilgrims and shared their daily lives and devotion to the Gospa with these total strangers who could not communicate in their native tongue. Until 1986, there was no indoor plumbing or running water – only outhouses! 
     During the war in 1991-1992, each pilgrim’s passport was carefully checked. Soldiers with machine guns, in abundance in the airport, provided a grim welcome. Aid teams came from Italy to do what they could for the townspeople, but didn’t stay very long. Miraculously, despite being heavily shelled, no human lives were lost – only livestock. Incredibly, a cluster bomb that was dropped on the main street didn’t detonate! During this horrific period, the visionaries were separated so that they couldn’t be targeted by the Communists. 
     Life in Medjugorje, especially during the early years, was never easy. Mama recounts that as a young woman, she worked stringing tobacco leaves. Since there was no work in Medjugorje, her husband was compelled to leave his wife and family to find work in Germany. He did this for 55 years, and was able to see his wife and children only a few times a year. Mama told us she travelled to Stuttgart, Germany more than 10 times over those years. 
     After the Communist regime ended, Mama met the Communist officer from another town, who had threatened her with jail in the early days. Defiantly, she told him off – and he ran away! In her own words, Mama says, “I was always a strong woman – even today, I would talk about God. Pray for us that we will all heal. I will always pray for people. Pray for peace!” 
     Franjo, who interpreted for Mama, was one of the members of the original prayer group that Our Lady asked the visionaries to start. According to Franjo, he was asked by Our Lady to put his life on hold for three years, to fast, pray, and do what he could to help the throng of pilgrims flooding into Medjugorje. A gentle soul, whose demeanor radiates the love of God and the Gospa, he patiently answered every question posed to him, with grace and humility. 
     I have never seen such unbridled joy in living, as I witnessed in the people I met in Medjugorje. People who have so little, in comparison to what all of us take for granted….their graciousness and warmth is something I will never forget. It’s hard to describe the joy that radiates from them, borne of doing God’s work, in sharing their faith and love of God with all who come in thanksgiving for the Gospa’s presence in their little village. 
     No sooner did I get home from this pilgrimage, than I was planning my next one! My next pilgrimage to Medjugorje will be from July 27 to August 7, 2015 to experience the Youth Festival, with all its exuberance. Although we will stay at a modern pansion 100 meters from St. James Church, we will step back in time and meet with Mama Sivric and her family, and see her quaint pansion – a loving home, where she has served over 25,000 meals to pilgrims. We will listen as Franjo, our guide, interprets for Mama. They will recreate their wonderment as the Gospa appeared to ordinary village children, and share, in their incredible pride, that the Gospa is with them still. I promise that whoever joins me on this pilgrimage will come away with a renewed sense of faith and love for Our Lady. Their joy in living our faith is infectious!
Editor’s note: Anita lives in North Wales, PA. She can be reached at wandarocks@comcast.net or 267-217-7344.

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