Or Do You See What I See
In the early 1980s I began to hear about a little town in what was then Yugoslavia called Medjugorje.  I couldn’t pronounce the name of this town let alone spell it.  The reports coming from this little town however fascinated me and I wanted to know more.  You see I’m not only Italian American but also Roman Catholic.  As a Catholic I had grown up with stories of saints and apparitions of our Blessed Lady in both Fatima and Lourdes but these apparitions were happening during my lifetime.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I always kept the story of this town and I vowed that one day I would go there myself and see what I could see.  Years passed, as life has a way of doing and war came to Yugoslavia.  Even during those war years I often wondered how the people of this town were fairing and if our Lady had indeed prepared them for the worst.  The war ended in 1995 and seven new countries were formed; Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is where the town of Medjugorje is.
It is pronounced med-ju-gor-e, pretty much the way it is spelled.  The town rests high in a hill, 40 minutes south of the city of Mostar in the southwest region of the country.  Getting to it by bus isn’t easy and the ride from Croatia took about five hours.  Once you arrive in town at the bus station you must walk past souvenir shops selling religious medals, rosaries and statues; you will also walk past restaurants and hotels.  My husband entered one of the local restaurants to ask a few questions and as he turned to leave the waitress said, “Be sure to see the statue of Christ beyond the Church, it weeps”.  And so it began.
The complex in Medjugorje is like nothing I have seen before. There is the main church which seats 500 or more people.  There is the outdoor chapel area which seats 7,000.  There is the area for lighting candles for your special intentions; prayer altars along the path to the cemetery and if you feel the need to go to confession you can do so in about a dozen languages. They hold mass every hour of the day from 10:00 to 6:00pm and every hour the mass is in a different language.  There is the cemetery; apparition hill, and that Statue of Christ. We were told that upwards of a million people come to Medjugorje every year.  They have been coming since the apparitions began and they came even during the war.
The Church of St. James, Patron Saint of Pilgrims
The Church of St. James, Patron Saint of Pilgrims. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince
I first entered the main church and found only one person inside.  It is a plain but beautiful church and the second I opened my mouth to say my first prayer I began to sob. The strong feelings overcame me so quickly I couldn’t pray for that which I had come to pray for, at least not out loud.  My husband told me that God didn’t need to hear the words; he knew what was in my heart. It was still hard not to be able to say that which I had held in for all these many years.
This church brought forth great emotion
This church brought forth great emotion. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince
Leaving the church we went next to the area where the Statue of Christ rises. The Statue was erected in 1989.  It is made of Bronze. And almost immediately after it was put into place people noticed the liquid running down its leg.  Walking towards the statue of Christ I again was overcome with emotion and began to cry.  There is a step stool for people to get closer to the statue to see the liquid running down his leg and if I hadn’t seen it for myself I know I would be reading this with skepticism and I asked my husband how could this be?  I had to touch the liquid for myself and as I wiped it away another tear appeared and then another and again I began to cry.  It is hard to explain the deep emotion this place brought forth from me.
The Statue of Christ was raised in 1989 and is made of Bronze
The Statue of Christ was raised in 1989 and is made of Bronze. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince
We were there for 6:00pm mass this night and walking back to the church we saw buses arrive bringing more people in to attend mass.  It was a Monday night in winter; cold and dark; and there wasn’t a seat to be had inside the church, people had filled the pews and it was standing room only.  Because the church was so full there were six priests on the altar during mass and everyone was needed to give out communion.  Almost everyone in the church received the sacrament.  Normally, when a mass finishes people begin to flock out the door; this night however no one moved for a prayer service began after the mass and most of the people stayed to continue praying.  After the prayers the priest blessed any of the religious items purchased that day in the gift shops, and even after that people stayed to keep praying. We left only because we needed to catch our bus to Mostar.
During the summer months they get so many visitors they hold mass outdoors; they have seats for 7000 people
During the summer months they get so many visitors they hold mass outdoors; they have seats for 7000 people. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince
My husband who is not a religious person told me that he feels that something special is happening at Medjugorje; what it is exactly we couldn’t put our finger on, its just something you feel, and see, and believe.  As for me I cannot explain the deep emotions that overcame me on this day.  I have been trying to sort that out.  I wasn’t crying out of sadness or grief, I was crying because the presence I felt was so strong that I was overcome with emotion, and hope.  I still light candles in churches I visit in other places but I feel somehow that I’ve already lit candles in a place where my prayers will be answered, even though God had to hear them from my heart.
*****Click this link to read more about the apparitions in Medjugorje.
Florence Lince