Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: Medjugorje --- What's Happening?

To be honest, I picked this book up more for the pictures than the words. A quick glance through the copy at the bookstore and I saw pictures of the original visionaries there as I saw and met them in 1987, when I visited this site of my “re-version” to my Catholic faith. I believe I have written about that trip here before, but in short I was far from a practicing and believing Catholic when I felt called to travel to this little village halfway across the world. But that visit changed my world.

Besides the beautiful pictures and memories, the first third of this book is a detailed re-cap of the events of that village, the messages said to come from Mary to 5 young children – now adults, and all the various positive events/experiences and the negative experiences/commentaries. As with all on-going supposed apparitions or visions, the Church will withhold its approval or denial of the likely truth of the matter until the visions have ended, but many prominent theologians and cardinals have spoken positively about Medjugorje, including Mgr Rene Laurentin, Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar, and many others. They and others note: Medjugorje is unprecedented. Over 50,000 priests have visited this out-of-the-way village, and many millions of pilgrims. Dozens of priests routinely sit outside the church, hearing thousands of confessions. It is an amazing place. The next section of the book described other apparitions, like Fatima, and events surrounding them, and compared them to Medjugorje. The book then moved onto the visionaries as they live their lives today, still seeing Mary periodically, as she promised them.

The chapters which contain excerpts from the supposed words of Mary I found to be valuable reminders to me, such as “Suffering is to be lived in our souls and in our hearts.” Living close to and speaking with those undergoing the pains (and questions) of suffering, the gentle words describing their value were a great consolation for me. And then there were many touching words of the visionaries themselves, such as these from Ivanka Ivankovic:

“From 1985 to today I received the apparition once every year on June 25. But at the last daily apparition I was given the greatest gift, not just for myself but for the entire world. And because every single human being is asking, ‘Is there a life after this life on earth?’ I am standing before you here today. I am standing before the entire world and I can easily answer that question. Yes, there is a life after this life, because by God and Our Lady I was given this great grace, that I was able to see my late mother during that apparition time and my mom told me: ‘My dearest child, I’m proud of you.’”

The sections on Mary’s words about prayer, and the visionaries own prayer lives were encouraging. There is nothing that can unite the family like when you pray together. The calls for fasting, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays -- an ancient Church practice, opened the door to things we can do to make a difference, even in this world today. Dear children, with prayer and fasting, you can achieve anything, you can even stop wars. Mary’s call for regular confession and reception of the Eucharist seemed to be an anchor of truth for me, when I had visited that village, beyond the miracles so many witnessed --- including my sister. And then there were the words of the visionaries, like Jacov, who minimized the miracles occurring at Medjugorje by saying: “We do not realize what simply is the greatest miracle for every Christian, that if we talk about signs, what are signs? I believe that every single one of us is a sign of the Lord. Every neighbor of yours is a sign.” In speaking about the millions of pilgrims who have visited this small village he says: “In Medjugorje one should come for one reason, and that is our conversion, to change our lives here, to start a new life, a new life together with Our Lord and Our Lady. But the most important thing is to bring prayer into our families, into our communities, and remember one thing. The true pilgrimage starts when you go back home.”

It did for me.

There are many skeptics of the visions of Medjugorje, and I liked the story of one in particular, an Italian journalist named Paolo Gambi, who had ridiculed the supposed apparitions in the press for years. In 2010, he visited the site for the first time. “Call me unskilled or incompetent if you will, but when I try to describe what I have found inside me since my visit to the town I cannot find the words. Driven by a somewhat cynical curiosity I went to Medjugorje with a friend. Before my visit I found it difficult to believe that Our Lady had been continually speaking for almost thirty years in such a peripheral place. What’s more, I could not accept that Mary would be appearing on earth again to share some secrets about trials humanity will face in the future. I confess I still find these things very hard to grasp rationally. Medjugorje is completely illogical, if you look at it in a purely rationalistic way.” But then he visited, looked, heard, and prayed, and “cried without reason while I was praying in the parish church.”

“I listened to the visionary Mirjana witnessing to her experience and I realized that some of the words she was saying from the balcony of her tiny house in front of about a hundred people were spoken directly to me. When I listened to one of Mary’s messages, I realized the words spoke directly to my heart, giving me the solution to a problem I was carrying around like a heavy burden. Many of you are probably thinking: he is pathetic. That is what I used to think whenever I bumped into one of the many Medjugorje devotees. Reason cannot grasp this phenomenon --- at least mine can’t. Reason is inclined to say that Medjugorje relies on coincidence, autosuggestion, and emotionalism. But these explanations no longer satisfy me. If you have experienced what I experienced, you would understand why. In fact, the point of my trip to Medjugorje has been precisely this: to discover that there is a mysterious spiritual dimension that is so far beyond our understanding that it cannot be limited by our mind. So the only words that can be useful are these: ‘Come and see.’ In Medjogorje a new world could be unveiled inside you. At least, that is what has happened to me.”

And that is what happened to me. This is a very balanced book about the events of Medjugorje, but like Paolo Gambi, I can’t really describe adequately my feelings. But unlike hundreds of other books I have read and given away, this one will always remain on my shelf.


  1. I pop over to your blog from Anne's recommendation awhile back:) I too, have been to Medjugorje and loved your review. I had not heard of this book. Someday I need to blog about my pilgrimage...As you have said, so difficult to put in words. One thing I know is that my soul felt it to be a glimpse of heaven and Medjugorje is forever stamped on my heart. Thank you for sharing this post.

  2. Yes, Tiff, I enjoy Anne's occasional ramblings, such as mine, and her beautiful poetry. I consider her one of my few on-line friends.

    I, like Paolo, know many people who have continually returned to Medjugorje, but I only went there once. My life changed. I felt that I made a major leap forward in faith, and to continue to return there would be like using a crutch. I resolved that was a starting point and I must grow from there, and believe I have. Growing in holiness is always our challenge; we cannot stop.

    I pray you much growth in your journey.

  3. I went to Medjugorje for a few reasons. The first was that my parents and a group of their friends had went and came back with the inspiration to put on a conference here in Orange County, Ca., which they still do every year. I had met Vicka and Ivan at the conference years ago, Ivan was even at my parents house once for a mass and actually experienced on of the apparitions in my parents home.

    My folks had always said "go", but I had a young family, personal struggles, ect., the timing wasn't good.

    When I went a few years back with my daughter, I was look for some much needed inner peace. To shorten this up, as I was sitting on Apparition Hill, I heard an inner voice say "this time is for you". As I looked over the valley and toward St. James Church, peace came and I was able to let go of all the baggage I held so tightly, my anger bag. That peace has never left me.

    Now don't think that I don't experience trials and tribulations like others, I do. I am just able to settle with them bet, to offer them up with out working myself into a frenzy like I use to.

    Like others, I think of going back from time to time. I can visualize it so well in my mind and would love to walk through the town and sit back in the same spot on Apparition Hill. A personal retreat so to speak.

    Anyway, the book sounds very interesting and I am glad you got to come and see!

    God bless

    1. I went to the annual conference at Notre Dame for a few years, until events there (non-Catholic policies) led me to stay away. Is there a website for the Orange County event?

      I'm happy you found peace in Medjugorje. I still pray to Mary in her role there, and I believe she hears and answers me. It changed my life.