In 2003, I traveled alone across the world to Medjugorje, a perplexing pilgrimage. But first some background.
The apparitions of the Virgin Mary to six young visionaries beginning in 1981 ignited a storm of controversy and persecution. Thirty-six years later, questions remain unanswered to the satisfaction of skeptical Catholic and secular minds.
In 1981, the area now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina was called Yugoslavia and tenuously under the control of Communist Russia. President Tito had miraculously kept the lid on what has been called the ‘powder keg of the world,’ the Balkans, for several decades, managing to create a prosperous economy using methods which smacked of western financial theory. The country was touted by observers as the first Communist country to peacefully transition to democracy and capitalism. But the fragile coalition of eight ethnically diverse peoples began to crumble following Tito’s death in 1980. By the early nineties, Bosnia and Serbia exploded into war.
Surely the claims of fifteen- year- old Mirjana Soldo of her conversations with the Mother of God did not cause the sudden and devastating conflagration in Bosnia and Serbia. Or create the conditions where once friendly neighbors would aim to ‘cleanse’ neighborhoods of the presence of others. But most likely, the young girl’s refusal to recant or to be intimidated by the persecution of Communist party officials did not help.
Upon learning that the Vatican plans to investigate the town to determine the validity of the visions, the Bishop of Bosnia-Herzegovina went public with his opinion.
“Considering everything that this chancery has so far researched and studied, including the first seven days of the alleged apparitions, it can peacefully be affirmed: The Madonna has not appeared in Medjugorje!”
The Bishop went further to opine that the ” the alleged apparitions, which began in the early 1980s, are nothing more than a manipulation by the visionaries and priests who work in the Saint James church that doubles as a pilgrimage welcoming center.”
Last week, Pope Francis expressed his personal opinion about the apparitions with surprising certainty: “The woman they saw is not the mother of Jesus.” Yet, the same Guardian article quotes the Pontiff as stating that “the Vatican investigations of the apparitions to the children in the early eighties will continue.”
Therefore, I have been studying the recent history of Yugoslavia. And during my surfing on the net, I was surprised to discover a book by Mirjana Soldo, the visionary at whose home I stayed all those years ago. My Heart Will Triumph is Mirjana’s story but also that of Our Lady. It is clear from the beginning that doubt, ridicule and even persecution are no strangers to this visionary.
Mirjana writes simply and powerfully of her meeting with St. John Paul ll in July of 1987. Invited by the Pontiff to Castel Gandelfo, she speaks of several hours spent with the saint.
The pope leaned towards me and said, “Take good care of Međugorje, Mirjana. Međugorje is the hope for the entire world.” The pope’s words seemed like a confirmation of the importance of the apparitions and of my great responsibility as a visionary. I was surprised by the conviction in his voice, and by how his eyes sparkled every time he said the word Međugorje—
The powerful sense that I needed to go there nagged at me from almost the moment I learned of its existence.
When we moved from Connecticut to Nevada and I learned there was a group from the church we attended planning a trip to Medugorje, I did not think it a coincidence and signed up. I ended up going alone because the church group rescheduled to the following year.
Although I told my husband that I had no expectations of the trip, that was, of course, a lie. I hoped, yes, expected a clear message: “Lin, I want you to do this…apply for that job…become a lay missionary…”
Why else would I have felt this compulsion to go halfway across the world?
But rather than being saturated with miracles and visions like many of my fellow pilgrims, the trip was an exercise in endurance. For most of those ten days, I felt detached and far away from God.
Upon listening to another say they just saw the sun spin, didn’t I see it? I would shake my head, smile, and say, no, I didn’t. When we witnessed Marjana’s monthly visitation with Our Lady, many members of our group were ecstatic. They had seen her, Our Lady, felt the Holy Spirit or smelled roses. I had felt nothing except claustrophobic because there were so many people crammed in around me.
In fact, I called my husband in tears to apologize. ” I can’t believe I’ve spent all this money and feel nothing…see nothing…cannot even pray in this place. This was an expensive mistake.” John reassured me with kindness and love: “God knows you don’t need signs and visions to believe in Him…it was no mistake, you just don’t understand why He wants you there. But He does.”
Her devotion, faith and clarity were beautiful to witness. A few days before we were to leave her home, Mirjana spent over an hour in an open interview with our entire group. Her replies to questions were translated by Micki, our guide, and her dear friend.
Many of the questions seemed inane to me but she never lost patience. One of her answers echoes in my mind, still, after all these years. When someone asked what she thought of our country, Mirjana replied that she was deeply saddened by the way Americans treat their priests. How disrespectful are we Americans of our priests. Here, in Medjugorje, she explained, we revere our priests. “Only through their hands can we be fed His Most Precious Body and Blood.”
When I returned home, John asked if I could sum up my trip in just a few words. After thinking about Cross Hill, Apparition Hill, St. James Church with its hundreds and hundreds of people in line for confession and so much else I had seen, I said, “Yes, it is like a lighthouse, a lighthouse for the world.” Therefore, I smile when I read Saint John Paul’s words to her all those years ago:
“Take good care of Međjugorje, Mirjana. Međjugorje is the hope for the entire world.”