Thoughts on Medjugorje

stjameschurch20090626_sBy Pearl Tam

When I first decided to go to Medjugorje, I didn’t have any expectations. Sure, I knew there was a lot of praying, and I’d probably grow spiritually, but I didn’t know that I would witness so many miraculous and wondrous things. I also never thought that my life would change as a result of the Medjugorje experience.

In order to understand why I went to Medjugorje, we have to start at the beginning. My husband had osteoarthritis, and by November 2006 his knees were in such a bad state that the surgeon recommended double-knee replacement surgery as soon as possible. He was reluctant to go through such a drastic step, but I urged him to think “long term”. We didn’t know it at the time, but he was falling into a depression.

After the surgery and a few months’ recuperation, he went back to work. However, his heart and mind were not in it. He sank deeper into his depression, but refused to get help. It became increasingly difficult for him to get through each day. Things came to a head in March 2008, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He finally took early retirement in August 2008.

Meanwhile I was trying to do everything I could to help him, physically and mentally. He finally agreed to get help, and went on medication for both his depression and Parkinson’s. I relied heavily on the support and encouragement of friends. In November 2008 the last straw was my mom’s fall at home. She was rushed to hospital, and had to have major hip surgery. So, in addition to taking care of one person at home, I had a second person to take care of, and ended up running around constantly.

When one of my friends heard about my situation, she lent me Andrew Jerome Yeung’s “Our Lady Speaks from Medjugorje”. I put it in the family room, and whenever I had a few minutes or when I needed something to lift me up, I’d open the book and read a few paragraphs. Somehow it always soothed me, and I’d feel better afterwards. The more I read, the more I felt the urge to go there and see for myself what it was all about.

In February 2009, two friends told me they had signed up to go to Medjugorje in June. I felt that it was a sign for me to go as well. However, since my husband is not Catholic, I knew he wouldn’t want to go with me. I asked a good friend, Mona, if she wanted to go. She isn’t Catholic either, but somehow I felt she would fit in with the group. The two of us went to a slide show about Medjugorje, and decided that we’d go together. We both paid our deposit. Mona also told me that if at any time my husband decided to go, she’d give up her seat for him.

Meanwhile I asked my husband if he wanted to go with me. He didn’t, but knew that he couldn’t prevent me from going. He tried to make me feel guilty about leaving him at home. He would say things like, “I won’t be here when you come back.” I began to doubt if he would be OK while I was gone. That’s when the first “miracle” or “unusual coincidence” happened.

I was in a department store with my son. I told him that I’d wait for him in the book section while he went to get a few things. The store had undergone some renovations, and the book section was right in front of me. There were some books in the “Chicken Soup” series, and the word “Catholic” happened to be on one of the covers. I took the book from the shelf, and opened it to read a story. Out of 101 stories in the book, I had opened it to a story on Medjugorje! It was written by someone who had witnessed a miracle while she was there. To me, that was a sign that I was to go, regardless. It also meant that my husband would be fine while I was away.

After that, the time just flew by. My mom was finally well enough to be discharged from the rehab hospital, and entered an excellent nursing home at the end of May. That was one less thing to worry about.

The departure day finally arrived. After attending mass at the airport, we were on our way. Our group encountered lots of trials and tribulations along the way, including missed flights and connections, lost luggage, and human incompetence. However, the graces that we all received from Jesus and Our Lady more than made up for all the inconvenience and setbacks. We all witnessed miracles and experienced unusual coincidences, and felt that we were blessed indeed.

Personally, I saw the sun changing and pulsating on four occasions. When I experienced it the first time, I thought it was my imagination, but several other people also saw it, and the descriptions were the same! So it wasn’t just me “seeing things”.

The first Sunday we were there, Mona and I met a Monsignor from the U.S. We shared a meal together, and I had a chance to tell someone in person about the ups and downs in my life over the past two and a half years. When I was done, I felt as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. After he heard the stories, he gave us crucifixes that had been blessed by the Pope a few days earlier, when he was in Rome. The meeting was truly special, and I don’t think we’ll ever forget it. He also gave crucifixes to my husband and my mom – another blessing indeed!

ivan_talk20090626_sAnother unusual event/miracle that I witnessed occurred during a talk given by Ivan, one of the visionaries. He was sitting on the stage, in front of a white screen. I had always thought that the screen blocked a beautiful picture of Our Lady, and wondered why it wasn’t rolled up. That afternoon, during the talk, I saw that the screen behind Ivan had a picture of the bottom part of a long grey skirt, with many folds in the front. At first I thought that the folds were actually part of the screen itself, but then I saw that the two upper corners of the screen were white, while the rest was grey, showing that indeed there was a picture of a skirt, offering protection around Ivan while he was talking. Since the visionaries said that Our Lady wore a grey skirt, it added to the authenticity of the picture.

apphill_20090624_sOne of the most memorable experiences was climbing Apparition Hill. The climb had been delayed a few times because of the weather, but that particular Friday we had been invited by Our Lady herself (through Ivan, one of the visionaries). It wasn’t raining during the day, which was good, since the flesh is weak. However, there was a tiny drizzle after supper. Our group decided to press on. I even took all the statues, rosaries, medals, oil, etc. in a bag, and lugged it up the hill with me. By the time we arrived at the top, the rain started coming down in earnest. In a way, the rain was a deterrent to some pilgrims, so the hilltop wasn’t as crowded as it might have been. We found spots to sit down, and we found ourselves right next to Ivan’s prayer group! It was as close to holiness as we could possibly get. That in itself was a minor miracle, since many other pilgrims were there ahead of us.

We sat in the rain for four hours, praying and talking quietly. The rain never let up, and the night got cooler, but somehow, nobody got sick. Some time before 9 o’clock, Ivan’s prayer group began to sing, and everyone joined in. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever encountered. It was as if everyone was one, and everyone was singing Our Lady’s praises. Just after 9:30, the rain began to peter out, and about 10 minutes after that, Our Lady appeared to Ivan. We could feel something different in the atmosphere, and felt that it was indeed a privilege to be part of the group. The message itself was worth the wait. Our Lady was very, very happy, and gave us her Motherly Blessing – something rare, to be cherished and passed on.

Going down the hill was difficult, to say the least. It was dark, and the rocks were slippery. However, I had a guardian angel in the person of Francis (from our group). He used his flashlight to show the way, and held my hand to make sure I’d have a good grip. I had a cane in my other hand, so I felt safe and secure, even though the rocks were treacherous. Before we knew it, we had made our way down the hill, and we were on our way home. Miraculously, nobody got hurt coming down the slippery mud and rocks.

I was told that Cross Mountain was higher than Apparition Hill, and the climb would be three times as bad. It too, had been delayed because of bad weather. When we finally made the climb on a nice breezy day, I didn’t feel that it was a “bad” climb. It was indeed higher than Apparition Hill, but by then we were “seasoned climbers”, and everyone made it to the top without any mishap. Even the ladies who were in their 70’s made it. Along the way we stopped to say the Way of the Cross, so it was extremely meaningful. Even though we started the climb at 5 a.m., the mountain was becoming alive with pilgrims. I just felt so sorry for the locals who live in that neighbourhood! By the time we made it to the top, other groups were pressing on us, and we only had enough time to take a group photo before we had to move on.

Coming down the mountain wasn’t easy, but compared to the descent from Apparition Hill, it was a piece of cake. The weather was nice and dry, and we drew strength from each other. Ahead of me was the couple who had told me about Medjugorje. They were holding hands all the way, and it was very touching. It reminded me of life itself, where husband and wife are there to help and support each other. In my case, I was on my own, looking out for myself. That was a reflection of this particular stage of my life, when I am on my own, and making my way without the support or physical presence of my husband. However, when I looked around me, there were members of the group all about me, extending a helping hand when needed, pointing out pitfalls, and offering words of encouragement. That’s all that was needed to reassure me that all was well, and I was well taken of.

Our Lady reserved the best for the last. During the Adoration of the Eucharist on Saturday night, I saw something brown inside the Eucharist when the priest held it up for Adoration. It looked as if there was some dirt inside the white host. Then I connected the “dirt” with the colour of wood. At first I didn’t know what it was, but after a while it dawned on me that the brown wood was part of the cross that Jesus had to carry. I asked Mona if she saw it, and she did. So did several other group members. Again, it wasn’t my imagination.

At the last mass we attended on Sunday night, I smelled incense at least three times, signifying that God was there. I also smelled roses, even though there are no rose plants in Medjugorje. The first whiff was a very pungent scent, like a strong perfume. However, no one was wearing perfume! The scent came back two more times, signifying that Our Lady was there as well. Mona and several group members smelled the incense, and someone else from the group also smelled the roses. That’s further proof that it wasn’t my imagination! It’s as if Our Lady was telling me that I was given special graces to do her work, and the signs were her words of encouragement.

The fact that the climb up the Apparition Hill and Cross Mountain was delayed a few times actually helped in my Medjugorje experience. To me, everything happened in the proper sequence, and I was ready for the next step when it came about. If we had gone up Cross Mountain before I was ready, I wouldn’t have derived so much from it. Again, the saying “To everything there is a season” makes so much sense!

The trip home was extremely smooth, even though we only had 20 minutes to make a connection in Munich. Again, that was a sure sign that we had special protection.

As for my husband and son, well, they survived without me, even though I had to vacuum the floor as soon as I took off my shoes. The air conditioner also broke down while I was gone, but one phone call to our handyman resulted in his coming to install a new unit the very next day. That in itself was another miracle! Getting a new air conditioner the very next day in summer in Toronto is totally unheard of!

After I came home, my life slowly began to change. There was a time, before I got married, when I went to mass every Sunday. However, after I got married, and then had a family, the timing became more difficult. As the years went by, I only went to mass twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. After I came back from Medjugorje, I have been going every Sunday. There’s an added difference – now I’m going because I want to get closer to Jesus, not because it’s a mortal sin or because it’s a Catholic duty.

Even though I didn’t go to mass regularly, I used to pray every day, and often. However, I didn’t pray the rosary, because it was so long and “boring”. When we were in Medjugorje, we went to a talk given by Sister Emmanuel. She taught us how to pray the rosary, and now I find that it’s the most beautiful prayer of all. I still don’t say it every day, but I say the peace rosary, and I find that it, too, is very powerful. Now, every morning, in addition to doing exercises to maintain my physical health, I’m saying extra prayers as well, to sustain my spiritual health.

cross_from_monsignorAnother change is that I am wearing the crucifix that the Monsignor gave me, together with a Miraculous Medal. Before I went away, I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing something like that – an external sign of my being a Catholic. Now I want the whole world to know. In addition, I made a shrine at home, dedicated to Our Lady, and the display includes the five stones collected from Apparition Hill. This is a far cry from what my home was like before my trip – there were no displays to indicate that I was Catholic!

The most dramatic change is the fact that now I have peace of mind. Faced with all the obstacles at home, I used to worry a lot, and at times I would get mad at my husband for not doing anything to help himself. However, after my trip, I don’t worry at all, and I seldom get mad at my husband any more. I’ve learned to offer my trials and tribulations to Jesus and Our Lady, and I’m bearing my cross willingly. It has made me more calm and patient, and I’m trying to take all the ups and downs in stride. Of course, at the back of my mind is the reassurance that Jesus and Mary are there with me all the way.

On the pilgrimage I witnessed so many things that were “out of the ordinary” that I’m afraid I will take all these things for granted. I have to continue to pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit and Our Lady, so that I will have the strength to do God’s will. Our Lady asked us to go to mass, to pray, read the Bible, go to confession, and fast. All these things are happening, with the exception of fasting. However, I know that with determination and prayer, I will be able to do that too, some day.