The Witness

Cross Mountain (Krizevac), Medjugorje

Medjugorje is a hamlet of mostly ethnic Croatians located in Bosnia, the former Yugoslavia. Six children, now adults, began receiving apparitions of the Virgin Mary in June 1981. I made a pilgrimage there in June 1988 for the 7th anniversary of the apparitions with a group of pilgrims, although my interest in Marian apparitions was as a journalist. The actor Martin Sheen traveled with us to film a documentary about Medjugorje. Our group were the “extras.”

This first trip made a huge impact on me. It turned my head and I viewed the world in an entirely different context. The Greeks call this metanoia, which simply means to change one’s mind. In the context of spiritual pilgrimage, however, it means to change one’s life usually as the result of a “knock you off your horse” spiritual conversion. I traveled back to Medjugorje two months later. This is an account of only one of many spiritual experiences during that second pilgrimage that some might call miraculous.

Cross Mountain (pictured above) was built by Medjugorje parish residents in 1934. In one of her messages to the six visionaries, Mary said, “The Cross was in God’s plan when you built it.” Krizevac is one of two spiritually significant mountains, really hills, in the village. The other is known as Apparition Hill (Podbrdo), the location of Mary’s first apparition on June 24, 1981 (the anniversary is celebrated each year on June 25).

My first pilgrimage to Medjugorje, as I noted, was in June 1988. Overall, I made a total of 7 or 8 trips and even lived there for a period of time in the early ’90s. My first trip wrapped around the June 25th anniversary of the apparitions, a date popular with pilgrims, who were now arriving from all over the world but mostly from Italy and the U.S.

I’ll write separately about the first pilgrimage, which had such an enormous impact on my life. Indeed, the person who made me aware both of Medjugorje and this June pilgrimage told me, “This will change your life.” This individual was Yvonne Petrovic, who hosted a weekend talk radio program.

In 1988, I was an Episcopalian and had been one all my life. However, my mother, also an Episcopalian, had devotions to St. Francis of Assisi and the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Lourdes. So while the pilgrimage was an introduction to the experience of Catholicism, I was already familiar with the major differences between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches. I subsequently converted to Catholicism in 1989.

I witnessed several “miracles” in Medjugorje that June of 1988. Along with several other members of my group, I was able to stare directly at the sun one day while climbing Krizevac. Other members of the group were unable to do so. On the morning of our departure, I witnessed what was called the Miracle of the Cross. The concrete gray cross atop Krizevac sometimes would turn a brilliant white color and its arms would disappear leaving only a shaft of bright light visible to onlookers. The arms would then reappear and the cycle would continue for several minutes. I later learned some members of our group housed in other parts of the village saw the same phenomenon at the same time. Others did not.

The photo above of Cross Mountain is a fairly recent one. As the popularity of Medjugorje increased, the parish undertook several major renovations on Krizevac, Apparition Hill and on the church itself, where an outdoor altar was added. The base of Krizevac was reconstructed and the gray cross was given a coat of white paint. The word Medjugorje means “between the mountains.”

The final miracle I witnessed in June 1988 occurred in Dubrovnik during the group’s return trip to the States. I didn’t want to leave and almost pulled my return ticket, but our now frantic travel agent talked me out of it. I strolled from the hotel down to the Old City of Dubrovnik to pray about leaving or staying on the steps of St. Blaise Church. I decided to return home on schedule but to quickly book a return pilgrimage. My second trip took place in August 1988 for the Feast of the Assumption and serves as the backdrop for this recollection.

St Blaise Church, Dubrovnik

Later that evening as I walked back to the hotel I looked out over the harbor and up at a beautiful full moon. It began jumping around in the sky. I interpreted this as a confirmation of my decision to return to Medjugorje.

The days between the two pilgrimages were spent with my mom in Alabama. Needless to say, I had a lot to share with her. I also began learning Italian, which at the time was a second language in Medjugorje. I booked the return pilgrimage for early August.

I also spent a good deal of the time between pilgrimages reading spiritual texts, including the Bible. During the first pilgrimage I’d become acquainted with Revelation 12 – “The woman clothed in the sun.” It was a popular reference to Mary in sermons at St. James Church owing, I assume, to the ten secrets about “chastisements” that Mary was sharing with the visionaries.

One day in Tuscaloosa I experienced what’s known as an “interior locution.” A woman’s voice instructed me “to read [Revelation] Chapter 8 over and over again.” I thought, “Don’t you mean Chapter 12?” Again, “Read Chapter 8 over and over again.” So I did and thought nothing more about it.

St James Church, Medjugorje

From Revelation Chapter 8:

When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

During my second pilgrimage, I began each day shortly after dawn with a hike through the fields and vineyards to Mt. Krizevac. The trail up the mountain begins at the first station of the cross. If you don’t pray or meditate at all 15 stations, the rocky climb would take about 20-30 minutes. I usually completed the hike in time to return for breakfast at my guesthouse. Even back in 1988 Medjugorje was filled with guesthouses to accommodate pilgrims.

One morning my hike was different. I didn’t pass by any pilgrims gathered at the stations. I didn’t pass by anyone on the trail during the climb. And there were only a few scattered pilgrims at the top once I arrived. My normal routine was to head directly to the cross and walk up the steps that led to the altar.

At the altar I would usually pray a rosary, but that morning I was immediately distracted by an inexpensive looking glass incense burner. The base of the structure had been enclosed during one of the many renovations. The large square hollowed out area beneath the old altar, which can be seen in the photo below, allowed overnight pilgrims to burn firewood to keep warm and to burn candles. So much candle wax eventually built up, the parish, recognizing the fire hazard, stopped the practice. Another noteworthy change: the area used to include a small drainage hole in the wall for rainwater. This drainage hole was located in the platform’s corner to the far right of the pilgrim pictured below circumambulating the cross on her knees.

The censer now captured my full attention. I recalled the above verses from Chapter 8 over and over again, this time in my mind. “And I saw the seven angels.” I counted the pilgrims. Sure enough! Seven were scattered about the hill not paying any attention to me. Good. I took the censer and faced outward toward the church, visible off in the distance. Then I thought, “nah.” No way am I going to hurl this down on the ground. I didn’t have to. A sudden gust of wind came up and blew the top off the censer. Sure enough, the rounded top rolled directly toward and through the hole in the wall to my left and fell to the ground! Now, what are the odds?

There are several interpretations. This one is mine.

The “Silence in Heaven,” represents a period of mercy and grace that will soon end.

Indeed, history recorded the action of Revelation’s third angel only two years before this pilgrimage:

10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood.[a] A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

[a]Wormwood (вормвуд) translated to Russian is Chernobyl, a 1986 disaster that affected at least a third of the population of Europe.

                                                                  

© R. Toney Brooks, OS, 2020

A History of the First Apparitions in Medjugorje.

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