A vacation cruise last month on the Adriatic and Aegean seas made it possible for me to revisit part of my past. The trip included flights to Moscow and Venice, Italy, and then boarding the Norwegian Jade with stops in Dubrovnik, Croatia; Athens, Greece; Kusadasi and Ephesus, Turkey; and Split, Croatia.
It wasn’t one of the stops, but Martina Huljev with Jade guest services made it possible for a nearly two-hour drive from Split to Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina. I had written a column about this place 25 years ago from talking with John and Vicki Halloran. The south Kansas City couple’s children had sent them to the then-quaint, Yugoslavian farming community as a 40th wedding anniversary gift.
Medjugorje has attracted millions of people worldwide as the place the Mother of Jesus appeared to young visionaries and where miracles are said to have occurred. I wrote in a Dec. 20, 1990, column, “What’s occurring is like when the Madonna, or Queen of Peace, appeared to a girl in 1858 in Lourdes, France, and then to three children in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal.” The visionaries who’ve repeatedly seen the Madonna at Medjugorje were ages 10 to 17 when they first saw her in June 1981.
Martina, who’s from Croatia, had been there, and because of the spiritual power people feel she understood why others wanted to go. I was with my partner Bette, her 83-year-old mother, LaFrancine, and her 78-year-old aunt, Bette. Making this trip was my only request in our travels. But we had just five hours to leave the boat, board the van and make the drive.
Fortunately the roads were better than most U.S. interstates. The driver dropped us at St. James Church. From there we walked to the Stations of the Cross and to the Medjugorje Risen Christ Statue. People line up to stand on a step-stool to touch the knee of the more than 20-foot tall bronze statue, which since 2001 as emitted a tear-like liquid just above the lower thigh. Many people carried pieces of cloth to absorb the fluid as they prayed, touching the statue. We then got directions for a two-mile hike to the hillside where the apparitions occurred.
We had to hurry to get there and back to the van, then the boat before the ship sailed. We made it, and with many other visitors we experienced the solemn, spiritual power and reverence of Medjugorje. It was unlike being in any church. It was a baptism in the purest waters of faith.
Science and the Vatican have investigated Medjugorje. Pope Francis after recent travels to Sarajevo dismissed the apparitions at Medjugorje as mere “novelty-seeking” for the faithful. He said, however, that the Vatican would soon formally decide whether the visions are authentic.
It has not been approved as an official shrine site, and dioceses have been told not to organize official pilgrimages there. Yet, 30 million people have flocked to Medjugorje in the last 34 years financially transforming the village into a tourist attraction with a new church, housing and many shops selling items to visitors.
I always wondered how this place had fared during the 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia, the civil war, NATO bombings and ethnic cleansing that left thousands dead and millions displaced.
I wrote in the 1990 column: “The visionaries said the Madonna told them that materialism and a lack of morality were ruining us. She had come to warn us, particularly our youths…. They are troubled by broken homes, alcoholism, drugs, sex, violence and a lack of purity and direction. The Queen of Peace warns of a great catastrophe and calls for prayer, reconciliation and fasting to try to turn around our troubled future, the Hallorans said.”
Our future remains clouded by war and terrorism with fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere throughout the Middle East and Africa. There’s also Russia’s continuing threat to Ukraine and economic strife worldwide. Peace remains elusive.
More than 2000 years after the Madonna gave birth to the baby Jesus, we still show we are not where our faith wants us to be.