We are in Medjugorje (Bosnia and Herzegovina), the place where six children began having visions of the Virgin Mary in 1981. Karen had strained a muscle in her hip and I was hoping that she might be cured by the healing water that comes out of the statue of the Risen Christ. She took some more ibuprofen and we walk toward St. James Church, on our way to Apparition Hill, where the first visions occurred.
The streets are lined with souvenir shops. Medjugorje attracts over a million visitors a year but the shops are empty because not very many pilgrims come in November.
There are also posters for sale with her image.
“She doesn’t look like a Palestinian Jew, does she?” I remark to Karen.
“Michelangelo used the people around him for his models. He and others set a standard for European sacred images. That’s what artists do,” she replied. “They draw on what they have around them.”
“I guess it’s the same with these visionaries,” I noted. “Jesus and Mary take the form of their worshipers. It’s a celebration of our own ethnicity.”
I looked at a blinking-light Virgin Mary. “Here’s an innovative souvenir!”
“It attracts your attention,” Karen said.
We begin the climb up Apparition Hill. The terrain is extremely rocky.
As during my climb up Cross Mountain, I saw people walking barefoot over the sharp rocks. A pilgrimage is like life. Life is struggle, suffering, and overcoming suffering.
I videotape another section to capture the essence of this pilgrimage.
Virgin Mary apparitions tend to occur within troubled environments and the Medjugorje visions fit that pattern.
During and after World War II, Yugoslavian Communists, Nazis, and Partisans — Serbians, Croatians, and Bosnians — killed over a million fellow Yugoslavians. Croat Nazi sympathizers exterminated a huge percentage of the population. Hundreds of Serbs were murdered near Apparition Hill, exactly 40 years before the first apparition. In Medjugorge, 20 Serbian Orthodox priests were publicly tortured, castrated, and buried alive. After the war, Communist Partisans killed an untold number of innocent Croatians, accusing them of collaborating with the Nazis. When Yugoslavian President Tito died in 1980, people expected turmoil.
We reached the hill where the children had their first visions in 1981. The terrain is extremely rocky. The apparitions did not prevent violence among Medjogorje villagers during the Bosnian War. Among the 3000 villagers, over a hundred lost their lives due to feud-like conflicts. This was the nature of things in those days.
I watch people pray before the statue of the Virgin Mary. The sun did not dance in the sky. Can the statue touch your heart?
“The Virgin Mary told those visionaries that she would do something which would compel belief,” Karen says. “What do you think she could do that would compel everyone to believe?”
“I don’t know,” I reply. “She made the sun dance in the sky and people video-taped it. The statue leaks water but that’s not enough. I think the whole thing has moved beyond the proof stage. Now we are in the souvenir stage. Believers buy souvenirs and get healed. The Virgin Mary provided each visionary ten secrets but we don’t know what they were told.
“How are non-believers going to arrive at belief?” she asks.
“Setting aside time each day for spiritual practice would be the first step,” I reply. “The Virgin Mary wants prayer and fasting but I think each of us should figure out our own Inner Way. You have to be willing to give it a try.”
I meditate each day, a practice that evolved in response to my war experiences. I watch the pilgrims pray and I pray for you, my readers. It takes a lot of prayer and barefoot walking to make up for war.
On the morning of our final day in Medjugorje, I visit the Risen Jesus statue. Karen does not want to come. I purchased some special napkins for soaking up the healing water. Each napkin has an image of the Virgin and a sentence in Croatian that translated means, “If you knew how much I love you, you would cry with joy.” This is one of the messages that the visionaries received.
I find that the statue is emitting water very slowly and I feel troubled inside. My belief about Medjugorje has changed. The water did not seem to help Karen. I realize that everyone walks their own path. I wipe the moisture away with each napkin and wait for new moisture to appear. How can I come into harmony with this? I need a new way of thinking about Medjugorje.
Lao tsu writes (chapter 51):
“Every being in the universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.
The Tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, maintains them, protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.”
I say good bye to the statue of the Risen Christ.
I offer you these napkins.
Here is the story given to me: We had past lives together and will meet again in a future life. I can take any form, any gender, any personally,any nationality. I am the one most suitable for you, better than all others. Late at night, as the rain falls, I whisper the secret to you: “I love you,” I say. You cry with joy.