Every christian knows about Medjugorje. Well, at least every catholic. I believe everybody, no matter what religion, race or nationality should know about it. Why? I'll tell you about it. (Note that in order to be as accurate as possible I've used some info from Medjugorje's official website http://medjugorje.hr.nt4.ims.hr).
WHAT IS MEDJUGORJE?
Maybe the first question should be WHERE is Medjugorje. But I think more important is WHAT. It's a town where the Blessed virgin Mary has appeared to six children, now adults, since June 24th 1981. The Vatican hasn't acknowledged it officially, but Medjugorje is visited by pilgrims from around the entire world as a shrine.
WHERE IS MEDJUGORJE
You most probably won't find it on a map. It's too small, a little village amidst the mountains of Hercegovina, in the south of Bosnia, 25 km southwest of Mostar.
HOW TO GET THERE
From the croatian coastal town Zadar it's a 3.5-hour-car drive to get there. When you leave the motor highway at Šestanovac, follow the signs to the Croatian-Bosnian border. The road leads you through Cista Provo to Imotski where you arrive at the border crossing Vinjani Gornji. The border crossing is a story for itself. The croatian side is like any other border crossing I've seen in Europe (while they used to be there). The bosnian side .... well, to me it looked like a booth that accidentally dropped off a helicopter, and was left there in the middle of the street. After first reaction of confusion, the officer from inside the booth asking our passports assured us that this actually IS the official border crossing. No offence. The road takes you further through Sovići, Grude and Ljubuški. You will find way marks to Medjugorje already in Croatia, and it's very important to follow these signs, otherwise it's easy to get lost. Like I did.
Plenty of it! The town is full with hotels, bed & breakfasts, private rooms, apartments. Wouldn't know about camp grounds though. We booked a room online, in a little boarding house in the town's center. Here I have to say it's kind of difficult to find an address, since the streets have no name. Or at least you can't see any signs. Maybe I wasn't looking hard enough. We found our landlady by asking around. It's a small town, everybody knows everybody. When we arrived at Pansion Rosanda, apparently our online booking hadn't reached the landlady. But, luckily, she had a free room for us. Pansion Rosanda consists of 2 buildings: a new one and an old one. We got a room in the old one. And it was old, wobbly, and pretty unattractive. But cheap (10 Euros) and clean with nice staff and a helpful landlady. And just a 2-minute- walk away from St. James church.
THE TOURIST TOWN
When you first arrive in Medjugorje it strikes you a little bit like a wild west town. The town is packed with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and .......... oh, my God, CD-shops that sell illegal copies of all varieties of music very, very cheap. To me, being a music freak, that was a real temptation! All of this combined with dusty roads, heavy traffic and the simmering sun leaves a pilgrim looking for spiritual comfort very disappointed. But then logic takes over. Medjugorje has to handle thousands of visitors every day. And all these people have to sleep somewhere, eat and drink and, being true members of the 21st cent.'s consumer society, buy souvenirs. That's the way it is. A little bit more urban planning wouldn't have hurt here though.
THE PILGRIM TOWN
It starts at St. James' Parish church in the town's center. The area around the church consists of booths for confessions, which are held in many different languages, benches where the pilgrims can sit and listen to the service in church being carried over thru speakers, and behind the church an exterior altar with a large audience space for the pilgrims. Every evening at 5 the Rosary is being prayed, at 6 the service starts followed by the blessing of items pilgrims bring (notice that schedules vary whether it's winter or summer season). The "whole package" - confession, Rosary and service - is a truly uplifting experience. Hundreds of people from all over the world are brought together with the only aim to feel the presence of God and Mary, they come to find peace and comfort joined together in prayer. After mass many of them still remain at the church area, lightning candles, praying, or just sitting there in silence. An atmosphere of tranquility lies over everyone.
Apparition hill is the place of the first apparitions of Our Lady. It's located several hundred meters above the Bijakovići hamlet called Podbrdo. Today it's called Apparition hill. From the town's center you can get there by car in ca. 10 minutes or on foot in half an hour. Up the hill there's no path, you practically jump from rock to rock, but it's not a very steep nor back breaking climb, and many pilgrims climb up barefoot. Along the way are "stations" - bronze reliefs presenting the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary (a work by prof. Carmelo Puzzolo). Climbing up Apparition hill pilgrims pray the Rosary and stop at the stations. On top of the hill a statue of Our Lady stands on the very place she first appeared to the children.
Cross mountain (Križevac) is a mountain above Medjugorje (520m) where the parisheners constructed a concrete cross 8,56m high. On the cross is written: "To Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the human race, as a sign of our faith, love and hope, in rememberance of the 1900 years since the death of Jesus". Pilgrims climb the mountain praying The Way of the Cross, stoping at bronze relief stations. It's a bit more back breaking to climb up than Apparition hill, but I've seen disabled persons climbing Cross mountain on crutches, or being carried up by others, so no place for complaint.
The Cenacolo Community was founded in Italy in 1983 by sister Elvira Petrozzi in order to help drug addicts. The main goal of the community is to discover and to live true values of Christian life. According to their words, their therapy is Jesus Christ, and the way of healing is prayer, work and friendship. Sister Elvira opened two houses here: in 1991 a house for boys called "Field of life", and in 2000 a house for girls called "Field of joy". The boys of the Cenacolo community gladly receive pilgrims and give witness of their conversion and liberation from drug addiction. I visited Cenacolo community for the 1st time several years ago when our parishener took us to Medjugorje. The whole group was greeted in an assembly hall where the boys spoke to us telling their life's story. It was a very emotional experience, and we were all happy to see that these young people were "getting it together", willing to change and are happy to live. Their work also consists of making handcrafted souvenirs which they sell in the community's own store, that we also visited. I have several things now that decorate my home and put a smile on my face each time I look at them.
What is also interesting about Cenacolo community, is that every 2nd of each month Mirjana, one of the visionaries, comes here to see Our Lady and share her message with the pilgrims. And everyone is welcome to attend this apparition.
The Oasis of Peace borders Cenacolo Community, and is a small park with paths winding amongst trees, bushes and flowers, with little hidden places where you can sit and enjoy the peace, quite and nature around you. In the middle of the Oasis is a little chapel, handcrafted, a wonderful place to enjoy the artistic interior and tranquility.
When you walk to the end of the Oasis, you will not reach a fence, but open space, a pasture. As you walk on you will notice some awkward buildings, surrounded by stone walls. You will find a pass if you keep looking, and enter a place that's out of time and out of place. I've forgotten what this place is called, but I don't think it has a name. I'll just call it Cindy's place, after one half of the couple who built it and still is building it. Stone-built houses, little roads connecting them, a little village, decorated lushy with flowers, trees, bushes, statues, handcrafted little things. I felt like being on the set of a fantasy movie! Incredible, especially when you know that all this is being made manually, stone by stone, flower by flower! Later I learned that it actually has a main gate (of course!), and it's aim is to host priests and other spiritual teachers for spiritual seminars and gatherings. It was established by Cindy and her husband, who both left a successful career in Canada and started all over again in this little village on the other end of the world. I met Cindy - and have no words to describe her. Only that in those few minutes she greeted us in her kitchen, she managed to touch my heart in a way that no language can describe. Thank you Cindy, you are an angel.
Mother's village is an establishment for the education and care of abandoned and neglected children, established in 1993. It emerged from the desire of its founder, Fra Slavko Barbarić, to offer children and youth a planned, organised education, as well as care, so they can develop physically, intellectualy, morally, spiritually and culturally. The care of the children was entrusted to the Franciscan School Sisters from Hercegovina and to lay staff members. For visitors guided tours are offered, where you also learn how this project came to life - a truly amazing story, which I won't go further into here, 'cause it's not a short story. The Village is a little difficult to find, it's on the outskirts of the town, and there are lousy way marks. Try asking your way through.
Right next to Mother's village there's St. Francis' Garden, a forest and the last project of the late Fra Slavko, inspired by Our Lady's message, where she tells us: "Go into nature and look how nature is awakening and it will be a help to you to open your hearts to the love of God, the Creator. (April 25, 1993)". Through patient work and care, a neglected pine forest grown on rocky ground became a beautiful natural place for recollection and recreation, prayer and education. There are also two artificial lakes, didactical material for work with children, several domestic and wild animals and birds, as well as three ponies which serve for hypotherapy.
This is just about the things to see and do when you're in Medjugorje. I went there several times, and have learned three things: 1. stay more than one day, make it at least two days. 2. if anyhow possible, come to an apparition. 3. go alone. Or with one very good friend, someone you really feel comfortable with.
After having come to Medjugorje several times, and never really gotten into the core of things due to scarce time and a large group of people around me, a friend of mine learned about the 2nd-of-month-apparitions, and asked me to join her. I agreed, she's one of my best friends and I have to admit I was curious. Appariton, huh? And I can actually be there? Okay, let's go and see that.