The Catholic Defender Travels to Medjugorje 1988
Medjugorje has become one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for Catholics in the world and has turned into Europe’s third most important apparition site, where each year more than 1 million ( at least before Covid) people visit.
It was in the early Spring of 1988, I was Stationed at Schweinfurt Germany assigned to a Forward Support Unit on Conn Concern (Barracks). Our Unit had completed training and I was given the opportunity to take some leave. Our Catholic Chaplain, Father Ryan, with a small group of Soldiers and some Dependents planned a trip to Medjugorje.
I was given the opportunity to make the pilgrimage and so the 22 hour bus ride began on 23 March 1988. We all had to have special passports being some of us were United States Military going into a Communist Third World Country, the former Yugoslavia. Despite the trip, everyone was high with expectation. I had my M-5 video Camera taking pictures along the way. The mountains and the rivers were very colorful.
Sometimes the roads were so narrow that you could almost look straight down from the bus window deep into the gorge. That was a bit scary. Finally, we made it to our destination. Getting off the bus was great as we looked around the area.
Medjugorje is a small village located up in the mountains about 40 miles past Mostar. From afar, you could see "Cross Mountain" where the people of the village erected a large cross in 1933 to commemorate the Passion of the Lord. You can see this far off as you drive towards Medjugorje.
The Church of St. James stood very prominent. The place was alive with small children playing with old soccer balls, there were local farmers with goats that seemed everywhere.
We were quickly assigned with local families to stay during this pilgrimage. It seemed that the whole region was totally converted.
It was for me like a place of fable, something that you might find only in the movies. I remember that up to this time, as a pilgrim, I was reporting on my documentary I was making that the reports of Mary's appearing here to six children were "possible".
During that first day, 24 March, I was up at one of the sites that Mary was reported to have appeared to the Children, "Cross Mountain" or "Apparition Hill".
I was conversing with some friends of mine when I was called to intervene with a developing situation.
A woman (a 5th grade school teacher from Indiana) was extremely excited praising God.
Another visitor from Texas began to challenge The woman's excitement with skepticism.
My Friend who called me over to intervene in this situation was one of my Soldiers. He was raised a Baptist and planning to become a Preacher. At least until he finished looking at the Catholic Faith. He was curious how I would handle this situation.
I went to the lady and asked her what had happened. She showed me her rosary describing how it turned from silver to gold while it was in her pocket up on this mountain. I asked to see it noticing that it was in fact gold in color. Not only was the chain gold but also the corpse on the crucifix was gold which I had never seen a two tone crucifix like this before.
The cross itself remained silver. She continued to tell me that this particular rosary she has had for 20 years. I then turned my attention to the Stranger from Texas.
He was with a group wearing an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his jacket. Noticing this, I explained the miracle of the Tilma and Our Lady's appearances there in Mexico. After about ten minutes, his eyes got real big and he was ready to go to the other sites in the area.
I was then able to interview and video the Woman's testimony and her Rosary. The following morning, I was at Mass with some of our group and it was jam packed.
The people singing was very inspiring, people from all over were carrying signs, rosaries, religious items, most importantly, themselves offering themselves enthusiastically in the Mass. Looking around about three rows behind me I noticed the very sceptic I had spoken with on "Cross Mountain".
At the greeting of peace, I reached out to greet him with the sign of peace and I could see the love in his eyes, the total change in his face.
He pulled me towards him in a manner that told me he was no longer a sceptic. All of this was having a positive impact on all our group.
My Soldier was witnessing all these things with me. That would become very important as you shall see. After Mass, I was conversing around together with about 15 members of our group.
Everyone was discussing the events that they were seeing and participating with. I shared what I experienced the night before and the Lady from Indiana's story.
About that point, a commotion was stirring coming towards us. Two men, brothers on pilgrimage there from parts unknown, had identical rosaries before they went to Mass, during the Mass one of them turned gold at the Mass.
All of our group were listening to them speak intently as I videoed the occasion.
There was a definite change in the appearance of the rosaries. That brought on a lot of awe and wonder from us. As this was happening, I became interested about our group to see if anyone had witnessed anything like this from among us.
Everyone pulled out their rosaries and the Lord was giving us a sign as we were gathered there. I had my trusty M-5 video camera and I literally was able to capture on video a rosary transform from silver to gold right there on the camera.
A miracle right before us! There were two people holding the rosary as we were all inspecting it, watching it. They were literally trembling as I videoed the scene.
We all walked down the street as did the two men before us, praising the name of the Lord and the work we were witnessing he was doing.
Later that day, I was among a throng of people who were awaiting for one of the visionaries, Vicka Ivankovic-Mijatoric, who would come out to field questions from the many pilgrims.
I had my trusty M-5 Panasonic video camera on hand and was able to get her responses.
Soon after I met a Father who brought his son from the United States who had major burns on his body. The boy was terribly scared and the prayer was to find peace. That was answered there.
Later that day I had the chance to speak with a Buddhist that was curious about what was happening here at Medjugorje. After two hours of discussion, he became convinced of the Lord's Resurrection.
The Mass was continuous throughout the day in several languages for people coming there. The English Mass was like 08:00 in the morning. At 17:00 the Church was for the locals who prayed every night as a whole community. Everyone was welcome, but it was always packed. People would be gathered all around the Church outside to participate.
Confession was continuous, there were long lines of people going to Confession. That was powerful and it had a great impact on our Priest, Father Ryan. This pilgrimage was having a great impact on all of us.
One night, I was with some people from England as we went up cross Mountain doing the Stations of the Cross. It took 45 minutes to get up that hill. On a dark night sitting from the top of Cross Mountain what a site looking down on the villages. You could spell the word "love" from up there.
On the morning that we had to leave to go back to Germany, I was outside in the throng of people listening from out in the court yard when an older man speaking broken English to me, pointed to the sky. He exclaimed he could see Jesus. I looked up where he was pointing not seeing anything. I motioned to a friend to take a picture. From this picture, you could see the face of Christ.
When I was in Korea, one of the Korean photographers converted to the Catholic Faith. He placed this picture on a board for me. I have had that picture on my wall in all my offices since!
Since June 24, 1981 the feast of St. John the Baptist, more than 40,000,000 people have gone to Medjugorje. Despite the fact of the Government's opposition. Even in 1988 when we were there the Government had plain clothed Military there to harass the masses. I noticed the military helicopters flying over head.
Today, I know Catholics who are strongly supportive of Medjugorje and I know others who are not convinced. All you have to do is Google the subject and you can see all the pros and cons. I think the Catholic Church is wise in postponing any real authoritative ruling on Medjugorje because of the huge separation people have on it. If the Church were to come out with a strong positive ruling many would have problems with it. If the Church came out condemning Medjugorje, many would have problems with it.
For me, I will defer ultimately for Rome's final verdict. I must say that not only was I touched by this pilgrimage, so was my Soldier. As soon as we were back in Germany, he was Baptized and Confirmed into the Catholic Faith by Father Ryan! That was a trip that seemed so much like fable, what an experience this was for all of us.