October 22-30, 1999
Our Group Included: Kenneth and Joyce Barry, Mary Sacchitella, Eileen Weisslinger, Diane McIntee, Marcey Backes, Gary Helmkamp, Ann Helmkamp, Diane Prahlad, Maria Patino, Olga Patino, Terese O Toole-Terry, Marjorie Ohrenberger, Barry Hebert, Lisa Drennan, Steve and Ana Shawl, Fr. Al Winshman and Slavenka.
Pictures From Our Trip.. For anyone in our group who took pictures, please contact us and we will scan them and return them to you...
This pilgrimage to Medjugorje was very special. All of our groups are special, but the people on this trip touched our hearts profoundly. They came from diverse backgrounds, and all came for different reasons, yet we all shared a common faith, and love for God and Our Lady. We will never forget the people of this group, and I hope we will stay in touch for years to come.
This trip was the smoothest and fastest we have ever experienced. All the arrangements were taken care of by 206 Tours and they did a fantastic job for us. We arrived in Medjugorje only 14 hours after leaving Chicago. We flew on Luftansa airlines, and enjoyed a smooth flight. We met up with everyone in our group in Frankfurt Germany. We knew from the start that this group was special, and we would enjoy many laughs, and share many tears. We sat up talking each night after dinner for hours, some all night sharing their lives, and experiences with each other. It is also amazing how specific people were brought together to help each other with their concerns and problems. It is just one of the many graces of Medjugorje, and God's grace works and heals in so many ways. Looking back, it is interesting that the reason some people thought they were coming to Medjugorje turned out not to be the reason Our Lady called them.
We were met in Split by Jozo, one of the Medjugorje tour guides, and enjoyed the breathtaking 3 hour bus ride along the Adriatic Coast on our way to Medjugorje. We arrived in late afternoon to our favorite house in Medjugorje situated in a quiet area, about 3 minutes walk behind the Church. We met up with Slavenka, our good friend of many years, who was our guide for the week. We enjoyed a nice hot dinner, and afterwards, we took everyone on an orientation walk around the Church and the general area.
The next days in Medjugorje were very busy! We did so many things. Just a few of the highlights include:
We heard talks by Fr. Slavko Barbaric, and the visionaries Vicka, & Marija. And of course no trip to Medjugorje is complete without taking a trip to see Father Jozo in Siroki Brijeg, which is located about 45 minutes from Medjugorje. We were fortunate to be in a small group for Fr Jozo's talk and were able to gather in a small chapel. His talk was absolutely excellent, and I do not think there was a dry eye in the chapel as his words touched the very depths of our hearts. His zeal after 18 years of speaking to pilgrims is as strong as the day it began. It is no wonder that Our Lady has said to the visionaries that Fr. Jozo is a saint. He is truly a holy, and deeply spiritual priest.
Of all the talks we hear in Medjugorje, Vicka is always one of the highlights. She is so simple, humble, joyous, and sincere. The tremendous love that she has in her heart exudes from her smile and in every word she speaks. It amazes me that after 18 years of speaking up to 4 times per day, she has not lost one ounce of enthusiasm. Vicka has been recovering from throat surgery, and had just started speaking to pilgrims again before we arrived. It is plain to see that it is only through God's grace that she is able to maintain her zest and zeal for spreading Our Lady's message.
We climbed Apparition Hill (Podbrdo), and prayed the Joyful, and Sorrowful mysteries of the rosary which are marked by beautiful bronze plaques created by an Italian artist. During our ascent, we stopped at the large wooden cross which marks the spot of the first message Our Lady gave to Marija. The message was: "Peace, Peace, Peace! Be reconciled! Only Peace. Make your peace with God among yourselves. For that, it is necessary to believe, to pray, to fast, and to go to confession." Further up the hill there is a silver Cross which marks the spot of Our Lady's first apparition in Medjugorje, and this is also the spot where Our Lady has said a permanent visible sign will be left when her apparitions cease in Medjugorje
Next was climbing Cross Mountain (Mt. Krizevac). It is a difficult climb for even an athletic person, and it is amazing that virtually everyone who starts the climb, no matter what their physical condition, makes it to the top. It is a welcome site to see the 33 foot high 15 ton cement Cross when you finally reach the top. As we ascended, we said the Stations of the Cross, which are marked by the same beautiful bronze plaques as on Podbrdo (Apparition Hill). Our Lady has said that she prays at the foot of the Cross on Mt. Krizevac every morning at 5:00am. Seven of us from our group started off at 3:00am one morning in the darkness to arrive at the foot of the Cross by 5:00am so we could join Our Lady in prayer. Once at the top, we were the only ones on the whole mountain, and it was perfectly silent. We knelt and prayed and didn't want to leave. It was a powerful experience that made a deep and profound impression on all of us, and one which we will always treasure.
The English Mass is said every day at 10:00am, and the Croatian program starts at 5:00pm. The 5:00pm program begins with the Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary until 5:40. At 5:40pm there is 2-3 minutes of silence in recognition of the exact moment of Our Lady's appearance to the visionaries each day. The rosary then resumes and at 6:00pm, there is Croatian Mass, followed by the Medjugorje Rosary (or Peace Rosary) which consists of the 7 Our Fathers, 7 Hail Mary's and 7 Glory Be's. Finally the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary are prayed, sometimes continuing on with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. One might think that all this praying would be "too much". Quite the contrary is true. While you are in Medjugorje, life is very different. For example, there are two Croatian masses every day and many or the local villiagers attend both!
Another special gift which occurred for some in our group was the miracle of their rosaries turning gold. This is a special special gift from Our Lady. I have heard of scientific tests being performed on these rosaries, and the results are facinating. The tests found that the gold is not real gold, but rather an alloy that is unknown. It is like a special hug from Our Lady when your rosary turns gold. Here is a scan of my rosary which links turned from silver to gold almost instantly in 1995. It is important for me to mention that miracles like "Rosaries turning Gold" or "The Miracle of the Sun" are not the reason we should go to Medjugorje or believe in Medjugorje, but rather they are little graces or gifts which help in our personal conversion experience. The real miracle of Medjugorje is the grace of conversion which creates an intense love and realization of God in our lives. This love helps us to recenter our thoughts, our lives, and our families back to God.
I want to share with you a few of the special stories that occurred on our trip. There were so many, and as usual, I had a difficult time choosing these, but I believe they are good examples of the grace present in Medjugorje.
Steve - My first story is about good friend of ours who came with us on this trip. Diane is the wife of my business partner Sim, and both of them recently suffered a tragic loss. Their 16 year old son Tyler had just received his drivers license in July, and a week later while driving with a friend, lost control of the car at a high rate of speed, and crashed killing both of them instantly. The two of them, as well as their younger son David, were devestated. There were over 400 people at Tylers funeral. There were moments of happiness and intense sorrow as people shared their stories of how they remembered Tyler and how he impacted their lives. We all felt and experienced a little of their pain that day. The road of recovery was a painful, difficult, day by day struggle. Diane had traveled as part of her job, and had been away from home for many weekends over the last 18 months or so. This was just one of the things that tormented her about the loss of Tyler; that she had lost precious time with him by working away from home.
After almost four months Diane was still having a very difficult time getting her life back on track. She would have occasional good days, but more than not many bad days. She would burst into tears frequently. She had lost all joy in her life. From my own personal observations over the weeks and months there was always a tragic sadness about Diane, and her mind was many times elsewhere. I felt so bad for her, and we prayed very hard for her and the whole family. Diane knew a little bit about Medjugorje through some of the stories I told over the years, and one day asked us about it. She expressed a desire to go to Medjugorje in the hopes it would help her. I told Diane that Medjugorje was a very special place, and agreed that if she went without any expectations, but simply an open mind and heart, I knew it would help. Maybe not right away, and maybe not in the way she hoped for. As the time grew near to go, she had reservations as to whether she should really go. She was reluctant to leave the family again. I told her that everyone who is called to Medjugorje is called for a special reason and purpose. The visionaries have said numerous times that no one goes to Medjugorje by accident. After talking about Medjugorje for a while, she once again was excited about going. An interesting side note to keep in mind is Diane is not Catholic. I mention this mainly for those who think Our Lady only calls Catholics to Medjugorje, or that Medjugorje is a "Catholic" thing. God's love is absolutely limitless and boundless.
After arriving in Medjugorje Diane was again feeling the intense sorrow at the loss of her son. She would burst into tears frequently, and we all prayed and prayed that she would find healing and peace in Medjugorje. We were fortunate that the first day we were in Medjugorje we were able to visit Fr. Jozo. Father Jozo is a powerful healing priest who is a very holy man, and whose words touch the depths of your heart. Diane (as we all were) was touched deeply during his talk, and afterwards we all went into the Church where Father would pray over each person. Diane had never seen or experienced a priest praying over people and was hesitant to go up for a blessing. Ana encouraged her and led her up near Fr. Jozo. Slavenka and I were standing behind Diane praying so hard for her. When Fr. came to Diane, Slavenka told Fr. Jozo in Croatian that Diane had recently suffered the loss of her son in an accident. Everyone in our group was praying so hard for Diane at this moment. Fr. paused a second, closed his eyes, and layed his hands on Diane's head. Within a few seconds Diane was overcome with the Holy Spirit and collapsed. I was standing behind her and caught her fall and layed her gently on the floor. She rested preacefully for a few minutes. She later explained that when she felt Fr. lay his hands on her head she felt a warmth, and then a tingling that started on the top of her head and traveled down her spine. She said she could no longer move, she could hear, but all she could see were bright lights. She also felt an incredible peace come over her. She described it as a huge weight being lifted from her. Later that day she said that she had not felt so peaceful since before Tylers death. She prayed that this peace she felt would stay with her, and it has. The rest of our experiences in Medjugorje I believe strengthened Diane's faith, and solidified all that had happened at Fr. Jozo's.
Upon returning home, her life is almost back to normal. Of course she will never forget Tyler or forget the sense of loss and longing for him, but her life is hers once again. Her co-workers noticed and commented how they see a huge change in her. She smiles, she laughs, she is happy. She has also told the story of her experience in Medjugorje to many of her co-workers. Many of them were touched deeply by her testimony, and some have broken into tears upon hearing it. I felt this was an important story to tell because we will all suffer pain, loss, and tradgedy in our lives. Some of us are overcome by these trials with depression, fear, anger, and resentment. Diane's story is a story of hope for all those who are suffering the tragic loss of a loved one.
Steve - The next story I would like to include is about Ana and myself. Ana and I talked about this at length before presenting this story publicly. We had two reservations. First, we did not want this story to in any way sound boastful, and second, we felt that it was a personal gift for us and was difficult to put into words. I really felt we should share it with everyone, because there is a point to be realized from the story. So, starting from the beginning; Before we left on our trip, we were contacted by a friend in Medjugorje and asked if we could bring a computer for a visiting Romanian priest. We obliged, and brought it with us to Medjugorje. Our friend Ante in Medjugorje came over to our house and picked up the computer. End of story we thought. Only the beginning we were to find out. Later the next day Ante and the priest were waiting for us at our house. The Romanian priests name is Fr. Juan and he spoke Italian, and virtually no English. He wanted to thank us in person for bringing the computer which he will be using to translate Church documents into Romanian. His warmth and gratitude really touched us. As he was getting ready to leave he asked us quietly to be ready at 4pm ourside the house. He was going to pick us up for a surprise. We had no idea what was in store and thought maybe he would take us to a cafe for coffee or ice cream.
We waited for him at the house the next day, and shortly after 4:30pm a car drove up. Fr. Juan jumped out of the car with a smile that went from ear to ear and eyes that were sparkling with delight. He took us by the hand and led us to the car as he said "big surprise". As I started to squeeze into the back seat I realized that Marija the visionary was already sitting in the back! We drove off toward her home where we were to attend a private apparition. Fortunately since Ana is Croatian, and speaks Croatian fluently, we were able to converse and found Marija to be such a genuine, humble, and warm person. She made us feel very comfortable, and graciously invited us into her home. She served us juice and we chatted for a few minutes. She then went off with Father for confession. We then made our way to her chapel to pray the rosary at 5pm. It was a small room with an altar, a beautiful Crucifix, and a statue of Our Lady. A small group of about 10 of us prayed the Joyful and Sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Shortly before 5:40pm Marija entered the chapel and joined in praying the rosary. A couple of minutes before 5:40pm Marija knelt in front of the altar facing the Crucifix and we began praying an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. These three prayers are repeated until Our Lady appears. After about the second series of prayers, Marija suddenly stopped praying and lifted her eyes upward. We all felt a special presence, and a feeling of peace, and love. It was an emotional moment for everyone, and we knew that Our Lady was with us. During the apparition we prayed for everyone on our email list and all those who had asked us to pray for them. During the apparition you could see Marija's expressions change and her lips move, but no sound comes from her vocal cords. Extensive scientific investigations on all the visionaries have concluded that they are in a state of ecstacy and do not respond to any external stimulation. This means they do not respond to light, sound, pain, etc..
The apparition lasted a few short minutes, and afterward Marija told us that Our Lady prayed over us, and blessed each of us, as well as all religious articles with her blessing. Everyone slowly got up to leave, and as we made our way out of the chapel, Fr. Juan stopped us and in a very low voice asked us to go back into the chapel where we would have Mass with the family. We were absolutely thrilled! We made our way back into the chapel and Marija helped father Juan put on his vestments. The Mass was absolutely incredible. During the homily, Fr. Juan had tears running down his face. During the consecration we were so focused on every word. There was an incredible presence and grace which we felt so strongly. At Communion time we knelt on the floor and father Juan came to each of us and administered the Eucharist, and then the Precious Blood. It was very emotional, and we felt with an increased awareness the pure love, Sacrifice, and True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
After Mass was over we stayed for quite a while and talked and played with Marija's three young boys. Fr. Juan, and myself were zooming her boys all around, one by one, playing airplane. It made me miss Tihana, our 18 month old, even more. It was finally time to make our way back to the house for dinner. After warm good byes Fr. Juan rode with us back to the house. As we got out of the car Fr. gave each of us a big long hug. He asked us to hold out our hands. He put something in each of our hands simuleaneously and held them tight. He prayed a beautiful blessing in Italian, and when he was finished explained to us that Our Lady wanted to give us these things as a gift. It was dark so it was difficult to see, but he had given us each a rosary and a large miraculous medal. We once again said a long goodbye and hugged, and made our way into our house for dinner. As Ana and I discussed our experience later that evening, the one thing that stood out in our minds was the incredible experience and presence we both felt during Mass. The thought that came to mind was that nothing is more sacred, grace filled, and special than Holy Mass. I then remembered the visionaries stating on more than one occasion that if they had to choose between Mass and an apparition with Our Lady, they would choose Mass. Attending an apparition knowing that Our Lady is only three feet away from you is an awesome experience! When contemplating the words of the visionaries, it should certainly inspire us to new level of realization and appreciation for the Holy Mass because we are so privilaged to have the True Presence of Jesus there with us in the Eucharist. There is nothing in our lives that can compare with the privilage of celebrating Holy Mass.
Ana - Our last story started when Steve and I invited Father Juan over to our house for dinner. He asked us to meet him after Adoration in front of the Church. When we arrived at Adoration we had to smile when we saw Fr. Juan prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament right behind Fr. Slavko for the entire hour. It is absolutely awesome to see such reverance, respect, and love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Afterwards, we met Fr. Juan outside the church as planned and walked him over to our house for dinner. Since Fr. spoke only Romanian, Italian, and almost no English or Croatian, we knew that it was going to be a challenge communicating. Slavenka was fortunately able to speak some Italian she had picked up from leading groups over the years and so we were able to communicate, although simply. Father Juan was so happy because he had another surprise for us, and this time it included the entire group. He told us that we were invited to an apparition with Marija, which would take place at the Oasis of Peace the next day. The Oasis of Peace is an incredible community which prides itself on living a prayerful and simple life centered on Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This was a perfect place for Our Lady to appear to Marija. Fr. asked us to be there by 4:00pm. So the next day, we all made our way to the Oasis of Peace. Some of us went early and arrived by 3:30, but it was already very crowded, and there was no room inside the chapel. Word had traveled fast regarding Marija's apparition there. But it didn't matter because we were happy to be there to share in this moment. It was such a beautiful day we were happy to sit outside and pray the Rosary. Father Juan walked by and seemed surprised that there were so many people there, and told us that he would be watching for us after the apparition so that we could go inside for Mass. We all prayed and at around 5:40pm Our Blessed Mother appeared to Marija. Everyone felt such warmth. Afterwards, Father Juan came out of the Chapel and tried to get us all inside as close as he could since he would be celebrating Mass. Our group made their way up as close as we could and then Mass started. A few of our group didn't make it into the chapel but it didn't matter. The Mass was very powerful and emotional, and I do not think there was a dry eye in or outside of the chapel on that night. Everyone was touched in ways that they will never forget. Prayers were realized for some and a new closeness to Jesus in the Eucharist for others. We all left exhilirated by the Holy Mass and this event was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for our entire group.
After Mass, Fr. Juan invited us to attend morning Mass with him at 7:30 and told us he wanted to meet us outside of the church afterwards to give us one last special farewell Blessing. He blessed each of us with such a warm heartfelt Blessing and wouldn't let any of us to go without one of his special hugs. Fr. Juan is a very special priest who made a deep impression on all of us. We later found out that Fr. was an orphan in Romania who converted to Catholicism when he was 23 years old. He then immediately persued the priesthood, and after 6 years was ordained. There is a very special feeling when you are with Fr. Juan, and it is difficult to describe in words all that we experienced and shared with him during our stay in Medjugorje. He will always be in our hearts!
There are so many stories to tell. Everyone in our group was touched in a special way. That is one of the graces of Medjugorje. Your heart and your life are changed forever. It is amazing to see 17 people from all areas and walks of life come together, and leave with a very special and unique bond of friendship, and love. Their spiritual lives renewed, refreshed, re kindled. The fire of the Holy Spirit burning brightly inside them. Our Lady invites each person who goes to Medjugorje individually, and for a reason. Going to Medjugorje is a special calling, and a special gift. The graces of Medjugorje are brought back home with each person so that they are a light to others around them, and it's amazing to see already, after being home for such a short time, the wonderful things happening in the lives of those who were in our group. How they are touching those around them and how petitions of prayer have already been answered. Our Lady says, "Be not afraid". Those who have made the trip are strengthened in thier faith and now have courage that might not have been there before to spread the messages.
As the time for our departure neared, everyone had a sense of sadness, as we realized the blessed days we spent together were coming to an end. It is always difficult to leave Medjugorje for so many reasons. When in Medjugorje, you are able to leave the world and all of its ugliness behind, and draw so close to God. Medjugorje is truly holy ground, and the presence of God and Our Lady is so strong there. It is something that you don't want to give up. It's being on the edge of Heaven. But we all knew that we were called to return to our lives and live Our Lady's messages, and share the graces and experiences we had received. There is a special and unique bond that forms through experiencing the graces of Medjugorje together. It seems as though we have all known each other for years.
Thanks to all the wonderful people who were part of this trip to Medjugorje. We will never forget any of you, and we feel privileged to have spent such a special time together.
Steve and Ana Shawl