In the next four weeks of December, I am going to try to give as accurate an account as possible of an event allegedly occurring in a small non-descript village in the hills of central Yugoslavia. It is a supernatural religious event and is therefore bound to be viewed in a skeptical sense by many; the fact that the area is heavily Catholic will add to the skepticism.
Obviously, if I personally did not believe that there was something important happening here, I would not be writing about it. However, let me say from the outset, it is not an attempt to convert anyone to Catholicism, since I myself am not Catholic; it is also not an attempt to convert anyone to a belief in God. That is for the individual to determine based on information and needs. I offer it simply as information timely to the Christmas season.
For the past four years and a half now, Medjugorje (pronounced Med-u-gory), a small village in the mountain area of central Yugoslavia, has attracted world wide attention as the place where the mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, is reported to be appearing almost daily to six young teenagers. As I write this, the apparitions reportedly continue every day.
Despite government attempts to discredit the apparitions and to make visits to the site difficult, millions have been and continue to come to the site to see for themselves what is happening. Yugoslavia is of course, a communist country, which does not recognize any religion or the existence of God. Yet there is a heavily Catholic population that is grudgingly allowed to worship within their churches.
According to the children called seers or visionaries, the message of the Blessed Virgin is simple and direct: She is appearing to the seers to tell the world of the urgency to return to the ways of God, to convert their lives to peace with God and with their fellow man. She is to give each seer 10 messages, or "secrets" of happenings that will occur in the near future. These messages will be visible signs to mankind that the apparitions at Medjugorje are real and that the conversion back to God must be started now. When she has stopped appearing to the youths-a time known only by them-a permanent sign will be left at Medjugorje. it will lead to many healings and conversions in the short time left before the messages become reality.
The way to conversion is prayer and fasting, according to the seers. Since apparitions began on June 24, 1981. The seers spend as many as six hours or more daily in prayer. They also fast up to three times a week on bread and water only.
The range in the age of the six young people at Medjugorje is noteworthy in view of the skepticism of such an occurrence. When the apparitions began, one was only ten years old, another was fifteen, three were sixteen, and one was seventeen. Four are girls and two are boys.
Who are these young people to whom The Virgin Mary is allegedly appearing? They are all very normal, but different from each other in personality and as I have noted, in age. With one exception, all of them are of very average intelligence. The exception is Mirjana Dragicivic. She is the third oldest of the seers and attends college at the University of Sarajevo, where her family now lives.
Marija Pavlovic is the oldest of the group. She is of average height and thin and is the most serene and deeply spiritual of the seers. She plans on becoming a nun.
Vicka Ivankovic, the second oldest, also plans on becoming a nun. She has strong features and her face is very expressive. She is the charmer of the group, although there is nothing "put-on" about her.
Ivanka Ivankovic, the youngest of the four girls is the only one of the group who is planning marriage. She is the prettiest of the girls and seems typical of today's teenagers, but is firmly religious.
Ivan Dragicivic, the older of the two boys wants to become a priest. he is the most timid and retiring of the group and appears to be serious and pensive most of the time.
The youngest and most lively, is thirteen year old Jakov Colo, who was only ten when the apparitions began. Like the others, he is quite normal.
The presence of this young fidgety boy among the group of seers is very special in terms of authenticity of the apparitions. Comparing him to, say, our own children or brothers of this age, it would normally be highly improbable that he would go to church for two and three hours of prayer every single day, in winter and summer, in bad weather and good, and do this for well over four years, simply to make believe that he is seeing a holy apparition from God.
In fact, the age and character of all the seers and the consistency of the apparitions with them is strong evidence that something highly unusual is happening.
There is so much to tell about Medjugorje. Possibly the following excerpt, taken from a report that was sent to the Pope at the request of Mary according to the youths, will summarize this segment best. A Catholic priest named Tomislav Vlasic, who has been involved in the apparitions almost from the very first, was asked by Mirjana to do this. Here is a portion of that report:
According to Mirjana, during the apparition on December 25, 1982, the Madonna confided the tenth and last secret to her, and she revealed the dates on which the various secrets will come to pass. The Blessed Virgin revealed many aspects of the future to Mirjana, many more up to now than the other seers. For that reason, I relate now what Mirjana told me in a conversation on November 5, 1983. I shall summarize the essential things she said, without any literal quotations. Mirjana said: - Before the visible sign is given to humanity, there will be three warnings to the world. The warnings will be warnings on the earth. Mirjana will witness them. Three days before one of these warnings, she will advise a priest of her choice. Mirjana's testimony will be a confirmation of the apparitions and an incentive for the conversion of the world. After these warnings, the visible sign will be given for all humanity at the place of the apparitions in Medjugorje. The sign will be given as the testimony of the apparitions and a call back to faith.
- The ninth and tenth secrets are grave matters. They are a chastisement for the sins of the world. The punishment is inevitable because we can not expect the conversion of the entire world. The chastisement can be mitigated by prayers and penance. It cannot be suppressed. An evil which threatened the world, according to the seventh secret, had been eliminated through prayer and fasting, Mirjana said. For that reason the Blessed Virgin continues to ask for prayer and fasting: "You have forgotten that with prayer and fasting you can ward off wars, suspend natural laws."
- After the first warning, the others will follow within a rather brief amount of time. So it is that people will have time for conversion.
- This time is a period of grace and conversion. After the visible sign, those who are still alive will have little time for conversion. For that reason, the Blessed Virgin calls for urgent conversion and reconciliation.
- The invitation to prayer and penance is destined to ward off evil and war and above all to save souls.
- According to Mirjana, we are close to the events predicted by the Blessed Virgin. Because of this, Mirjana says to mankind: "Convert yourselves as quickly as possible. Open your hearts to God."
Father Vlasic gave a little additional information about the secrets during a taped interview in August, 1983: "They (the seers) say that with the realization of the secrets entrusted to them by Our Lady, life in the world will change, Afterwards, men (mankind) will believe like in ancient times. What will change and how it will change, we will not know until the secrets are revealed."
These few words imply a lot about the extraordinary events at Medjugorje. As for its authenticity, that is for each of us in our own hearts to decide.
All six of the visionaries say that the secrets, in substance, affect the whole world. There are private secrets for some of them, concerning their future, and other secrets relating to the whole world. Only one of the secrets has been revealed by the visionaries. Our Lady has promised to leave a visible sign on the mountain where She first appeared. These are Our Lady's words about the sign: "This sign will be given for the atheists. You faithful already have signs and you have to become the sign for the atheists. You faithful must not wait for the sign before you convert; convert soon. This time is a time of grace for you. You can never thank God enough for his grace. The time is for deepening your faith and for your conversion. When the sign comes, it will be too late for many."
Next Section - Part 2: Conversations with Mary, the Mother of Jesus