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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Medjugorje - My Experience

The Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje have been important for my spiritual life. While we are still waiting a definite judgment by the Church, the small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina is an approved place for pilgrimage. My first pilgrimage was in 1986 and I am here now for the 40th Anniversary of the Apparitions.

What most impresses me about the visionaries is their piety and hospitality. They are well formed in the faith - as if they had the best of teachers. In fact, the piety and the hospitality of the whole village extended to so many pilgrims over so many years is remarkable. It was heroic when offered during Communism and it persecution of the Church. It is difficult not to see the grace of Christ at work in the kindness shown from what generation to the next in a people who are very much God's "little ones"- that is a people poor enough to need to rely on the Lord in the midst of all kinds of trials and hardships. Somehow Mary is magnified in this and somehow her song sings in these lives lived by faith: Holy is his Name.

Similarly, the content of the messages reported over the last forty years is not something that I have kept close tabs on. However, the basic message of frequent confession, going to daily Mass, praying the rosary daily, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, and reading the Bible daily has challenged me to be a better Christian. What is more, both the visionaries and the whole community have been a faithful witness to these practices through four decades in midst of oppression, wars and the rebuilding of their country.

Forty years ago, I stayed in a farm house where the mother and grandmother would walk with the children to daily mass. It was at least a mile away and when we arrived at the parish church of St. James, I was edified to see a whole contingent of farming families who had made a similar trek by foot. The simplification of making one's way with one's own two legs slows down life and inclines to prayer. This is especially true in climbing Cross Mountain. These paths were not then and are not now smooth. They remain rugged and serve as a reminder that we follow in the footsteps of a crucified God.

Now, though thousands come to daily mass from all over, it is still the piety of the villagers that speaks most to me. They have deeper Catholic sensibilities than one finds among the theologically sophisticated in America - and as an American, I let this truth sink in. Prayer and liturgy is not rushed. Instead, it is the center of life. The local Franciscans together with scores of priests gather every evening for liturgies and devotions that last for over two hours. This is in addition to daily adoration and long confessional lines. Though so much time is devoted to prayer and piety, very few leave early. A rhythm of prayer carries life. Seeing the locals now, just as it did so many years ago, draws me to prayer too.

Probably the grace that has had the greatest impact on me is my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here, during the long homilies and devotional prayers offered in Croatian, I realized so many years ago that Mary is a real person, a true mother, and that Christ has given her to us as a gift. Just as she was his mother, Mary can be ours if we would welcome her into our homes - as did the Beloved Disciple. Ever I have found that she helps me encounter Jesus with greater humility and faith, and no matter how much I try to offer the Lord, He never ceases giving Her together with a host of other undeserved gifts even more. In the face of so much generosity from God, what else can I do but read the Bible, go to confession, go to Mass, fast and pray?

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