My pilgrimage to Medjugorje was an invitation to open my heart to Our Lady’s motherly love and to surrender to her Son. A true pilgrimage is a journey taken within our heart.
Let me start by explaining a little about Medjugorje. It is a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is not a place that one goes for sightseeing. As a matter of fact, it is a very poor town which was suppressed by communism. The community of Medjugorje only survived through their very strong faith. They were persecuted but never renounced their faith. In the year 1933, the year of Redemption, Pope Pius II sent a letter to all diocese of the world asking for crosses to be built in public places to commemorate Jesus’ 33 years of life. The parish of Medjugorje responded by asking permission to build a cross on the highest mountain. God opened all the doors and in January 1934 the Pope gave his approval to this unknown poor village’s request. Work began on February 21 with only one donkey and many men, women, and children who laboured in faith. There was no path to go up the mountain. But with God and in faith everything is possible. In one month, a cross 8.56 metres high was built at the very top and the mountain was given its official name of Cross Mountain. The communist regime wanted the cross destroyed but in all their attempts they could not go up the mountain to destroy it. Yet millions of pilgrims have since gone up this mountain in faith to pray before the cross. Countless miracles have since occurred before the cross. It became a Holy Ground of conversions and devotions to Our Lady.
I felt a calling to go on this pilgrimage, but it was with mixed emotions. I was elated and humbled by the call as I realised how God was working in my life to open all the doors to make this possible. However, I was also overcome by earthly worries. Even though my mind knew that fears and worries were not of God, I had to convince my heart. I knew that I had to completely surrender in order to open my heart to the call. Amongst my concerns were flying and enclosed places. With prayer and fasting, I was able to dismiss those concerns every time they entered my mind on the days before the trip. Embarking on a pilgrimage means renouncing all luxuries such as choice of seating on an aircraft. As I boarded the plane, I held my rosary in my hand. I remembered the beautiful homily of penance that I had just heard and decided to offer the 8-hour flight as penance. God, who knew my heart, knew what an enclosed middle seat, coupled with the concern of flying, meant for me. As I got on the plane, I found out that I was assigned an aisle seat, front row, where there was the most space! And even more amazing is that God took care of my anxiety of flying by seating me beside a priest! When I saw the collar on Father, all my anxieties melted away. He gave me a sense of peace that can only come from God!
Another fear, was that of heights. I knew that part of the experience of going to Medjugorje was climbing Cross Mountain. I also knew that it would take divine intervention for me to come down as I would not have the courage to do it on my own. Just the thought of the mountain descent made my head spin. The climb up Cross Mountain was done as a group and took 2 ½ hours with beautiful prayers of The Stations of the Cross. The descent was to be done individually at our own pace. I had prepared myself with all the proper earthly tools such as hiking shoes and a hiking stick. I remember looking down from the top of Cross Mountain and being engulfed with fear. I asked Our Lady for help and completely surrendered. Then I saw a group of pilgrims behind me singing the Divine Mercy. I started singing with them only looking at my feet as they started moving. I stayed focused on singing the Divine Mercy and realised that I was living Mathew 14:29 where Peter was fine until he took his focus off of Jesus. As long as I stayed focused on the Divine Mercy I would not fall. I have no idea how many decades of the Divine Mercy I sang, but Jesus’ Divine Mercy carried me down that mountain. It was a very freeing experience!
Throughout my stay in Medjugorje, I felt the presence of Our Lady. There is immense peace and joy that surrounds that place. There is such love of prayer. Prayer is encouraged to be a part of every aspect of a person’s day, whether it be doing the outdoor Stations of the Cross, meditating at the statue of the Risen Christ that sheds miraculous tears, the outdoor Mysteries of the Rosary, Holy Mass several times a day in multiple languages, or even just praying while walking down the street. The more we immersed ourselves in prayer, the more we wanted to pray. While I was there, I consecrated my children, my entire family, extended family and church family to Our Lady. However, the highlight of the pilgrimage was to be the reverent experience at the Blue Cross at the foot of Apparition Hill. I felt a tremendous pull to go to the apparition even though we were warned that thousands of pilgrims were coming in from Italy and the probability of getting anywhere near the apparition site of Our Lady was slim. One would have to go from early morning to get a good spot. But that would mean that I would miss that morning’s Holy Mass. I told myself that I could go to the evening Holy Mass instead. Then I remembered that Our Lady’s mission is to bring us closer to her son. The focus is to always remain on Jesus…on the Eucharist. I knew what I had to do. I went to mass first. I came halfway around the world and more than anything wanted to be close to the apparition site, but it was not what I wanted that mattered. After mass, one of the persons from our group showed me the way to Apparition Hill. I followed quickly as I knew that there was not much time left. She took me to the other side of Apparition Hill. Her plan was to climb the back of the hill and come down on the other side to be just above the apparition site rather than trying to get to the apparition spot from the bottom. I didn’t know her plan but followed as I had already given it up to God’s will. When we started climbing, a sense panic engulfed me again. It was another climb but this time without my hiking shoes and without my hiking stick. I was stripped of all my earthly securities and this time was left to completely rely on God! He knew how much this experience meant to me and it was Him saying to me, Do you trust me? I went up that mountain and down the other side bringing me very close to the Blue Cross from above. I arrived at my spot just in time for the moment of reverence. And through my tears all I could do was thank God and Our Lady because it was not about the importance of the moment itself but about showing me the freedom, joy, and peace of a new heart that comes with complete surrender and trust in God.
The real pilgrimage is a journey of the heart with Our Lady as our guide to bring us closer to her Son.