“Croatian Rhapsody”

NOTE: I had some another place that I blog and I decided to delete it, but I wanted to keep the memories. So I’m combining everything on to this blog.

Day 6 – Split, Vrebic, Medjurgorje
October 27th

We arrived early in the morning in Split, the wake-up call was 6:30am. Ugghhh. I really hate early morning wakeup calls. Once again we had to keep Fr. John from falling into the port…surprise, surprise I know.

The bus ride to Vrebic was something either out of a painting or a movie. The pictures I took aren’t the greatest, my camera’s a bit old and not that good anymore. Fr. Jose and I talked for most of the bus trip, so that’s another reason I don’t have too many pictures of Split or the ride to Vrebic.

Our Lady of Lourdes in Vrebic, I honestly didn’t understand too well, my Slovak to begin with isn’t that great and there are some definite linguistical differences beginning to emerge between the Slavic languages. But the basics that I could understand is that there was almost the same miracles there in Vrebic that occurred famously (at least to the Catholics around the world) in Lourdes, France. Miraculous waters that heal whomever drinks them. The guy at the shop near the Shrine was impressed by my Slovak until I didn’t have any Croatian marks, then he switched to English and wasn’t too impressed with me anymore. :o(

We finally arrived in Medjurgorje, after a weird check point, but with the tensions between Croatians and Bosniaks, I do understand. After a small tour around the parish of Medjurgorje on the bus, we finally arrived at Mirijana’s house. I was greeted by her daughter’s dog, which was fine with me. After an amazing lunch of traditional Croatian food, we had a walking tour of Medjurgorje.

St. James’s Church isn’t the most beautiful Church that I’ve ever attended Mass in, but it’s definitely the most honest. No one was there because they were doing the bare minimum to be a “good” Catholic, everyone was there because being Catholic and striving to do all that God asks of them is the most important goal in their lives. The 6pm Mass was beautiful: you actually arrive at 5pm and everyone there does International versions of the Rosary, different priests from around the world with lead the recital of the Mysteries in their native language and the rest of the people with complete the prayers in their own languages. So if you aren’t too sure of what I’m talking about, it goes like this:

The priest in their language: “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Everyone else in their language: “Give us this day, our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

Around 5:50pm, the is an appariation of Mary at the Church. Then at 6pm the Mass begins, the majority of the Mass is in Croatian, but the Gospel is read in the languages of the priests that are present at that Mass. So that night, we heard the Gospel in Arabic, Croatian, English, French, German, Korean, Maliali, Polish, Portugeuse, and Spanish.

I met one of the cutest babies ever. His name is Benjamin, he’s from France. He has the cubbiest cheeks with the blackest onyx eyes. By the end of my ackward, rusty French conversation with his mom and a session of peckaboo, he was able to say goodbye to me in Korean.

Day 7 – Medjurgorje (Vicka)
really October 28th

We got to sleep in (8am…yeah!!!) and then we had an unbelievable breakfast cooked by Mirjana’s sister-in-law (fresh bread, Croatian cheese, real French bread, and tea). After that we walked to Vicka’s house to hear the latest messge that she received from Mary. It was one of the most interesting experiences because if a visionary just received a visit from someone that is very known and highly thought of in your religion and had something to tell you, wouldn’t you want to hear the message NOW? She had several translators (German, English, Korean, French, Spanish, etc.). The first time she spoke in Croatian and someone translated in German; the second time she spoke in Italian and two people translated into English and Korean. There wasn’t any pushing or shoving to get closer to Vicka or to get one of the very few seats. The people there were, without being asked, making room for those who were older, very young, or in obvious bad health and even asking if they could take a picture for someone in the back. It was just the complete opposite of how people usually act nowadays, it was very refreshing to witness this.

We then went to this place that was set up for young people who wanted to spend some time in Medjurgorje but didn’t have a place to stay. The garden there is beautiful and is open all year round (I think) during daylight hours, the only thing that they ask is that you don’t speak while you are there so that you don’t distrurb anyone else’s thoughts, prayers, meditation, etc. There is a tiny little chapel that barely holds thirty people but the amazing thing is that this was built by people who at one point in time lived there, sort of like St. Francis of Assisi.

After the English Mass, we went back to Mirjana’s for lunch and her sister-in-law (you’d think that after spending so much time eating her food and trying to get her to let me help by at least clearing the tables I would know her name, but no I never learned it).

That evening I had probably the longest reconcilation that I’ve ever had. It was funny the priest that I was talking to was stationed in Korea during the 1960’s and he knew the area that I’m living in right now and where a friend of mine is stationed.

Day 8 – Medjurgorje (Fr. Jozo Zovko)
October 29th

So at the English Mass the celebrant was a priest originally from Rwanda but now serving the diocese of Las Vegas and serioudly he gave one of the best homilies that I have ever heard. It was AMAZING. He didn’t just absently mention the Catechism when talking about finding another rubric for how to live your life, he showed it and really talked about it. I honestly wished I had my copy of the Catechism right there, that and that he was my parish priest.

After the English Mass, we went to “Whatever,” Bosnia to see Fr. Jozo Zovko. On the way there Miki, our wonderful tour guide who put up with his fair share of random questions from Fr. John and myself, told us more about the history of Croatians and Bosnia.

The village is not really named “Whatever” but several years ago a friend of Miki’s, another guide, was taking a group to see Fr. Jozo, the priest that was traveling with them offered to help her by standing in the middle of the bus and relaying everything that she was saying to the back of the bus. Because to be honest the buses in Bosnia are EXTREMELY old and they have to carry people around very curvy nountains with plenty of blind curves. Not as bad as the souq buses in Morocco traveling from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate or Ouarzazete to Agadir but bad enough. The real name is Siroki Brijeg.

Siroki Brijeg is a quiet village that once had a Franciscan monastary. During the communist era some soliders went to Siroki Brijeg and demanded that the priests take off their habits and renounce God. They all refused. The brothers even sent the young men who hadn’t taken Holy Orders yet home so that they wouldn’t be killed. But the young men refused because by going home they felt as if it was the same as renouncing God. So they stayed. The soliders came back and this time they were threatened with death. The priests and boys said to take off their vestments would be the same as taking off their skins and they would rather die than to renounce God. One solider refused and his commanding officer shot him in the head. Another killed himself rather than kill the men. And a third tried to shot the men without killing them. After the soliders shot the priests, they shoved them in to a “cave,” which was more like a coat closet under a staircase, set the cave on fire and then cover the entrances so that none of the villagers could help the men.

This event help make the Franciscans even more popular. And made the Catholics in Yugoslavia even more determined to stand up to Communism.

Fr. Jozo said that this event helped influence him to become a priest and later on to fight the Communist government to protect the six children who saw the Blessed Virgin Mary in Medjurgorje. He was imprisoned for 3 years because the government hoped that that would stop all the talks of apparitations in the village of Medjurgorje, but it didn’t because Fr. Jozo had nothing to do with what the children were saying.

He had this amazing speech that touched on everything from the DaVinci Code, priorities in life, prayer, prayer life, the rosary, pilgrammages, sin.

So now Fr. Jozo does talks for pilgrims and runs an orphanage for children of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, particularly young women. There apparently is over 45,000 orphans because of a civil war based on religion, ethnicity, and nationalism. It’s so sad to see that is the case in so many parts of the world. But to see all that Fr. Jozo has done makes a difference in their lives and in other people’s lives to see what happens to the children that are left behind after the politics and convictions move on.

On a much different note, we had lunch at the national tennis training center where some professional tennis players first began training. Once again my Slovak came in handy when everyone was curious about how much the drinks were.

Day 9 – Medjurgorje (Appariation Hill)
Oct 30th

So what else do you do on a say that has had a wet, dark, overcast morning? You walk up Apparition HIll and do the Glorious Mysteries. BUt to be serious, there’s a simple beauty in walking up the Hill and looking at the sculptures that have been pretty recently placed o help guide you as you pray the Rosary.

The was this small grotto of sorts filled with mementos and crosses and thank you from previous pilgrims that have climbed Apparition Hill. MIki was telling us the story of the statue that is on Apparation Hill. A Korean family’s only child, had epilepsy and/or autism, and the son could never be left alone. The mother had such deep faith that she felt/knew if she and the boy did a pilgrimage to Medjurgorje there would be great rewards. So tehy went to Medjurgorje intending to stay a week, but at the end of the week when the rest of the Korean pilgrims were supposed to leave, she and her son stayed behind. She ended up staying a month. At the end of the month, right before she was about to leave, she decided to do one more prayer session up Apprarition Hill. When she went back to the hotel, her son was behaving like a normal boy his age. When they returned to Korea, the tests all came back normal. In gratitude to Our Lady of Medjurgorje, she and her husband donated a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Medjurgorje with the inscription in English and Korean asking for peace for the world and reunification of the Korean peninsula.

There are many stories like that from pilgrims and each one stays completely unique, at least to me, and it also shows that if it is worth it then it’s worth everything.

Day 10 – Medjurgorje (Mirjana)
Oct 31st

After breakfast we were able to liten to Mirjana tell us her story. Afterwards we were able to ask her questions. Two things that stood out for me were:

  1. The reminder that it is easy to be caught up with the apparitions of Mary, but the real message that should be taken from her visits are the words and the way to Jesus. And she made a comment about how pilgrims sometimes seek her blessing and she always tells them that her blessing is nothing compared to a priest’s blessing because he is in a sense an extension of Jesus.
  2. So many other visionaries entered religious life and for her and the other visionaries of Medjurgorje to marry and to have children. She talked to us about her own personal philosophy on family and raiding children. It was good to hear someone that has been so touched by God that still has a family.

I apparently had the depressing question of the day when I asked her about how she lives in a world with its fair share of hate, war, anti-God stances, etc.

I’m glad that she was more than willng to take the time to talk to us. I can’t imagine how exhausted she must feel from everyone that comes to Medjugorje that wants to talk to her.

Day 11 – Medjurgorje (Rehab house)
Nov 1st

There is a rehab center near Mirjana’s house, there we listened to two young men tell their amazing stories.

The first man (I sincerely can’t remember his name, I want to call him Merko, but it’s wrong) is a Bosniak, an ethnic Croatian who is Muslim and lives in Bosnia. He is the only child of a family that lost his father during the war. He adored his father and he loves his mother but not too the same level of his father. He didn’t listen to his mother, started drinking at an early age, and breaking the law. Eventually his family had an intervention and gave his the option of jail or this rehab plan that they heard of in Medjurgorje. He comes from a pretty wealthy family in Bosnia, so he was always the first to get the newest thing. But at the rehab center everything there was built by the boys and girls that lived there. He accepted Jesus into his life, but when it was time to visit home he was extremely nervous about how everyhome back home would react to his conversion. When he was home, at first everything was great his family and friends were excited to see him and to see him reformed and changed for the better,but when his rosary accidently fell out of his pocket and there was a change in everyone’s attitudes. His family and friends were happy that he was rehabilitated but they wanted him to give up Jesus, saying that Jesus and the rosary were not necessary for his recovery. He was only required to stay at the rehab center for 3 years, but he’s beenthere for 8 years and counting so that he can help others who have fallen down like him.

The other young man that spoke to us, was from San Antonio, and had a very similar story as the first man but he came from a very Catholic family. He actually entered a sister rehab center in Florida, and to shake things up so that the patients do not become too complacent every once and a while a patient is sent to another location. That’s how he ended up in Medjurgorje.

If you saw the place in Medjurgorje, it’s amazing to see that every building and place there was built by the residents. It’s amazing to see what has happened there. I heard that there is an 87% success rate, using onl prayer and physical labor (gardening for food, maintaining living areas, managing the store, etc.). Most places in the United States that rely on psychotheraphy and drugs apparently have less than 20% success rate.

Day 12 – Medjurgorje (Blessed Virgin Mary), Split, ferry to Ancona
Nov 2nd

Early the morning we went to the rehab center again. The entire place was packed with people. Some of the residents were performing songs when we weren’t praying the rosary together. It was like the 6p.m. Mass, the rosary in several different languages. I didn’t see the Blessed Virgin Mary when she appeared, but I really wasn’t looking, I was just more focused on feeling the experience of being there. There was an honest difference in the air. It was more than the peace that you feel and experience all the way to and through your bones, it was just more.

As we were leaving for Split, we saw the Miracle of the Sun. I could see/stare at the sun without it hurting my eyes. The edges were a pale blue and there was a faint cross in the middle of the sun. The sun was dancing in the sky. I’ve heard about this miracle several times but to see it is something else.

We slept on another ferry to Ancona, Italy. This time is was much more crowded than before. But since I was rooming with Beth and Pat, we got to be in one of the bigger rooms with the bathroom inside of the communal showers in the hall. There was nothing remarkable about this trup, partly because it was the same exact ship that we had taken to Split. But we had to keep Father John from falling in again.

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