Five years ago a fellow Catholic introduced Medjugorje to me, but I paid no attention to it. Three years ago another Catholic talked to me about Medjugorje, he said he had been there three times, and he added that the trips to Medjugorje changed his faith tremendously. He hoped I would join the pilgrimage scheduled in May 2005, and if possible, encourage all Chinese Catholics to go there to pray for the Church in China. Unfortunately, many things took place in Montreal in that year, and especially I had to take a surgery with my brain, since there was a tumor in the left brain. The surgery, which lasted for five hours, was a great success. It was operated by a well known expert who successfully removed the tumor from my brain. I had to take several weeks to recuperate after the surgery. I thank God that I had the ability to serve Him again, and that I had a chance to come to Toronto and serve the Chinese here.
Unexpectedly during the Holy Week in 2006 I had a chance to visit the Holy Land with a group of over 30 Catholics. Visiting Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, the holy places of His birth, Passion, and Ascension had been my greatest wish. The pilgrimage would surely give me many graces. That was why I missed the pilgrimage to Medjugorje again.
The month of Rosary (October) in 2008 was my lucky month. I was invited to visit Medjugorje with the retired Fr. Chiang from New Jersey. Together with us there was a pilgrimage group that consisted of 46 members. Fr. Chiang and I were invited to be the spiritual directors. We went to Medjugorje from October 2 to Onctober 13.
To prepare for the pilgrimage, and to properly perform my role as a spiritual director, I decided to investigate what had happened in Medjugorje. It so happened there was a book about Medjugorje on my bookshelf. I had never paid attention to this book due to my carelessness. When it was close to the trip I started reading this book carefully. The book is called Medjugorje the Message, written by Wayne Weible, a Lutheran Protestant. The book was very well written and I have to admit I benefited much from this book.
The Change of a Lutheran Protestant
In his book, Wayne Weible introduced himself as a lukewarm Lutheran. He was never interested in going to his church, and he could never dream he would become a devoted Catholic. But God’s way is so marvelous and uncanny. One day, when he was watching a video on Medjugorje, he clearly heard Holy Mary talking to him, asking him to work for Medjugorje, so he repeated numerous time, ‘My God, my God, why me?’ I know nothing about apparitions or the Catholic church. I am not qualified. I only have a minimal knowledge of the Virgin Mary. I know that she was chosen as the one who gave birth to Jesus. Why did she want me to spread the messages that she brought to Medjugorje?’ Wayne Weible admitted that he was not a qualified candidate to participate in this holy activity. He knew that he had committed many sins. He knew that he did not deserve to participate in this holy activity not because he was humble, but because it was a painful cognition of his past sins. After a long period of reflection, he said, ‘Though living in pain, God has never abandoned me. There seems to be a small voice inside me that assures me that no matter how unworthy I am, He will not reject me.’
I was deeply touched when I was reading how this Lutheran Protestant was called to write about the messages of Medjugorje. I regret that a few years ago I gave a cold shoulder to the Medjugore apparitions. I always reminded myself that since the Church had not yet recognized the Medjugorje event, I’d better not touch this topic. This thought had made me postpone studying the Medjugorje apparitions until this year. The pilgrimage this year gave me a new opportunity to learn about Medjugorje and eventually changed my viewpoint. Therefore I continued to do some research on Medjugorje. I found there are many similarities among Medjugorje, Lourdes, and Fatima. For instance, in the apparitions of Lourdes, the government threatened Bernadette. Both the parish priest and the local bishop expressed their doubt. Bernadette’s parents forbade her to go to see Holy Mary. Didn’t the same things happen in Fatima?
The Author’s Own Conflict
Wayne Weible, the author of Medjugorje the Message, was a Lutheran Protestant. He studied journalism and was the owner of four newspapers. His column was popular. There was a conflict between his report on the apparitions of Medjugorje, and his background as a trained journalist. He thought a journalist should not have anything to do with religious supernatural apparitions. But in his mind he was sure that there was a voice asking him to write about the Medjugorje apparitions.
He expected that after his report on Medjugorje was published, he would receive many complaints. Unexpectedly, the first response was from an American priest who congratulated him and thanked him for reporting Medjugorje. This priest had visited Medjugorje with a hundred American priests. There they witnessed what was happening in Medjugorje. Upon returning to the United States, he contacted the media including the newspapers, radio stations, television networks. However, there was not a single journalist who would like to report the Medjugorje event. Obviously, they did not believe. Moreover, they thought people who saw the apparitions were mentally sick.
Wayne’s column on Medjugorje received good responses. Many readers enjoyed learning about the messages of Medjugorje, including the Baptists who are not Catholics. In his first special feature on Medjugorje, Wayne said he watched the video to satisfy his curiosity. All of a sudden, in the middle of the video, he heard a voice that could be felt only internally. The voice said, ‘You are my son. I want you to do my Son’s work. Write down the Medjugorje events. You will not continue your job as a journalist. You will spread the Medjugorje messages for the rest of your life.’ As a result, Wayne really gave up his job. He whole-heartedly spread the Medjugorje messages. His written work of Medjugorje, in a short period of two years, had reached a readership of 8,000,000. His books were read everywhere in the world. It is time to learn about Medjugorje if you have not heard of it.
The Itinerary of the Pilgrimage
Now let me talk about our itinerary. Our pilgrimage consists of 46 people. One came from Hong Kong, one came from Vancouver, Monsignor Chiang came from USA, the rest came from the Chinese parish in Toronto. There was something extraordinary about our pilgrimage, three pilgrims were not Catholics.
At 4:00 pm on October 2, before we went on board, we celebrated a mass at the chapel in the Pearson Airport in Toronto. It is the best chapel that I have ever seen. Everything that we needed to celebrate a mass was present. We prayed for the safety of this pilgrimage. October 2 is the feast day of guardian angels. During the homily I reminded everyone there were 46 angels going with us. We arrived in Vienna after eight hours. From there we went o Sarajevo. From Sarajevo we took a coach to a village in the former Yugoslavia. It was already late at night when we arrived. We lived in a small hotel operated by Catholics. The people who welcomed us were devoted Catholics. We felt comfortable and safe. The hotel was a twenty-minute walking distance from the famous St. James Church. The next ten days we were around this area.
St. James Church
St. James Church of Medjugorje is now a famous church. Every year there are thousands of pilgrims visiting St. James Church including many bishops, priests, seminarians and nuns. There is a large open area in front of the church. There is a double spire at the top of the church. The church itself can accommodate one thousand five hundred people. There are masses in the morning as well as in the evening. The evening mass is a concelebrated mass. Participants come from all over the world. Since our group did not consist of many people, we could only use a small chapel next to the main church for our Chinese mass every morning. In the evenings we participated in the concelebrated mass. During the Sunday vigil mass, there were close to one hundred priests concelebrating. There were Eucharistic adoration, Rosary, and hymns after the mass. It ended at about 8:00 pm.
There is a statue of St. James between the altar and the tabernacle. St. James is the patron saint of pilgrims. On the left side of the altar there is a statue of Immaculate Conception shining with special light.
According to Wayne Weible’s book, Holy Mary has chosen this parish because she demanded everyone in this parish to repent, so that the pilgrims who come here can find the fountain of repentance.
On the right side at the front of the church, there are twenty five confessional booths and hundreds of chairs. Every day from morning till night there were hundreds of people lining up waiting to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. On the front of these confessional booths there were signs indicating the languages used by the priests. There were English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, German, etc. Unfortunately, there is not Chinese. Behind the church, there is a huge open area and an altar made up of white round tent. It has been said that in summer when there are too many people, the mass will be celebrated here. On the left side of the church there is a place for prayer where lights are lit. Behind this there is a huge crucifix. Day and night there are pilgrims lighting candles and praying here. They can also join the mass at the church.
Here I have to report a ‘miracle’ that I witnessed. I do not want to force my readers to believe that it was worked by God, perhaps you may think it was only an uncommon event.
In two afternoons at around five o’clock, I came to the church with other pilgrims. I saw many Catholics lining up waiting to make confessions. I took a purple stole and I got ready to hear confessions. Since all the other confessional booths were occupied, some helpers from the parish gave me two chairs close to the small tress near the open area. One chair was for me. The other was for the penitents. The helpers from the parish came to help me and gave me a sign with ‘English’ on it. When it was around a quarter to six, I looked at the sun out of curiosity. At first I did not dare to look directly at the sun, I only slowly turned my eyes to the sun. I saw the outside of the sun was covered by something pure white so that I could look directly at the sun. There was light shining out from the edge of the sun. It was bright but did not shine directly to my eyes. I took off my sunglasses and I still could stare at the sun without being stung by the sunlight. It lasted a few minutes. The next day at the same time and at the same place, once again I could see this spectacular wonder. It gave me a tremendous amount of revelation and feeling.
My feeling is that the Eucharist is at the center of the sun. Jesus hopes that we honour the Eucharist, receive and worship it properly. Jesus is the sun in our mind. Those who look up at the Holy Eucharist reverently have Jesus shining the true light on them. They will be guided. Unfortunately, many Catholics do not receive the Eucharist properly. Some undeservedly receive the Eucharist. Many of them have committed the sin of sacrilege. It is a grave sin and hurts Holy Mary a lot!
St. James Church is surrounded by a holy atmosphere. Behind it there are fourteen Stations of the Cross. Not long ago they added the prayer booths representing the five luminous mysteries. They look marvellous at night with lights.
It is said that this Apparition Hill was the place where the six visionaries saw Holy Mary. Ivanka, one of the six visionaries, asked Holy Mary her name. Mary said, ‘I am Virgin Mary.’ Ivanka then said, ‘If you are Virgin Mary, please stay with us. If you are not, please leave us immediately.’ Upon hearing this, Holy Mary smiled but did not leave. This was how Holy Mary started conversing with them.
Holy Mary wanted people to repent. She wanted the Catholics in Medjugorje to change the other Catholics in the world. Most of the Catholics in this village are very devoted. They participate in the daily mass. Every day they spend hours in the church adoring the Holy Eucharist, praying the Rosary and doing other faith related activities.
On the third day when we were at Medjugorje, we went up the Apparition Hill, prayed the Rosary in front of the statue of Mary and sang Marian hymns. We spent about two hours since the road was covered with cobblestones. We were filled with joy when we were coming down from the hill and continued with other activities.
Cross Mountain is at the right side of the Apparition Hill. It is also the highest mount in the vicinity. It was built in 1900. At the peak there is a crucifix of 8.5 meters tall. It was pained in white. It gave out bright light in the sunlight.
On the fourth day we visited the Cross Mountain From the bottom to the top, there are fourteen signs representing the fourteen stations. They were made by copper and carved by an Italian artist. He purposefully put Holy Mary among the audience in each station, meaning Holy Mary accompanied all the way with Jesus to Mount Calvary. Finally, she participated together with Jesus in His salvation work at the bottom of the crucifix.
It is much more challenging to climb the Cross Mountain than the Apparition Hill because it is two times higher and covered with rocks. Therefore each of us took a cane to help us. There was an accident when we were at the eleventh station. Monsignor Chiang fell down but, thanks to three young pilgrims’ help, he was not hurt seriously. But since he was bleeding, we climbed down sooner than we expected. Monsignor said very humbly, ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a great sinner. I am not worthy to come to Your Holy Mount.’ Unexpectedly these words inspired a young pilgrim who thought that it was a special grace from God if we can climb the hill. In the following six days, every morning at six he climbed the Mount alone. We were very careful when we climbed the Mount. At every station, we stopped, prayed, and sang hymns. Besides our group, there were many other groups of pilgrims. The largest group was the Italians. They sang the loudest.
After praying the Stations of the Cross, we arrived at the peak. We sat down and took a rest at the bottom of the crucifix and enjoyed the sunshine. We felt an unspeakable comfort! Last but not least, among the pilgrims, there were some climbing the Mount with bare feet. We were very touched by their spirit of penance.
In our ten days of pilgrimage, every morning we had our Chinese mass and at night, we participated in the Croatian mass. From five o’clock in the afternoon to nine o’clock, the church was packed. There were a few among us who were very devoted. After dinner which was served at 4 o’clock, they could not wait and went to the church. They came to the space in front of the altar and prayed the Rosary and then participated in the mass. The reason why they went to the church at such an early time was that the church would be fully packed with Catholics from all over the world.
There was something that I had never seen before. When it was time to distribute the Holy Eucharist, the priests who were concelebrating had to take the Eucharist from ciboriums as large as large basins, from there the Eucharist will be put into many bottles, then about twenty priests will carry these bottles to distribute the Eucharist to the congregation. Some of the priests would go to the outside of the church and then they gave the Eucharist to the participants who were lining up in long queues.
My Thoughts and Conclusion
Our itinerary was around Medjugorje. It was a pilgrimage. There was no sight-seeing involved. The pilgrims used their time wisely. Many climbed the Apparition Hill or Cross Mountain early in the morning, or late at night to pray, to do penance, to meditate. We also visited other places, such as the orphanage, the drug addiction treatment and praying center, and the castle, etc. All these places are related to Medjugorje and each of them has a touching story.
There were several spiritual talks that are worth mentioning. One of the speakers was Fr. Jozo. He was sent to jail for eighteen months due to the apparitions of Medjugorje. His speech lasted about two hours. He was holding a crucifix when he was talking. Sometimes he was holding a statue of Mary. He taught us how to pray the Rosary. He explained each mystery to us. Finally he gave each of us a rosary and he prayed with his hands over our heads.
Another spiritual talk was given by a nun called Sr. Emmanuel. She has written a few books on spirituality. She also talked about the Rosary. She recommended family Rosary. She said when everyone in the family prays the Rosary together, they will live harmoniously and obtain all the grace they need.
Finally I would like to quote our late Pope John Paul II regarding his viewpoint on Medjugorje. He said, ‘Medjugorje is the continuation of Fatima – 1984”. In 1984, he said to the visionary Mirjana, ‘If I were not the Pope, I would have taken the Sacrament of Reconciliation in Medjugorje.’ In 1992 he said to Fr. Jozo, ‘Work whole-heartedly for Medjugorje. Look after Medjugorje. Do not languish. Persevere. Be strong. I am with you.’
The current Pope Benedict XV, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, did not stop the Catholics from going to Medjugorje. On the contrary, he punished bishop Zanic who submitted an unfaithful report regarding Medjugorje.
According to statistics, since 1981, about 30 million Catholics, 30,000 priests, hundreds of bishops and cardinals have visited Medjugorje. Their responses have been very positive.
My article of the pilgrimage to Medjugorje did not include the apparitions themselves. However, Holy Mary’s demand from Medjugorje are: prayer, penance, fasting, etc. Many of our pilgrims have changed their lifestyle after returning from the pilgrimage. Some have started praying the Rosary every day. Two times a week they eat only bread and water. Some receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation monthly. The non Catholics who went to Medjugorje with us have registered themselves in the RCIA class. With all these positive results, what are we still worrying about? The purpose of participating in a pilgrimage is to be more Christ like. For those who have not heard anything about Medjugorje, I wish at least they could go once to personally witness the holiness of Medjugorje.
Fr. James Wan