During this difficult time of Coronavirus, I will be sharing excerpts from the book, Magnificat: Mama Mary’s Pilgrim Sites, a collection of 24 testimonies by people whose lives were changed by Mama Mary. I hope that these articles remind us that Mary is with us during this difficult time. May you find solace in these personal testimonials. ~ Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, editor of Magnificat.
Our Lady of Medjugorje
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA – Medjugorje
Medjugorje is a town located in western Bosnia and Herzegovina, close to the border of Croatia. “Our Lady of Medjugorje” is the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary who pilgrims believe has been appearing to Vicka Ivankovic-Mijatovic, Ivan Dragicevic, Mirjana Dragicevic-Soldo, Ivanka Ivankovic-Elez, Jakov Colo, and Marija Pavlovic-Lunetti since June 24, 1981. In March 2010, the Holy See announced that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was forming an investigative commission, composed of bishops, theologians, and other experts, under the leadership of Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope’s former Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome. Medjugorje has become one of the most popular Marian pilgrimage sites in the world and has turned into Europe’s third most important religious place, where more than 1 million people visit each year.
A MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE WITH OUR LADY
I HAVE been to several Marian pilgrimages such as Fatima in Portugal, Lourdes in France, and Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. All of them were life-changing experiences and were very significant in my spiritual journey to a closer relationship with Jesus and Mary.
I first heard of Medjugorje way back in the early 1980’s. The Blessed Mother has never before appeared so often to so many people over such a long period of time. According to reports, the Blessed Mother (or Gospa, the Croatian word for “Our Lady”) has been appearing to six young visionaries ranging from ages ten to sixteen years old, since June 24, 1981. Three of the six visionaries (lvan, Vicka, and Marija), all of whom are now adults, married and have families, are still getting daily apparitions. Our Lady gives her message of peace every 25th of the month. She asks us to fast, hear Mass, go to confession once a month, and pray daily especially the rosary.
I had attended a Rosary and liturgical service with Father Charlie Becker and Andy Zovko, a man renowned for his gift of healing. Andy encouraged me to go to Medjugorje. With no grand expectations on how the pilgrimage would turn out, I joined a group of pilgrims in May 2002 headed by Father Charlie and Andy. Aside from them, I did not know anybody in the group of 30 pilgrims who came from different parts of the country. Later, I met another Filipina who became my roommate.
We flew in from Chicago to Germany and then to Split, where we took a three-hour bus ride to a little village in Bosnia. We stayed at a residential house owned by Andy’s family built purposely to house pilgrims. There are other hotels and homes around the village that can accommodate pilgrims coming from all over the world. It has attracted the attention of over 40 million pilgrims.
Our place was close to the town where St. James Church parish is located, the only church there. It is a perfect place to stay for a pilgrimage: quiet and surrounded with scenic views of the village. It is also a ten-minute walk to the church where most of the activities are held.
Our first day started with morning prayers at the breakfast table, followed by Father Charlie giving us a schedule of activities for the week. We would hear Mass every morning at ten, which is the only Mass in English so we could not miss it. Every hour, Mass is celebrated in different languages and the church is always packed. Lunch was on our own and dinner was served early to give us time to go back to church to pray the Rosary. Father Charlie also told us to do our shopping towards the end of the pilgrimage to avoid distractions. He told us that we would get more out of this experience if we focus on prayer and meditation.
We returned to church at 6 p.m. and prayed the Rosary. We were told to keep quiet at 6:40 p.m. because this is the time when Our Lady comes and that the apparition usually lasts for ten to fifteen minutes. At exactly 6:40 p.m. everyone stopped praying and the whole church was so still you could hear a pin drop. Since we arrived late that evening my roommate and I stayed at the back of the church. During this period of silence, I suddenly smelled a strong scent of roses. I immediately asked my friend if she had perfume with a floral scent or if she smelled something sweet; she said no. I realized it must have been a special grace that I received from the Blessed Mother because I had prayed for a sign of Her presence. I started sobbing from joy that Our Lady was in our midst, and I could not stop. I later shared this experience with the group at the daily evening gathering at Andy’s house.
There were other wonderful events that happened and every single one of them showed that we were on holy ground and that the Blessed Mother was truly present in our midst. Our group was scheduled to climb Apparition Hill the next day, but Father Charlie said we could do a dry run the day before. It was a rocky and steep hike to the top of Mt. Podbrdo, but it was worth getting there to see the statue of Our Lady. We reflected and prayed for only a short time because it started to rain. The way down was very slippery, and we were scared we might slip and fall. Seeing how nervous I was, one of the pilgrims gave me a hand. We started praying the Rosary and before we knew it we managed to come down safe and sound. I really believe we were guided and protected by Our Lady because everyone stayed calm. The next day we climbed the hill again, and it was a piece of cake. Some of the pilgrims tried doing this hike almost every day while we were there.
We also went up Cross Mountain, a much steeper and treacherous hike. We had to get up very early, about 5 a.m., so that we could return before the weather became too hot. It took about three to four hours to reach the top. Along the way were life sized bronze statues depicting the Stations of the Cross. We meditated on each station, with several pilgrims taking turns reading the prayers. We had a chance to rest in each station, making the hike more manageable. The climax of the hike was the big cross on the very top of the mountain, and the view of the village was breathtaking. That was my first time to be on a site that high and I stood in awe and wonder at the grandeur of God’s creation.
In addition, Vicka (one of the visionaries known to have the gift of healing) visited Andy’s house to give her witness for the Gospa and for the honor and glory of god. We felt her deep love and devotion to Our Lady; her joy and holiness were apparent on her smiling face. At the end of her talk she laid hands on us individually and prayed for our intentions.
Every evening we gathered at the living room to share our experiences during the day. There were incidences of physical and emotional healing among our group too many to relate. Our group became a closely-knit family, and when it was time to say goodbye we became sad. To make our parting more lighthearted, Father Charlie led a group prayer and said we should take with us the joyful memories and the mystical experience this holy place had brought to all of us.
I went to Medjugorje a second time In November 2006 with about twelve close friends. This time, we stayed at Ivan’s house (one of the visionaries), which was special because we were with him every time he had an apparition from Our Lady in a chapel built in his backyard. There were twelve other pilgrims from different states who joined our group. Staying at Ivan’s place was already extraordinary, but it was more so when he served our food during breakfast and dinner. Meals were served family style, cooked by his sister-in-law. We felt very much at home.
Daily activities were similar to my 2002 pilgrimage, but we visited a few more places which we had not seen last time. We attended Holy Hour and Benediction on a weekday evening, which was absolutely magnificent with the church packed to the wall and a choir singing in the background. We also went to daily Mass and confession, along with so many other pilgrims standing in long lines. There were at least fifty or more priests hearing confessions with signs showing what language they speak. It was unbelievable; l had never seen anything like this before.
The visionaries were scheduled to give their witness talks during the day and they took turns doing this. Ivan did his on a Wednesday, so we all went to the conference hall, which was packed. He related how the apparition happened in 1981 when he was only sixteen years old. He had been a very shy boy and not too religious. He wondered why Our Lady had chosen him, and he asked the Blessed Mother this during one of her apparitions. She answered, “I don’t really pick the good ones.” The crowd roared with laughter. He continued to stress the messages of Our Lady, which always focused on peace: One time they looked up and the word Mir (Croatian word for peace} was written very clearly in the sky.
We always ate dinner early so that we could pray the Rosary in his chapel and witness the apparition at 6:40 p.m. Every day was special because we felt Our Lady’s presence in that small chapel. On the last evening before we prayed the Rosary Ivan asked us individually what we wanted the Blessed Mother to pray for us. After this was done, we prayed the rosary and this was one of my experiences that I’ll never forget. At 6:40 p.m. Ivan stopped praying and looked up with his lips moving as if talking to someone. I was in front almost next to him and I watched his expression. He was very joyful, smiling most of the time. When I closed my eyes I felt someone’s strong presence, and after a few minutes I felt Our Lady ascending. When I opened my eyes, Ivan was looking up as if saying goodbye to Our Lady. My sense of Our Lady’s departure and Ivan’s farewell to her was such a coincidence, and I believed then that she visited every evening, just as Ivan had said.
Our pilgrimage was over before we knew it, and it was a truly life-changing experience. This pilgrimage transformed my spiritual life, deeply enriching and sanctifying it. I feel that Our Lady is calling all of us to conversion, which means turning to God, learning to love him, serving Him, praying and trusting in him. The fruits of this journey influence the way we live our lives, and by being the best role models for our Christian, we will be blessed with joy, peace, gentleness, love and compassion in our hearts.
Bio of Author:
LINDA YAMAMOTO was born in Naga City, Philippines. She has been in the U.S. since 1971. She is married, with three adult children and two grandchildren. Having worked as a food service director and registered dietitian in a nursing facility for over 30 years, she is presently a part-time dietitian consultant in skilled care nursing facilities. An active parishioner and ministry leader at Holy Family Parish in Inverness, Illinois, she attributes the richness of her spiritual life to knowledge of scripture and to the wonderful people who have shared their spiritual journeys with her.
Book: Magnificat: Mama Mary’s Pilgrim Sites
Collected and Edited by Cecila Manguerra Brainard
Anvil, 2012, softcover, 168 pages, ISBN 9789712727115
Hard copies available from Philippine Expressions Bookshop: 1–310-548‑8148 or 1–310-514‑9139
Available from Amazon Kindle
Contributors are: Lucy Adao McGinley, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Angelita Caluag Cruz, Maria Ciocon, Celeste, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Millicent Dypiangco, Ma. Milagros T. Dumdum, Penelope V. Flores, Almira Astudillo Gilles, Ma. Teresita Herrera-Tan, Fe Aida Lacsamana-Reyes, Jaime C. Laya, Guia Lim, Linda Nietes-Little, Ma. Teresa Z. Lopez, Aimee Gaboya Ortega Lucero, Lynley Salome R. Ocampo, Ma. Cristina Padilla-Sendin, Marsha C. Paras, Rev. Dr. Sebastian Periannan, Brian Ascalon Roley, Julia H. Wolski, and Linda Yamamoto.
Praise for Magnificat
“This is another outstanding book by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard. Profoundly Marian and beautifully written by the contributors as these are their personal experiences! To our fellow devotees and would-be devotees of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you will surely fall in love with Magnificat: Mama Mary’s Pilgrim Sites and love Our Blessed Mother even more.” (Bishop Leopoldo C. Jaucian, SVD, DD, Bishop of Bangued, Philippines)
“The devotion to Mama Mary is strong in the hearts of every Filipino.” (Father James B. Reuter, SJ)
“The Magnificat has always been a testament to God’s paradoxical dealings with his people. This book assembles a tableau of witnesses to how a fleeting visit with Mary can turn into a life-changing introduction to her Son. Through their stories the author offers their readers the distinct possibility of setting the stage for a personal, if vicarious, epiphany.” (Father Dionisio M. Miranda, SVD, President, University of San Carlos in Cebu)
“Running as a leitmotif in all the essays in this book is the writers’ palpable love for Mama Mary. Each writer has undergone a change in his or her life or outlook following a visit to a Marian site. Some may have experienced a “miracle,” or felt consoled and renewed; others a deepening of spirituality, or an epiphany, an insight into the divine. Although we know that Jesus is the only Way to the Father, it is our belief in the power of Mary’s intercession to her Son, borne out of the Bible’s Cana story, that makes us all turn to Her, whom Her divine Son will never refuse. Kudos to Cecilia Manguerra Brainard for putting together an engaging collection of stories that magnify the humble handmaid of the Lord.” (Erlinda E. Panlilio, Writer and Editor)
Tags: book review, Marian, Mama Mary, Catholic, religion, Christianity, anthology, Medugorje, Coronavirus, Covid 19