my experience in Medjugorje
A town where the Holy Mary — allegedly — communicated with six visionaries
The town of Међугорје (Medjugorje or Međugorje), in today’s Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been a part of my imagination since I was a child. My very Catholic grandparents visited the site on 1998 and came back transformed from that trip. Since then I have been hearing many stories about its energy, its Sun phenomenon and its spiritual importance. It was logical to me that one day I would have to go to Medjugorje to see with my own eyes and, more importantly, feel with my own heart whatever is that happens there.
For those not familiar with the city, the short story is the following: six kids were playing on Mount Podbrdo in 1981 and came across a apparition which only they could see. That apparition identified itself as Holy Mary, the Mother of Jesus and brought messages of peace, faith and conversion. After facing prosecution from the communist Government, the visionaries kept on receiving messages and attracting international attention. Medjugorje then became a pilgrimage destination where millions visit and tell of experiences that are deeply personal, intimate and life changing through the encounters they have in prayer.
I arrived from Mostar hitchhiking with a friendly Bosniak that dropped me nearby the town’s entrance. When I entered by foot the main street of Medjugorje, I was taken aback by the numerous souvenir stores that dominate Pope John Paul II’s Avenue. On one hand, seeing handcrafted goods, painted images and little gifts picturing Jesus, Mary and other saints gave me a strong religious feeling. On the other had, the idea of commercially exploring the allegedly apparitions is something I am not sure I appreciate.
Anyway, I dropped my belongings at the pension and went to St. James Church to understand how the masses and prayers would work that day. The city was empty, probably because it was a cloudy and windy winter day. According to the signs, in a few minutes a Rosary would start right on Mt Podbrdo, which is now called Apparition Hill. It felt like a great way to start my stay in Medjugorje.
As I arrived at Podbrdo, there were some people hiking their way up the hill. It is a very rocky and steep path but I guess going on groups give you the sense you will manage. On the way up, there are images of the Via Crucis according to the mysteries of the Rosary being prayed. As usually happens on these group prayers, I felt very contemplative and peaceful even though it was a strenuous climbing.
At the end of the walking, there are two statues: one of Holy Mary and other of Crucified Jesus, where the last part of the Rosary takes place. All the prayers end just before the famous sunset, which was quite early because of the season. As I waited for the sunset, the part of the trip my grandmother always tell me the most, I had the mixed feelings of being very peaceful and having my heart racing in anxiety. As minutes went by, I closed my eyes and started to realize I was finally on that place I wanted so much to visit. The thought of walking the footsteps of my grandparents, specially my deceased grandfather, got me teary eyed. And then it happened.
As briefly as one second, the Sun came down the horizon shining so bright like I have never seen. I could swear it was blinking and moving, but could not look directly as the light was very intense. It lasted only a short moment before clouds came to engulf it and finish the daylight. I wanted to see more but unfortunately the weather did not help.
I came back to the pension with a lot on my heart. I would definitely try to see more of the sunset the following day. But everything about the climbing of Podbrdo was so elevating that I was feeling with my heart full, my mind happy and my soul rested. That state continued as I was trying to sleep but could not stop having insights and realizations about my life, my faith and all of my spiritual experiences of lately.
On the following day, I woke up very relaxed. As someone who has strong anxiety often, I am very grateful whenever I feel that free. I decided I wanted to understand more about the visionaries and dedicated that day to see the museum-ish structure that tells the story of the apparitions. And also went to talk with the priests and pilgrims I could find nearby St James Church.
Behind the Church, there is a beautiful path with tall trees and other Via Crucis. This one ends with a interesting statue of Jesus on the Cross. Differently than most, this statue does not explore Jesus’ suffering but show him rising from the Cross. I loved that idea so much — to celebrate the Resurrection more than enact the pain — that I stopped for a quick meditation on that garden.
Honestly, I am not great at meditations. Sometimes when I try to reach conscious and mindful states some mental wounds show up and steal my concentration. Thus, to my own surprise, at that moment I managed to reach a very deep state of concentration. Even now, I cannot understand exactly what happened, but I felt a cleanse on my emotional and mental baggage. On that beautiful place, I felt connected with my grandfather, someone I admired profoundly in life.
I woke up from that with raindrops falling on my glasses. As I looked up, I realized the sky was so covered and gray that I would not be able to see the sunset again. For a brief moment, I felt very disappointed. As I was walking the way back to the Church, I stopped at the Via Crucis and closed my eyes again to try to process that I would not see the Sun phenomenon this time. Suddenly, a strong wind started to blow — so intense that I felt hugged. It is not the first time I sense some kind of consciousness on nature, but I guess that is something to write about on other occasion. Feeling connected with the universe, with my own intuition and healed from old wounds, I went back to my pension.
A lot of people claim to see the Holy Mary or similar experiences when visiting Medjugorje. I did not have such an experience. What I can say is that I felt some kind of healing that brought me back to the present, in a way that even how I feel my body changed. Also, some subtle sense of connection with Nature, Intuition, Essence or Holy Spirit, whenever you may call it, that left me attentive, happy, light and expanded. And, even more important, was the feeling of connection with my grandmother and my deceased grandfather that walked the same footsteps 20 years previously — a feeling I will be forever grateful.