Sunday, August 31, 2014

Medjugorje's Apparition Hill - Encountering Our Lady's Presence

Apparition Hill (Brdo Ukazanja) just after sunrise

Apparition Hill (Brdo Ukazanja) in Medjugorje is one of, if not "the" most sought after locations in Medjugorje and for good reason, it is where Our Lady first appeared to the six visionaries on June 24th, 1981. Marking the spot of Our Lady's appearance is a beautiful white statue surrounded by a protective star shaped fence. Although Apparition Hill continues on for several more meters above this location, the spot of Our Lady's initial appearance is the "spiritual summit" that all pilgrims strive to reach when making this climb. I had the pleasure of visiting and remaining at this location for countless hours during my pilgrimage this summer and today's post shares some of my experiences. In so doing, I hope it will not only help recapture the spirit of Medjugorje for those who have been there, but also encourage those who are considering a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a place that truly is as Saint Pope John Paul II has put it, "the spiritual center of the world." 

I don't think enough can be said about Medjugorje and the pilgrimage sites, of which Apparition Hill has a special significance. All of us who have gone to Medjugorje have done so accepting Our Lady's invitation. It is an acceptance of Our Lady who is the first message of all the messages she has given us, that is, Our Lady is Our Mother who is present and she is calling us. This is the primary reason why many pilgrims, the overwhelming majority, go to Medjugorje. The statue at Apparition Hill is a visible symbol and beautiful reminder not only of the initial apparition, but of Our Lady's invitation to each and every one of us. Our Lady's continues to invite us and make her presence known with her monthly and annual apparition messages and her daily appearances to three of the six visionaries: Ivan, Marija and Vicka.

The view of Our Lady's statue on approach from the last Joyful Mystery plaque

Upon my arrival in Medjugorje in late June of this year, I was very drawn to Apparition Hill. It was only a few days after my arrival with the pilgrim group that I came to Medjugorje with, that our local guide scheduled a climb. The enthusiasm of reaching the "spiritual summit" was evident amongst the group with our energetic and joyful demeanour. Our facial expressions were but a glimpse of the joy we were about to experience of this much anticipated climb that was fully realized upon arrival at Our Lady's statue. Guided by one of Medjugorje's best guides, our initial climb was truly a very special experience. 

Very much in the same way that Cross Mountain (Križevac) has bronze plaques for each of the Stations Cross, so too Apparition Hill invites pilgrims to a spiritual climb with bronze plaques of the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the Rosary. Approximately half up Apparition Hill, pilgrims will see a large wooden cross, marking the spot where Our Lady appeared to Marija on the third day of the apparitions, saying to her "Peace, peace and only peace." Our guide led our Rosary recitation with beautiful reflections that made this group recitation of the Rosary the best I had ever experienced. Our recitation ended with the the Joyful Mysteries and it is at this point that we made our way to the statue of Mary. The ending of the Joyful Mysteries plaques affords pilgrims the choice of proceeding with the Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, taking pilgrims further up the hill or making a horizontal break toward the statue of Mary. If pilgrims decide to continue with the other sets of the Rosary mysteries, the placement of Rosary plaques eventually leads pilgrims to the statue of Mary, looping around the hill through an alternate and longer route. Our guide’s intention, as he made it known from the beginning, was to take us to the statue of Mary and rightly so, as this is the prime location and main purpose of climbing Apparition Hill.

At Apparition Hill for Ivan's apparition

On another day, our pilgrim group made a second climb up Apparition Hill to the statue of Our Lady, but this time the encounter with Our Lady was to be a much more profound experience. The reason being was that we were going to be present during an actual apparition to the visionary Ivan. The apparition occurred well into the evening around 10:00pm and Apparition Hill was "packed" with pilgrims from all over the world. Our group arrived at approximately 6:00pm only to be met with thousands of pilgrims who had already stationed themselves well in advance. The above photo depicts part of the scene. That is me in the black shirt and shorts with the Rosary in my hand, looking straight ahead at the statue of Our Lady. Together with my fellow pilgrims I recited the Rosary and we were just a few among many groups doing likewise in many languages. In addition, songs of praise were sung to Our Lady in anticipation of her arrival. It was an absolutely amazing experience! To have been in Medjugorje, on Apparition Hill only 50m away from Our Lady and to have prayed to her as she appeared was a gift that one only hopes for. 

A closer view of Our Lady's statue

By the first week of July, the second week of my pilgrimage, I frequently ventured up Apparition Hill by myself with the hope of entering into a time of divine intimacy with Our Lady. I was not disappointed. Many of the pilgrims who were in Medjugorje in late June were there for the 33rd anniversary of the apparitions. Within the first few days of July, there was a noticeable reduction of pilgrims and much to my pleasant surprise the opportunity for quiet and personal time at the various pilgrimage sites increased dramatically. Many times I was alone or with only three or four other individuals. The photo above depicts one of these moments, one of many gifts that I had received.

It wasn't long before I had established my "prayer spot" on Apparition Hill where I could sit, pray and converse with Our Lady. The first photo included in this blog post captures the view from my favourite spot, approximately 20m away from the statue. In addition to peaceful prayer, this location afforded me a wonderful panoramic view of Medjugorje, the surrounding mountains and valley below. This is definitely the location to encounter Our Lady's presence in Medjugorje. The beautiful prayer time I experienced, one that was undisturbed and totally focussed was no doubt a shared experience with many who have been there. To be in conversation with Our Lady, to be able to "pray with the heart,” was a beautiful gift. Only those who have been there fully understand the divine intimacy available to all who visit this grace filled region. For those that have yet to go to Medjugorje, this is what awaits you.

Although pilgrims will find Apparition Hill to be a much easier climb than Cross Mountain, it requires your undivided attention to ensure a safe ascent up the hill and back down to the base. Apparition Hill is not as steep as Križevac, but pilgrims are still confronted by a non-negotiable rocky terrain. Providing some temporary relief are a few clearings, but hardly worth noting as the majority of this climb is a continuous series of challenging steps on rocks of all shapes and sizes. It is with such a physical dimension that makes Apparition Hill's recitation of the Rosary a much more beneficial experience, aiding pilgrims to enter into the spirit of prayer right from the beginning of the climb.

If you have been to Medjugorje and climbed Apparition Hill, I hope this post has rekindled the spirit of Medjugorje in your life and that it may spread to everyone connected to you. For those who are considering going, on route or scheduled go, expect to encounter Our Lady's presence at Apparition Hill because Our Lady is Our Mother, she is there and she is calling you!

Hvaljen Isus i Marija (Praised be Jesus and Mary)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Medjugorje's Cross Mountain - The Way of The Cross

Cross Mountain (Križevac), captured from Apparition Hill (Brdo Ukazanja)
In Medjugorje there are a few key locations that pilgrims should frequent and one of these is Križevac or Cross Mountain. It towers 1760 feet above sea level and has at its summit a large concrete cross, the final destination of all who climb it. The cross was built in 1933 to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of Christ's passion. Completed in 1934, a local tradition was established to celebrate Mass once a year on September 14th, in honour of the feast of the Triumph of The Holy Cross. In addition, this year being the 25th anniversary of Medjugorje's International Youth Festival, a Mass was celebrated at the top of Cross Mountain on August 6th by Fr. Marinko Sakota, the parish priest of Medjugorje to close out the festival.

My first climb up Križevac (Cross Mountain)

Cross Mountain has both a physical and spiritual dimension. The climb up Cross Mountain is quite a challenging one due to its steepness and the rocky terrain. There are no man made paths and coupled with an abundance of rocks in all sorts of shapes and sizes, this climb requires pilgrims to have all their wits about them. Many of the rocks have become smooth over the years from the millions of pilgrims making the same journey, which makes climbing Cross Mountain especially dangerous in the rain. I experienced such inhospitable conditions during one of my climbs, approximately half way up the mountain when it began to rain. It did not detract from my spiritual focus, but it did put me to task to ensure I was prudent and cautious about my climb.

The descent down to the base of Cross Mountain does not offer much consolation to pilgrims. At times, negotiating this rocky landscape can be a series of challenging steps without a flat base to land on. One needs to be careful of leaping down from rock to rock to avoid sore knees. Maintaining a steady pace on the way down will help to ensure a safe return to the base. In my own experience, what ever the physical challenges were at each climb, in no way were they an impediment to the spiritual dimension.

Two of my fellow pilgrims at the 13th Station - Jesus is Taken From The Cross

The spiritual dimension of Cross Mountain is one of prayer not only at its summit, but throughout the climb, especially the Stations of The Cross. To aid pilgrims in their penitential climb up the mountain, there are bronze plaques for each Station of the Cross, with an additional special commemorative boulder for Franciscan Father Slavko Barbaric, who died at the spot of the boulder on November 24th, 2000. Father Slavko is a legend in the Medjugorje community, a Franciscan friar whose tireless work produced so many spiritual fruits for locals and pilgrims. In addition to establishing Majčino Selo (Mother's Village) for war orphans, children from separated families, unwed mothers, elderly abandoned persons and sick children, Fr. Slavko has written books such as In The School of Love and Pray With The Heart, and several others which have been translated into twenty languages with over 20 million copies sold. For those who are currently in Medjugorje, I highly recommend you purchase both aforementioned books at the Franciscan Book Store adjacent to the Information Office. Father Slavko's writings properly prepare pilgrims to enter into the spirit of prayer at Cross Mountain, Apparition Hill, the Blue Crosses, at Mass, before confession, for morning and evening prayers and the recitation of the Rosary. Both books were essential companions during my pilgrimage this summer.

My initial climb up Cross Mountain was part of a group effort, guided by one of Medjugorje's best guides, who did an excellent job of introducing the spiritual dimension of the climb by providing us with meditations and prayers at each Station of The Cross. We were further encouraged by our guide to hold Our Lady's "little stone," the Rosary in our hands and recite it as we ascended to each successive station. This initial climb was a very special one. It was a wonderful gift from God to journey up the mountain with likeminded Catholics, all of whom were called by Our Lady to journey together during that grace filled time in our lives. Accepting Our Lady's call to Medjugorje entailed many things and the climb up Cross Mountain was just one of them. Each of my climbs up Cross Mountain were peaceful hours in prayer, in divine intimacy with Jesus and Mary. I am not sure that there are words to adequately describe the peaceful feeling of each step of the climb. The best way to understand this is to experience it yourself.

After my initial experience climbing up Cross Mountain, I decided to frequent Križevac many times during my pilgrimage. Most of my climbs were done on an individual basis accompanied by the prayers and meditations of Saint Alphonsus Liguori's Way of the Cross. Packaged in the form of a pamphlet, these prayers and meditations were a perfect companion during my climbs. No matter how many times you climb Križevac, it will always be a challenging climb. Certainly if you climb it frequently enough, your physical conditioning will make it some what less challenging, but what really makes each successive climb so much easier than the previous one, is the spiritual aspect of it. From my own experience, it was only after a few climbs that the physical challenges were hardly a concern. My greatest and overwhelming thought each time I approached the base of Cross Mountain was about the spiritual journey of this penitential climb, to encounter Jesus and Mary anew in a more profound way.

Two of my fellow pilgrims arriving back down at the base of the mountain.

Cross Mountain is a great climb any time of the day, but I found an afternoon climb to be the most preferable. The physical requirements coupled with the intense heat of the day were perfect compliments to enter into the spirit of prayer and share in what Christ suffered from the house of Pilate to Calvary. To keep myself well hydrated I also made sure to include a large bottle of cold water during each one of my climbs.

If you have recently arrived in Medjugorje, are on route or scheduled to go, I highly recommend that you climb Cross Mountain. All of my climbs were a grace filled time of peace that made this penitential climb a joy. I hope this will be your experience as well. May each one of your visits to Cross Mountain be a safe and spiritually beneficial time for you and your fellow pilgrims.

 Kraljica Mira, moli za nas (Queen of Peace, pray for us)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Medjugorje's Blue Crosses - A Time of Divine Intimacy

The Second Blue Cross, where the visionary Mirjana has her 2nd of the month apparitions.

It seems only fitting that with today being the Solemnity of The Assumption of Mary, I resume my blogging effort by honouring Our Lady with a post that shares some of the many grace filled experiences I had during my stay in Medjugorje.

In Medjugorje, there are several locations where one can experience divine intimacy, one such place being the "Blue Crosses." As one who has had the privilege of spending many hours at this location, my post of today shares this beautiful gift with everyone: those who are presently in Medjugorje, those who have been there, those who are on route to Medjugorje and in a special way, those who seek information to better their understanding of what Medjugorje is all about.

Unlike the location at Apparition Hill (Brdo Ukazanja) where Our Lady first appeared to the visionaries or the top of Cross Mountain (Križevac), the Blue Crosses are a smaller location, but big enough to accommodate a significant number of pilgrims, many of whom do not stay for a very long time. There are exceptions with both individuals and groups. I happen to be one of those exceptions as I really enjoyed spending a lot of time at the Blue Crosses. 

Although my initial visit to the Blue Crosses was only an introduction, a passing through experience, it was enough for me to grasp the divine intimacy of this location. It did not take long before I returned to it and immediately set goals to visit the Blue Crosses on a daily basis. Ideally the best time to go to the Blue Crosses is when you will be alone or alone as much as possible, which in Medjugorje means in the company of approximately five to ten individuals who are respectful, quiet and focussed on prayer. During my first week my visits to the Blue Crosses were in the very early hours of the morning, around 5:00am.

The Original Blue Cross in Medjugorje. The Second Blue Cross is at the center right of the photo. 

After the 33rd Anniversary (June 25th, 2014) of the apparitions had passed, many had left Medjugorje. This was to be expected as the anniversary date was a big draw and typically pilgrims would come for a week in and around the anniversary. With a fewer amount of pilgrims, my opportunities to spend quiet time in prayer at the Blue Crosses increased both in frequency and length of time. Of the two Blue Crosses, I took an immediate liking to the "Original Blue Cross," and this is where I spent many hours in prayer in Medjugorje.

As I continued with my pilgrimage for several more weeks, the Original Blue Cross became an increasingly ideal location to meditate and pray. Upon the recommendation of our pilgrim guide, I purchased a book written by Father Slavko Barbaric entitled, In The School of Love. It addition to my Rosary, camera and a bottle of water, Fr. Slavko's book quickly became part of my standard set of includes for my visits to the Original Blue Cross. To meditate on 2-3 chapters, wrapped by the recitation of the Rosary, one set of mysteries prior to and another set, after the readings proved to be a time of divine intimacy in which I received many graces. It was part of my acceptance to be a diligent student in Our Lady's School of Love. I can not think of a more appropriate book to have accompanied my prayer and meditation at the Original Blue Cross. In addition to the reflections, Fr. Slavko's book also includes quotes from Our Lady's messages and scriptural passages offered to the reader as "spiritual food, heavenly bread for our life, for our healing and for our salvation." If you are currently in Medjugorje, I respectfully encourage you to get this book available at the Franciscan book store near St. Jame's, in the same building and adjacent to the parish Information Office.

A wider view of both the Original Blue Cross area to the left and the Second Blue Cross to the right.

Medjugorje is a place of great graces and I had a personal experience at the Original Blue Cross that made this truth more evident to me. Each day in Medjugorje, I recited all four sets of the mysteries of the Rosary. One night I had arrived at the Original Blue Cross only having completed two out of the four mysteries. It was late at night, dark and very quiet. I was with approximately five other individuals, all of us scattered in our own individual location. If you have never been to Medjugorje, the Blue Crosses at night are not illuminated. There are patio lights to help pilgrims navigate the rocky pathways, but once you make your way up to the blue crosses, it is a dark location where you can barely see anyone. I found this to be very accommodating in my desire for personal intimacy with Jesus and Mary. This "accommodating atmosphere" lasted for one set of the Rosary mysteries. 

Before I could begin to recite the last set of the Rosary mysteries and complete my recitation for the day, a small group of approximately 25 Italian pilgrims arrived led by a Franciscan friar. I know what you are thinking, there went my tranquility and peaceful prayer time. Well, in the first few minutes, I had the same thoughts, but something happened that changed all that. As the friar began to speak, he provided a brief meditation and then began to lead the pilgrims in a group recitation of the Rosary. The friar's gentle voice and tone prompted me to join these Italian pilgrims in prayer. I did not so not knowing how long they would stay, but regardless I set aside my own personal prayer time and hoped that I would have the energy and fervour to continue after they left.

As I prayed with everyone a sense of peace came over me that pleasantly surprised me. I was no longer thinking about that personal ideal prayer time, but focussed on the group recitation of the Rosary and meditating the various mysteries. This sense of peace lasted throughout the recitation and stayed with me after the Italian pilgrims' departure. I spent further time alone and recited another set of the mysteries to complete my own Rosary for the day. What a grace filled time it was. Eventually when I left, I marvelled at how amazing it was to have experienced it all. It was God's grace working in me, opening me up to accepting this unexpected event in my evening. What I originally considered to be an intrusion to personal prayer time, ended up being a wonderful gift of God's grace. That day, like everyday in Medjugorje, was an amazing day.

Praised be Jesus and Mary.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Marian Day of Prayer Follow Up - A "Cinematic Pilgrimage"

Zaid Jazrawi, the producer of The Triumph and me

On May 31st I attended the Marian Day of Prayer event at Canada Christian College presented by the Ave Maria Centre of Peace. It was a grace filled event that included: the screening of the Medjugorje documentary film, The Triumph, testimonials from four guest speakers who shared their personal experiences on how Our Lady Queen of Peace in Medjugorje changed their lives, and the recitation of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. In addition there was an impressive selection of print material and DVD's, Rosaries, devotional pamphlets, prayer cards, medals, posters, t-shirts and Medjugorje newsletters from the early days of the apparitions. As one of the official volunteers of the event, it truly was a gift to assist with the day's program schedule. Today's post is not only a follow up to my previous post, Marian Day of Prayer - A Grace Filled Day WIth Our Lady Queen of Peace, but also a sharing of what I experienced that day.

Saturday's event was in part a "cinematic pilgrimage," as it began with the screening of the Medjugorje documentary film, The Triumph. As one of two individuals co-ordinating the audio and visual includes for this event, my vantage point afforded me the opportunity to observe the audience reaction to the film. It became abundantly clear from the first few minutes that everyone was captivated by it. The showing of the movie was well placed in the program schedule as it ushered in the spirit of Medjugorje to our location here in Toronto and set the tone for the remainder of the day. 

Watching The Triumph that day was my fourth screening. It is an incredibly well made film whose importance and significance for today's world can not be overstated. My compliments and full marks to Zaid Jazrawi, the producer and Sean Bloomfield who directed the documentary. The Marian Day of Prayer event this year was especially blessed to have one of these two gentlemen with us, Zaid Jazrawi. Zaid was the first guest speaker and his effort that day really gave glory to God and honoured Our Lady right from the beginning. Admitting that he needed Our Lady's assistance, Zaid asked all of us to join him in a Hail Mary, so that Our Lady would guide him as to what he would say. It was my first time hearing Zaid speak and I was impressed by the certainty with which he responded to Our Lady's call. What a wonderful gift it was for us to hear about his life changing experiences that took him from being a successful businessman and millionaire leading a very secular life, to his conversion that resulted in the selling of all his businesses and using those assets for the making of The Triumph. 

Me, Tammy Willis and Wayne Weible

During his talk, Zaid allowed for audience feedback and questions. It was during this time, that we all received another special gift, the testimonial of a young woman who was healed in Medjugorje. This young woman, Tammy Willis, within the span of approximately three minutes relayed to the audience what had happened as a direct result of Our Lady's intercession in her life. Tammy, a mother of four children was diagnosed with brain cancer three years ago. Because of its location, the medical doctors could not have offered her any viable treatment except a surgery. To have proceeded with the surgical option would have left her dead, or severely mentally disabled. She and her husband decided to wait on The Divine Physician. In the mean time, the cancer became significantly more aggressive just this past March, leaving her very little hope. It was at this time that Tammy was called, and not by her own accord, to Medjugorje. With very little opportunity to plan and not knowing anyone or where to stay, Tammy contacted two Canadians who now live in Medjugorje about her situation. Upon reading Tammy's email, she was immediately invited to stay with these two Canadians as long as necessary. It was obvious that Our Lady not only invited her to Medjugorje, but cleared the way for her. Tammy returned from Medjugorje completely filled with peace, and also, healing. Tammy's MRI, taken the day after her arrival back home and confirmed by medical reports, concluded that her brain cancer went into remission. Tammy's presence at the event, a living Medjugorje miracle became the fifth testimonial. 

If you are somewhat new to the Medjugorje apparitions, Our Lady Queen of Peace as she entitled herself, appeared in Medjugorje on June 24, 1981 on the Feast of St. John The Baptist to the first two of six visionaries, Ivanka Elez (formerly Ivankovic) and Mirjana Soldo (formerly Dragicevic). The next day, Our Lady appeared to the other four: Marija Lunetti (formerly Pavlovic), Jakov Colo, Ivan Dragicevic and Vicka Mijatovic (formerly Ivankovic). At these apparitions, Our Lady Queen of Peace, has prayed with the visionaries, granted blessings and given messages for the world. At my blog's sidebar, you will find the "little stones" message, current messages and videos of three of the six visionaries. I have also published separate blog posts for each "little stone" which you can find at the "Medjugorje" label.

The Medjugorje apparitions not only caught the attention of the local Bosnian villages, but that of the whole world. Today, over 50 million pilgrims have gone to Medjugorje. Many are "searching souls" seeking clarity for important life questions. Some go to Medjugorje for spiritual, physical and/or psychological healing. Medjugorje is a place of many graces: where confessions are provided for each day, where the Rosary is recited daily, where vocations are found to the priesthood, religious life and secular paths as well. Some have gone to Medjugorje fully aware of this, while others have not. Some have visited it reluctantly, upon the insistence of a family member or friend, only to find out later that Our Lady was the true source of the invitation. 

Michael Russell O'Brien speaking at the event

Michael Russell O'Brien, one of the four guest speakers at this event was one such reluctant invitee. Upon his acceptance of the invitation and subsequent pilgrimage to Medjugorje, his life changed forever. O'Brien's experiences in Medjugorje included some unforeseen occurrences, that were the beginning of his being purged from his previous life. You might think that a testimonial on Medjugorje, one's conversion and the experience of it all is a totally serious matter, and it certainly is, but add to this O'Brien's comical narration and the result is one of the entertaining pilgrimage stories I have ever heard.

Right from the very beginning he set the tone and added the comic relief by revealing the awkwardness, confusion and uncertainty he experienced. It seemed to be a standard part of his daily schedule. It was all apart of Our Lady's plan for him, his conversion and the new life that was about to be revealed to him. Perhaps the best example to share with you is his first meeting with Vicka.

Building up to this segment of his pilgrimage, O'Brien shared how he was mysteriously led from wandering on a street, not knowing where exactly where he was going, to being surrounded by a crowd of non-English speaking pilgrimages who hovered over him, to being led up a staircase of an unknown residence. Eventually, he got to the part of arriving to listen to Vicka speak about Our Lady. It was at Vicka's residence that O'Brien was summoned by Vicka herself to approach her. As O'Brien stated, it was another awkward moment and he was somewhat reluctant and hesitant. Our Lady remedied this by inspiring the crowd to clear a "walking path" for him, which left him no choice but to go to Vicka. In front of Vicka, with everyone watching, he wondered what was the purpose of all this as he anxiously awaited to see what was to happen next. This was the moment of his new direction in life. Vicka began writing on a piece of paper a personal message for him from Our Lady. The message was in Croatian and upon translation, O'Brien received his instructions, that Our Lady wanted him to use his musical and creative gifts to sing for Her, to spread Medjugorje to the world. O'Brien's response to Our Lady was "yes." Praised be Jesus and Mary, because at the Marian Day of Prayer, we all became the beneficiaries of his "yes" to Our Lady.

At the conclusion of O'Brien's talk, I felt encouraged and strengthened in my devotion to Our Lady. Michael is a passionate man with great musical talent. His talk coupled with his singing made for an uplifting experience. You can find Michael's songs at his web site,

Fr. Rick Wendell during his talk

The third guest speaker, Father Rick Wendell shared his dramatic conversion experience with the audience. Father Rick's secular life of sin ended with his physical death. Upon his mom's prayer, God restored him to life and he began a new life living for God and Our Lady. How moving it was to listen to some of the details of his secular life, told to us as a priest. Our Lady in Medjugorje stated that it is through the clergy that Her Immaculate Heart will triumph. The clergy are the bridge between Our Lady and the world, in which God's greater glory will be realized. Father Rick demonstrated his importance in Our Lady's plan for us that day, by his wonderful talk, by generously hearing many confessions and providing a special blessing that was enthusiastically received by many.

As for the fourth guest speaker, Wayne Weible, it was particularly gratifying to have finally met him. Prior to this event, I had only known of him. I discovered his Marian calling through one of his newsletter publications, Miracle at MedjugorjeIt was given to me during my volunteer effort at one of the previous Toronto screenings of The Triumph. Eventually, I visited Wayne's web site Medjugorje Weible and quickly understood that he was chosen by Our Lady to be one of her main vessels to spread Medjugorje throughout the world. To give you a sense of just how significant Wayne's life has become in Our Lady's plan, I would like to quote Wayne in his own words from his new book, Medjugorje The Last Apparition - How It Will Change The World:
For more than 26 years, I have been immersed in all aspects of the apparitions, including constant scrutiny of the messages given from the first day to the present. Much time, professional and personal, has been spent with the visionaries and others directly involved, through formal interviews and casual conversations. I have written eight books about Medjugorje and travelled millions of miles across the globe lecturing on the specific message of the apparitions. It is a mission, and its purpose is to attempt to make people aware of this greatest of spiritual graces, which allows Mary to be the messenger, teacher and spiritual mother to all who will listen. (p.10) 
Upon knowing of Wayne as one of the four guest speakers, it certainly built up my enthusiasm for this event. To have met and chatted with him was a gift. In addition, I not only purchased his new book, but I had the pleasure of having dinner with him, Michael O'Brien, Zaid Jazrawi, and others given by the Ave Maria Center of Peace, to a select group as part of a celebration of what proved to be a very successful day.

On a personal note, I feel very blessed to have been apart of the Marian Day of Prayer. Not only did It strengthen my devotion to Our Lady and encourage my faith journey, but I met so many wonderful people. It is always great to be among like minded individuals. I hope that those who are new to Medjugorje and did not attend the Marian Day of Prayer, will be encouraged to discover and learn more about Our Lady's messages.

The Marian apparitions in Medjugorje are considered to be the "most important event in the world today." Wayne Weible in his aforementioned book provides three main reasons for this. The first, is that this small Bosnian town is place of abundant graces where many spiritual fruits have been harvested. (p.6) Second, the fact that Our Lady has been appearing for 33 years to so many visionaries "with such profound global impact" is like no other apparition in the history of the Catholic Church. (p.21) Third, Our Lady stated that Medjugorje is the last time she will be appearing to the world as an apparition. Why is this so? Our Lady has stated that once the ten secrets come into effect, apparitions will no longer be necessary. (p.21)

To discover Medjugorje is but the first step of a renewed faith journey, the impetus to a greater conversion. The process of discovery must be accompanied by prayer, as Our Lady has stated in her August 25, 1993 message, "Dear children! I want you to understand that I am your Mother, that I want to help you and call you to prayer. Only by prayer can you understand and accept my messages and practice them in your life..." Rest assured that I will include in my daily recitation of the entire Rosary, all those who have been spiritually adopted by Medjugorje and as a special mention, those who will endeavour to discover Medjugorje!

Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Marian Day of Prayer - A Grace Filled Day With Our Lady Queen of Peace

Mirjana Soldo's Monthly Apparition - Scene From The Triumph

The month of May is the "Month of Mary" in the Catholic Church and I hope that most of you who are reading this blog post have made that extra effort to honour Our Blessed Mother during this time. For those of you who have wanted to, but have not done so and would like an opportunity to make up for it, today's post is definitely for you.

In a few days time on Saturday, May 31st, there will be a Marian Day of Prayer at Canada Christian College, a wonderful Marian event organized and presented by the Ave Maria Centre of Peace. It will be a grace filled day that will include: the recitation of the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, confessions available through the day and Mass. In addition, there will be four guest speakers providing testimonials on how Our Lady Queen of Peace in Medjugorje changed their lives: Zaid Jazrawi, a millionaire businessman who sold his businesses to produce The Triumph, Michael O'Brien a converted rock and roll musician who now performs for Our Lady, Father Rick Wendell, a lay Catholic that was called to the priesthood after living a life mired in sin and Wayne Weible, a former newspaper publisher, journalist, and non-practicing Lutheran who sold his publishing business and devoted his life to spreading awareness on the importance of Medjugorje. The program schedule will begin with the screening of the Medjugorje movie, The Triumph. If you missed this documentary's previous screenings here in the Toronto area this past winter, Saturday's Marian event will be an opportunity to view one of the most inspiring films on Medjugorje. For those of you who have honoured Mary in an increased way this month, the Marian Day of Prayer is a perfect way to conclude May's Marian theme.

If you are somewhat new to Medjugorje and The Triumph movie, I have published several posts on both, but perhaps a brief introduction would be in order. Our Lady first appeared in Medjugorje on June 24, 1981 on the Feast of St. John The Baptist to the first two of six visionaries, Ivanka Elez (formerly Ivankovic) and Mirjana Soldo (formerly Dragicevic). The next day, Our Lady appeared to the other four: Marija Lunetti (formerly Pavlovic), Jakov Colo, Ivan Dragicevic and Vicka Mijatovic (formerly Ivankovic). At these apparitions, Our Lady Queen of Peace as she has entitled herself, has prayed with the visionaries, granted blessings and given messages for the world. The four basic messages of Our Lady are: prayer, peace, fasting and penance. Here is Our Lady's basic messages in Her own words on June 6, 1988:
Dear children, it’s going to be seven years soon that I have been coming to you. I ask you to renew in yourselves the messages I have given to you. These are messages of prayer, peace, fasting, and penance. Make some penance yourselves. All of the other messages come from these four basic ones, but also live the other ones. Thank you for responding to my call. I am your Mother. Open your heart to the grace.
Our Lady's messages are so important and have received so much international attention, that today over 40 million pilgrims have gone to and become spiritually adopted by Medjugorje. There is so much peace and hope emanating from Medjugorje that it has clearly become the spiritual center of the world. Medjugorje is a place of many graces where: confessions are heard daily, where the entire Rosary is recited daily, where pilgrims arrive daily, where people find the answers to life questions, where conversions occur, where faith and hope is restored and strengthened, where there are vocations to the priesthood and religious life, where there are all types of healing, where miracles occur everyday, all of which are just some of the fruits harvested in this spiritual orchard we affectionately refer to as Medjugorje.

The messages from Our Lady continue to this day. Immediate access to the current messages and Our Lady's "little stones" (core messages) are available at my sidebar. In addition there are videos from three of the six visionaries: Mirjana Soldo, Jakov Colo and Vicka Mijatovic speaking about Our Lady's messages. I also have published posts on each "little stone" which you can find by clicking on the "Medjugorje" label.

The documentary film, The Triumph produced by Zaid Jazrawi and directed by Sean Bloomfield, is a must see movie for anyone who has a serious devotion to Our Lady. The documentary is presented in the form of a narrative of a young man's life, Ben, who is searching and seeking clarity for his life. Ben accepts Our Lady's invitation to Medjugorje and he quickly experiences a conversion in which he cooperates with Our Lady's plan by entering into the Cenacolo Community, a community for troubled young men who work, live and pray together, beginning life anew.

This ever important documentary of the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje includes a host of various individuals providing their testimony and commentary. An actual apparition, Mirjana Soldo's second of the month apparition is filmed. Bloomfield does a wonderful job capturing the spirit of Our Lady's visit to Mirjana and the joy experienced by the myriad of pilgrims in attendance. In addition to her apparition, the film provides the viewer with an opportunity to get to know Mirjana a bit with the inclusion of an unexpected interview she grants to Ben. As well, the viewer is exposed to the panoramic scenes of the beautiful wine vineyards, Cross Mountain, Apparition Hill, a visit to the Cenacolo Community, Serbian Orthodox Monastery and the Annual Youth Festival. This is but a partial list of what this documentary includes. If you would like to view the trailer, I have it available at my sidebar.

Saint Louis De Montfort in his book, True Devotion To Mary states that, Mary being our model and guide is our most surest and quickest way to Jesus. Mary is a Mother who knows and understands us and who can perfectly guide us on our earthly pilgrimage. Attending the Marian Day of Prayer will be a great opportunity to further experience Mary's love and will no doubt help you to further open your heart to Our Lady and her role in your life.

Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Rosary - Its Importance For Your Salvation

Saint Pope John Paul II reciting the Rosary

With May being the "Month of Mary" today's post is an encouragement to spend more time in prayer with Our Blessed Mother. Some of you may have already responded to May's Marian theme, while others have yet to do so. If you fall into the latter group, I hope today's post will help open your heart and mind to consider a new or renewed devotion to Our Lady. 

Have you thought much about Mary this month? Have you recited any Marian prayers? If you do not pray the entire Rosary, that is, all four sets of mysteries, have you considered adding to the sets of mysteries you currently recite? Have you yet to begin reciting the Rosary each day? Have you ever prayed to Mary? If you find some of these questions intriguing, I hope you will feel encouraged to read further? There are many Marian prayers that you could recite, but today's post focusses on the most Holy Rosary of The Blessed Virgin Mary and its importance for your salvation.

What sets the Rosary apart from other prayers is the efficaciousness of this method of prayer. Next to the Holy Mass, the Rosary is the most powerful prayer available for us to recite. The Rosary is a meditation on the life of and passion of Christ, on Mary's life, on the Gospel lessons and virtues contained within. Mary has been encouraging us to pray the Rosary for centuries. Saint Dominic first received the Rosary in 1214 as a powerful means to convert the Albigensians and combat all sin. Since St. Dominic's time, many other Apostles of Mary have recited and propagated the Rosary including: St. Louis De Montfort, St. Jean Marie Vianney, St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) and St. Pope John Paul II.

In our recent times, Our Lady Queen of Peace in Medjugorje has been emphasizing the importance of prayer for thirty three years. So important is the Rosary for our faith journey, that Our Lady in Medjugorje has included the Rosary as one of the "five little stones," which I have written about in my post entitled, Pray With The Heart The Rosary Everyday. The reference of "little stones" is part of an analogy of the little stones God gave to David to defeat Goliath (1 Samuel 17). In our time, Our Lady has given us "five little stones" to defeat our modern day Goliath, the Evil One. All five stones are listed at my sidebar for your immediate reference and you can find detailed posts on each one by clicking on the "Medjugorje" label. In one of her many Medjugorje messages on the Rosary, Our Lady stated, "I would like the people to pray along with me these days. And to pray as much as possible! And to fast strictly on Wednesdays and Fridays, and every day to pray at least one Rosary: the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries." (August 14, 1984) 

The Rosary is a wonderful daily opportunity to draw closer to Jesus and Mary. It is an invitation from a Mother who loves her children dearly and who wants them to be sanctified and saved. If you are somewhat new to the Rosary, below is a list that reveals the benefits granted to those who recite the Rosary. Saint Louis De Montfort's book, The Secret of The Rosary the Twenty Seventh Rose - Benefits, contains this list: 
  • It gradually brings us a perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ; 
  • It purifies our souls from sin; 
  • It gives us victory over all our enemies; 
  • It makes the practice of virtue easy; 
  • It sets us on fire with the love of our Lord; 
  • It enriches us with graces and merits; 
  • It supplies us with what is needed to pay all our debts to God and to our fellowmen, and finally, it obtains all kinds of graces from God.
For those of you who have never heard of or read The Secret of the Rosary, it is a must read book for anyone who is serious about the Rosary. In the Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis De Montfort endeavours to express the importance and relevance of the Rosary in our lives, both during our earthly pilgrimage and its significance for our eternal salvation. The Secret of The Rosary contains everything that can be said about the Rosary, in terms of its content, form, real worth and the necessary instruction for its application and use. The Secret of The Rosary will bring to the reader not only a better understanding of the Rosary as a form of contemplative prayer, but especially as a guide to the spiritual life. 

From my own experience, it seems that many consider the Rosary as one of many prayers that could be recited, with no particular importance placed upon it. Unfortunately, those that do think this way do not understand the Rosary and why we have been given it. The Rosary is an especially important opportunity for the faithful to accept Our Lady's invitation to sanctity and holiness, to have as our intercessor a Mother who loves us beyond our understanding and who also reads and knows our hearts, who will journey with us, protect us and lead us in the most efficacious and quickest manner to Jesus, Our Saviour and Redeemer. Let us not forget that the primary purpose of our earthly pilgrimage is our salvation. With this in mind, who would not want a powerful intercessor as the Blessed Virgin Mary to obtain for them all that they need for the journey? Many do not think in such terms, but this is exactly how we should view Our Lady's role in our lives.

To further spot light the significance of the Rosary for our salvation, I would like to share an anecdote of a Roman woman's confessional experience with Saint Dominic. I am certain it will serve as a great encouragement for those who have yet to embrace the Rosary and its daily recitation. This anecdote can be found in The Secret of The Rosary's Twenty Sixth Rose - Sublime Prayer. Below is an excerpt from this chapter:
Whatever you do, do not be like a certain pious but self-willed lady in Rome, so often referred to by speakers on the Rosary. She was so devout and fervent that she put to shame by her holy life even the strictest religious in the church. 
Having decided to ask St. Dominic's advice about her spiritual life, she made her confession to him. For penance he gave her one Rosary to say and advised her to say it every day. She excused herself, saying that she had her regular exercises, that she made the Stations of Rome every day, that she wore sackcloth as well as a hair-shirt, that she gave herself the discipline several times a week, that she often fasted and did other penances. Saint Dominic urged her over and over again to take his advice and say the Rosary, but she would not hear of it. She left the confessional, horrified at the methods of this new spiritual director who had tried so hard to persuade her to take up a devotion for which she had no taste. 
Later on, when she was at prayer she fell into ecstasy and had a vision of her soul appearing before the Supreme Judge. Saint Michael put all her penances and to her prayers on one side of the scale and all her sins and imperfections on the other. The tray of her good works were greatly outweighed by that of her sins and imperfections. 
Filled with alarm, she cried out for mercy, imploring the help of the Blessed Virgin, her gracious advocate, who took the one and only Rosary she had said for her penance and dropped it on the tray of her good works. This one Rosary was so heavy that it weighed more than all her sins as well as her good works. Our Lady then reproved her for having refused to follow the counsel of her servant Dominic and for not saying the Rosary every day. 
As soon as she came to herself she rushed and threw herself at the feet of Saint Dominic and told him all that had happened, begged his forgiveness and promised to say the Rosary faithfully every day. By this means she rose to Christian perfection and finally to the glory of everlasting life. 
The lesson to be learned from this anecdote is abundantly clear, we need to pray the Rosary every day. If you are new to the Rosary or you have never prayed it daily, it is not something that you can embark on and hope to accomplish so quickly. To pray the entire Rosary daily may appear to be quite a daunting "task" for those that have never or infrequently recited it, but there is a way to accomplish this. The successful daily recitation of the entire Rosary requires a heart felt commitment and an adjustment to your daily calendar. 

One of the fundamental aspects of reciting the Rosary that must be understood from the very beginning is that it is an expression of love and not a "task." Praying the Rosary should not be considered as a forced obligation or recited with the aim of completing all the prayers. Not always being properly disposed does not excuse you from praying the Rosary. The recitation of the Rosary should be a continuous act of love, an extension of your love for Our Lady. The Rosary is "praying with the heart," and an intention you should include each day at each recitation, in order to receive the graces to do so. Praying with the heart is one of Our Lady's most consistent Medjugorje messages to us, her children.

On your part, cooperation with grace must be your daily effort to pray the Rosary, striving to increase your capacity to pray. Reaching your daily goal of reciting the entire Rosary is much like an athlete training for a marathon. As an athlete begins to train for a marathon by running only a few kilometres, so too must you do likewise, by praying only a decade or two and building upon that. As an athlete builds up his or her capacity to run farther, so too will your capacity increase to pray more decades. Eventually, much like an athlete that ran the distance and crossed the finish line, so too will you "pray the distance" and cross the spiritual finish line.

May Our Lady Queen of Peace inspire you to recite the Rosary daily and guide and protect you as you train for the Marathon of Grace.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Saint Pope John Paul II - My Tribute To An Extraordinary Soul

Karol Józef Wojtyła - Saint Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II has profoundly influenced my life in so many ways that to include the complete details would entail the publishing of a series of blog posts. My post of today and my previous posts under the new label "Saint Pope John Paul II" have already begun to create that series. It would take several more posts to capture the vast contributions he has made to the Church and the world. To do so, would be part of a fitting tribute for such an extraordinary soul whose life example shall forever remain as a treasure for humanity to draw from.

For those of us who have come to know this wonderful saint and have benefitted from his life example, his canonization has been a time for joy and gratitude. Today's post is an expression of my joy and gratitude, my tribute to an extraordinary soul. It is one that I unite to all Catholics and Christians alike and all people of good will, who are remembering the life of a great man, a friend to humanity. 

In my view, one of the most intriguing aspects of Saint Pope John Paul II's life has been his positive response to the negativity and evil of this world, which he personally experienced in so many ways. As a teenager and young adult, he responded to the circumstances of his life as an actor, philosopher, poet, playwright, but his greatest response to the enormity of evil that he witnessed was, as a priest. The ministry of the priesthood allowed him to broaden his reach and in a greater and more fundamental way, live his life in communion with others as a sincere and total gift of self. It was because he positively responded with love that he effectively tackled the many evils facing the Church and the world: war, totalitarian regimes, secularism, consumerism, the trappings, lies and deception brought on in part by modernity and the attacks on the family, the dignity and respect for the human person and the value and inviolability of human life. 

Saint Pope John Paul II's life was one deeply rooted in prayer. He had complete trust in Divine Providence, one that was centered on Christ and strengthened through the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So great was Pope John Paul II's trust in God and devotion to Mary that it had permeated his entire life and pontificate. He revealed this in many ways. His papal moto, Totus Tuus (Totally Yours), was borrowed from St. Louis De Montfort, another great saint in the history of the Catholic Church whose devotion to Mary produced two Marian classics: True Devotion to Mary and The Secret of The RosaryOne of the most inspiring examples of his trust in God and devotion to Mary was when he commented one year after being shot in St. Peter's Square, "In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences." His statement was an acceptance of God's plan that was fostered by his firm belief in the Blessed Mother's intervention in deflecting one of the bullets that otherwise would have caused massive internal bleeding and his death within a few minutes. Saint Pope John Paul II's trust in Divine Providence was nourished, strengthened and sustained by his prayer and devotions, by his relationship with the Holy Trinity and Mary that can be aptly described as Divine Intimacy. The result of which was a blessed and grace filled life that allowed him to tackle the many challenges he faced, both on a personal level and in his priestly ministry, from his first parish assignment at St. Florian's in Kraków to his election as Pope in Rome in 1978. 

Karol Józef Wojtyła, better known to the world as Saint Pope John Paul II was born on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland which is several kilometers south west of Kraków. Early in his childhood, he experienced tragedy on two fronts: the first was the death of his mother when he was nine, the other was the death of his older brother Edmund in 1932 a doctor who contracted scarlet fever from a patient he was treating. With such losses, the principle figure in the young Karol's life was his father, the elder Karol Wojtyła, who was known to everyone in Wadowice as "the Captain." The elder Karol was a retired army officer whose profound Catholic faith and integrity left a lasting impression on the young Karol as an example of manly piety.

During his exceptional years in high school, he had a through interest in literature of Polish Romanticism, which began to nurture a life long interest with the theater. In 1938, the young Karol and his father moved to Kraków where he began his studies in Polish philology at Jagiellonian University. Although his university life was interrupted by the double occupation of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, he continued with clandestine studies at the same university, which for a while had become an underground institution. There was some benefit to this interruption. During World War II, Karol spent his war years as a manual labourer. Forced to acquire a work permit, he worked in the Zakrzówek rock quarry in Kraków, then in the Solvay chemical factory in the southern part of Kraków. The experience gave him a profound understanding of manual labour and the dignity and rights that should be accorded to labourers.

Part of his university days were not only a time of study, but also a time discovery of Polish culture, which he helped to spread and promote through reading, poetry and acting. The Jagiellonian University sponsored the Rhapsodic Theater, a five member troupe that without costumes or props, practiced theater ensuring that classic Polish drama and poetry was not forgotten. This was vital in the effort to keep Polish culture alive in the minds and memories of Poles. It was a culture that was under attack by the Nazi occupiers who were attempting to eradicate all Polish culture and thus, any tangible reality of Poland. It was at this time that he also took on the role of leader in the Living Rosary groups and discovered Carmelite spirituality.

Further trying times entered the young Karol's life. First, he narrowly escaped capture on two occasions from the Gestapo, the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Then, one night while walking home, he was hit by a truck and suffered a broken shoulder and concussion, left in a roadside ditch, only to be rescued by a local woman and German officer who took him to the hospital. The wartime experience was a vocational struggle that was accelerated by the death of his father in the fall of 1942. After some time and a lot of prayer, he discerned that his life was not mean to be lived as a lay person in the theater, but instead he was being called to a greater dramatic role, that of a Catholic priest.

After resolving his vocation struggle over months of prayer, Karol Wojtyla presented himself to archbishop of Kraków, Adam Stefan Sapieha, who accepted him as a candidate for the priesthood. In 1942, Sapieha gave Karol a place in the clandestine seminary he was conducting. It was young Karol Wojtyla's "yes" to the priesthood that officially began a life long journey as a pastor to many parishes in Poland and eventually throughout the world.

Saint Pope John Paul II's vocational discernment and correct response to God's call to became a priest, began a life of service to Church which all of humanity has benefited from. His meteoric rise in the hierarchy of the Church was a clear sign of the greatness of his life response to God's call. Saint Pope John Paul II's deep faith, moral courage, heroic virtue, unwavering refusal to make any compromise against the truth, and firm belief in the power of God's word to cut through the world's lies, in my view has left us with one of the most important examples in recent Church history for millions around the world to follow.

I think it is most fitting to include in my tribute today an encouragement to learn more about the extraordinary life of Saint Pope John Paul II. The Vatican web site has a dedicated section, Holy See - Pope John Paul II, that provides a complete list of his documents, speeches, homilies and travels during his pontificate. In addition there is the Vatican Biography page of His Holiness John Paul II. You may want to consider reading a book or two on his life. I would like to recommend George Weigel's Witness To Hope and the sequel, The End and The Beginning. George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Catholic theologian and one of America’s leading public intellectuals. He holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He was also personally selected by Saint Pope John Paul II to write his biography.

As we endeavour to better understand Saint Pope John Paul II's life and learn from it, let us set out anew following his words of encouragement to the world from his inaugural homily in October'1978, "...To all people of today I once again repeat the impassioned cry with which I began my pastoral ministry: “Do not be afraid! Open, in deed, open wide the doors to Christ!..."

Saint Pope John Paul II, pray for us.