Saturday, September 20, 2014

Labouring In The Vineyard For The Unborn and Nonbelievers

Life Chain Fall'2013 at Hwy. 7 and Islington Ave.

With the Fall'2014 Life Chain effort only a few weeks away, I thought it fitting to publish a post in which I hope to encourage my fellow Catholics to not only participate in this pro-life effort, but to become better informed on what the Catholic faith teaches about abortion, the killing of a developing human being in the womb.

If you are new to Life Chain, it is one hour of silent prayer raising public awareness on the evil of abortion. It involves a public witness whereby participants hold signs that typically read, "abortion kills children or babies" coupled with a group or individual recitation of the Rosary. Emphasis is on the "silent" part. Participants are not to chat with each other, nor engage in any debates with those who pass by. Again, it is a silent prayer witness. This year's Life Chain will be on October 5th from 2:00pm-3:00pm at two locations in Woodbridge: Highway 7 and Kipling and Major MacKenzie and Islington Avenue. You might be asking yourself, why do you have to get involved in a public witness against abortion. The answer is rather simple. Participation in Life Chain is an opportunity for the laity to "labour in the vineyard" for the unborn and nonbelievers and forms part of an evangelization effort to identify and denounce the evil of abortion. By your presence at Life Chain, you not only witness to others on the evil of abortion, but you strengthen your own resolve to accept and live the truth about life and the dignity of the human person.

If you have never heard of the phrase "labouring in the vineyard," you might be wondering, what exactly does this mean? It is a reference from Saint Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (Christ's Faithful People), a document that seeks to explain the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world. In the first paragraph St. Pope John Paul II states:
The lay members of Christ's Faithful People (Christifideles Laici)...are those who form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the labourers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew's Gospel: "For the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard." (Matthew 20:1-2)
Our "vineyard" is the vast world we live in, one that is to be transformed according to God's plan whereby everyone, both of men and women are called to labour in anticipation of the final coming of the Kingdom of God. (CL, 1) Saint Pope John Paul II also states in the same document that, "A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle." (CL, 3) Saint Pope John Paul II wrote this document and was referring to the Church and the world in 1988, a very significant year for Canadian society in particular. It was during that same year that Canada faced a constitutional challenge by the infamous Dr. Henry Morgantaler who successfully sought the removal of all legal barriers to abortion in an effort to establish and make available abortion on demand. Such a challenge was made possible by the 1969 Omnibus Bill which permitted "therapeutic abortions" for almost twenty years prior to Morgantaler's challenge. If you would like to know more about the chronological order of events of how abortion become available in Canada, please view Campaign Life Coalition's Chronology of Laws page.

Resulting from Morgantaler's constitutional challenge has been the rapid expansion of abortion facilities across the nation. You may have seen the facilities in your neighbourhood, euphemistically named as "women's health care clinics or services." Is there any more proof needed to spot light the moral disorder in Canada that has ushered in with it, a "culture of death?" How much more urgent and necessary is it now in Canada for the laity to "labour in the vineyard?" It is an urgency spot lighted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's recent article on Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau, which included many anti-life statements from Trudeau, of which the most notable was, "Women’s reproductive rights trump the freedom of Liberal members of parliament to vote their conscience on abortion." In short, Justin Trudeau's dictatorial approach is one that seeks to remove the freedom of members of parliament from the Liberal Party, to vote against abortion when such individuals, in good conscience, know and understand abortion to be morally evil. This continued political effort to justify and allow abortion in Canada is a very sad development in Canadian politics, one that began with Justin Trudeau's father, the former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who was the Prime Minister when the Omnibus Bill was read and passed in 1969 in the House of Commons.

An essential component of our "labouring in the vineyard" for the unborn and nonbelievers is to be prepared to explain the Catholic Church teaching on abortion. One of the key sources to draw from is the Catechism of The Catholic Church. At Section Two The Ten Commandments, Chapter Two You Shall Love Your Neighbour As Yourself, Article 5 The Fifth Commandment, it specifically states: 
"You shall not kill...Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being." (2258)
If you have ever had any discussions or disputes with those in favour of abortion, I am sure you have noticed that they completely ignore God and his creative action. To remove this from any discussion on the beginnings of human life in the womb is to ignore the truth. It is a truth that those of us who know, understand and accept it, must always include and never make any compromises against. Under no circumstances is abortion acceptable. This is what the Catholic Church teaches:
Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: "Do not slay the innocent and the righteous." The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. the law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere. (2261)
All types of justifications are presented by those in favour of killing a developing human being in the womb. You probably have heard some of the deceptive language: the need to have surgical abortions to ensure a safe procedure, "reproductive rights," "it's my body," abortion is necessary when the mother's life is in danger, a woman should not have to remain pregnant when a child was conceived in rape, "no religion should tell me what to do," the child is the "wrong" sex or an ultrasound revealed deformities. These and all other uses of language that try to rationalize the killing of a developing human being in the womb, are not only offensive to God, contrary to God's laws, but demonstrate a fundamental lack of respect for human life. 

At sections 2270-2275, the Catechism of The Catholic Church specifically deals with the abortion issue. This part of the catechism states with absolute clarity how human life must be respected from the moment of conception in the womb. (2270) The part of Church teaching that I find particularly interesting is in section 2271, which details how the moral evil of abortion has been a teaching of the Church since the first century and remains unchangeable:
Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law: You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish. God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.
The catechism also details the punishments assigned to those who procure a completed abortion, that is, the canonical penalty of excommunication. (2272) In addition, there is informative reading on how the inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a "constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation." (2273) The moral guidelines of when a prenatal diagnosis is permitted, that is, in so far as it is done as a matter of respecting life and the integrity of the human fetus and can not at any time be used to induce an abortion, rendering a diagnosis as a "death sentence. (2274) Last, any exploitation and use of human embryos as disposable biological material is completely forbidden as well as any attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance. (2275)

In addition to the Catechism of The Catholic Church, I would like to recommend another key source from the Catholic Church, the well known pro-life encyclical from Saint Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Viate (The Gospel of Life), issued on March 25th, 1995 on the Solemnity of The Annunciation of The Lord. If you are unfamiliar with the late pontiff's writings, Evangelium Vitae is considered to be one of the most important documents of Saint Pope John Paul II's pontificate. If you search my blog for the Evangelium Vitae label, prior to today, I have published three posts on this document. So important is Evangelium Vitae that the Vatican has established an Evangelium Vitae Day, celebrated each year on June 15th-16th.

Eighty pages printed, Evangelium Vitae is a thorough read and is sure to satisfy anyone's desire to know the truth about the value and inviolability of human life. Saint Pope John Paul II did not hesitate to identify and denounce all threats to human life including: abortion, euthanasia, death penalty and human embryo research. Each threat is given specific sections, in which Saint Pope John Paul II elaborated on each threat in detail. At a minimum, if you are pressed for time and can not read this entire document, I would like to recommend you at least read, Chapter III - You Shall Not Kill, God's holy law beginning at section 52 and extends to section 62. The specific details on the evil of abortion are located at sections 58-62. The treasure of truths contained in these respective sections alone will afford you the opportunity to further your understanding of the abortion issue and communicate them better to others.

So much could be included when writing about Evangelium Vitae, and for the sake of brevity of this blog post, I am not going to elaborate on all that this document contains. To illustrate how relevant and pertinent this encyclical is though, I would like to quote from section 58 which accurately depicts society's refusal of God's law. It is a refusal that has continued since this encyclical's release in 1995, manifesting itself in many ways:
Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an "unspeakable crime". But today, in many people's consciences, the perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behaviour and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet is extremely straightforward: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Is 5:20). Especially in the case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as "interruption of pregnancy", which tends to hide abortion's true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth. (EV, 58)
As I share this gift of Evangelium Vitae with everyone, it is my hope that each visitor of this blog will be blessed to recognize, understand and accept the truth on the evil of abortion and share this truth with others. In particular, I reach out to the younger generations who may not have heard of or known Saint Pope John Paul II and all the works God accomplished through him which are a complete treasure to draw from. If you have yet to discover the amazing life of Saint Pope John Paul II, the Vatican has a dedicated section on him, The Holy See - Pope John Paul II

Lastly, if you are going to endeavour to labour in the vineyard for the unborn and nonbelievers, begin your effort with prayer. Prayer is the most important aspect of all your efforts. The Holy Mass and the Rosary are the two most powerful forms of prayers. Depending on what your schedule permits, I respectfully encourage you to make an effort to go to Mass more than once a week and offer it up for the unborn children, their mothers and fathers, those who procure abortions and all other nonbelievers. Praying the Rosary daily for the same intentions, imploring Our Lady of Guadalupe's, Protectress of the Unborn intercession, is also an effective part of your prayer efforts in this spiritual battle. If you are new to the Rosary or do not pray it frequently, I would like to recommend two of my previous posts on the Rosary: The Rosary - An Introduction and The Rosary - A Marathon of Grace.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Medjugorje The Last Apparition - How It Will Change The World
Medjugorje The Last Apparition
If the title of this blog post intrigues you, it should because Medjugorje has a special significance of all the Marian apparitions. Our Lady in Medjugorje has stated that "What I started in Fatima, I will finish in Medjugorje. My heart will triumph." In my view, this is probably one of the most significant messages from Our Lady in Medjugorje. It is a message that not only invites Marian devotees and all Catholics to embrace the apparitions in Medjugorje, but to discover their unique purpose.

Trying to understand what Our Lady meant by the completion her work in Medjugorje is not something you arrive at so quickly. If you are somewhat new to these apparitions this adds to an even bigger challenge of familiarizing yourself with all that has gone on since they began on June 24th, 1981. There is a lot to learn and understand from the many messages of which the most important and first message of all, is that Our Lady is Our Mother and she is present in Medjugorje and she is calling us. Whether you are at the humble beginnings of discovering Medjugorje, have already done some reading on these apparitions or have known about them for years, I would like to recommend Wayne Weible's book, Medjugorje The Last Apparition - How It Will Change The World.

Trusted and credible resources are essential in your discovery or rediscovery of the apparitions in Medjugorje. Wayne Weible is certainly one such resource, who over the past thirty years has visited Medjugorje over 110 times and written extensively about it.  
Wayne Weible set out to work for Our Lady in the early to mid 80's. After receiving the call, he sold his four newspapers and directed his gifts to spreading the news on the apparitions in Medjugorje. Three decades later Wayne continues his service to Our Mother and the result has been an impressive publication of books, articles and newsletters that have been sold in the millions, of which his first book Medjugorje: The Message remains on the international best seller list. Add to this his speaking engagements and appearances at conferences all over the globe and you can easily grasp that Wayne has responded to Our Lady's call in a very positive and generous way. In my view, Wayne Weible should be considered one of "the" resources to access in your quest to understand Medjugorje. I urge you to learn more about Wayne Weible's life by visiting his web site, At this site you will have access to many of his works and be exposed to a grace filled life that has been dedicated to working for Our Lady in Medjugorje. 

In May of this year in Toronto at the Marian Day of Prayer conference I had the pleasure of meeting Wayne Weible. To have spent time with him on a one to one level was a gift. Listening to Wayne at the conference I not only learned a great deal about Medjugorje, but my Marian devotion was strengthened because of the experience. It was at this conference that I purchased his book that I write about today. I knew at that time, that Wayne Weible was one of the "veterans" of Medjugorje, who began his work in the early days of the apparitions, so it was with great anticipation that I awaited the reading. I was not to be disappointed.

As one who recently finished reading this book, I add to the list of accolades from Michael Brown of Spirit DailyImmaculee Ilibagiza the Rwandan genocide survivor, Michael Ripple author of A Lost Shepherd and Christine Watkins author of Full of Grace: Miraculous Stories of healing and Conversion through Mary's Intercession, by stating that Wayne's book, Medjugorje The Last Apparition - How It Will Change The World, should be seriously considered for anyone seeking clarity and understanding as to what these Marian apparitions in Medjugorje are all about, the many developments over the past thirty three years and their unique significance for the world. 

Wayne's historical account of Our Lady's presence in Medjugorje deals with many essential aspects leading the reader from: the early days of the apparitions, to the Communist persecutions, to the lives and struggles two Franciscan friars, Frs. Jozo Zovko and Slavko Barbaric, to some of the internal conflicts within the Church, to the six visionaries and their assigned prayer missions, to the personal pilgrimages and statements of top Vatican officials such as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Head of the Congregation For The Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria, and Saint Pope John Paul II, to his insights of the ten secrets and to the concluding chapter of his book, where he explains why Medjugorje is the "last apparition and how it will change the world."

Weible also spot lights how there has been such an incredible international response from the world, in which over 50 million people have made the pilgrimage to Medjugorje. The acceptance of Our Lady's invitation by so many of her "children" has resulted in the harvesting of many spiritual fruits in this grace filled land, which Weible notes has been the conversion of millions to the Catholic faith, vocations to the priesthood and religious life, the establishment of charities and communities such as Cenacolo and Mother's Village, and more than 80,000 youth that arrive each year for the Medjugorje International Youth Festival

Wayne often states, "Medjugorje is the most important event in the world today." I sincerely hope you purchase this book and find out why. If you do, I am sure you will experience a feeling of gratitude to Our Lady for having chosen and guided Wayne to make the apparitions in Medjugorje better known and understood.

Thank you Wayne Weible for your book, Medjugorje The Last Apparition - How It Will Change The World and your dedicated work serving Our Lady.

Hvaljen Isus i Marija (Praised be Jesus and Mary)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Medjugorje's Prayer Program - A Daily Retreat

At the group recitation of the Rosary before evening Mass

If you are planning to go to Medjugorje or are already on route I hope today's post will encourage you to take part in Medjugorje's Prayer Program. Visiting Apparition Hill, Cross Mountain, The Blue Crosseschatting with fellow pilgrims, enjoying a coffee or tea with friends, going for long walks is sure to be on your "to do" list during your stay in Medjugorje. What you may have yet to include in your daily itinerary is Medjugorje's Prayer Program, a very well organized prayer schedule for all pilgrims that begins in the morning and extends well into the evening. The Franciscan friars in Medjugorje have done an excellent job establishing and implementing the Prayer Program, ensuring that pilgrims will truly have a spiritually beneficial experience. Whether you have been a devout Catholic all your life, recently converted or new to prayer, the Prayer Program will help introduce and strengthen your prayer life and your relationship with Jesus and Mary. 

The Prayer Program begins with Mass at 7:30am in Croatian, which is followed by several other Masses in various languages throughout the morning. English Mass is usually celebrated at either 10:00am or 12:00pm in St. James or the parish hall. In the afternoon, silent adoration is available in the Adoration Chapel, located between the parish Information Center and the outdoor seating at St. James back alter. As evening arrives so too does the opportunity to go to confession, which is available daily in Medjugorje beginning at 6:00pm and extends for many hours. One priest shared with me that on one particular day, he finished hearing his last confession at 11:00pm. As confessions are being heard at both sides of St. James Church, a group recitation of the Rosary simultaneously begins at 6:00pm with the Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries at the back altar of the church. After the completion of the Sorrowful Mysteries, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary is sung, followed by Mass beginning at 7:00pm. Eucharistic Adoration is added to the evening prayers on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10:00pm-11:00pm and on Thursdays from 8:00pm-9:00pm. Veneration of the Cross takes place every Friday after evening Mass from 8:00pm-9:00pm. On Fridays at 6:00am, the Stations of The Cross are recited at Cross Mountain and group recitation of the Rosary on Apparition Hill on Sundays at 6:00am. The above noted times are during the summer months. During winter, most of these times are typically adjusted to one hour earlier. A pamphlet providing general information of the Prayer Program can be obtained at the parish Information Center. The outdoor monitors at this same location provide the specific details on each day's prayer program.

Capturing the evening part of the Prayer Program's Veneration of the Cross

Upon my arrival in Medjugorje, I greatly anticipated visiting the main apparition sites and spending many hours in prayer during the day, hoping to encounter Our Lady's presence in a profound way. I was not disappointed. What I did not anticipate was that same profound experience of Our Lady's presence during the evening part of the Prayer Program. Being somewhat new to Medjugorje, I wasn't really sure what the evening part of the Prayer Program entailed and what exactly to expect from it all. This did not in any way diminished my expectation of the anticipated peace and joy that I hoped would be experienced and felt in a very conscious way. I was pleased to discover that each night was an amazing experience. Being in Medjugorje and participating in the Prayer Program, especially the dedicated 4-5 hours of nightly prayers, was the equivalent of attending a daily retreat. Accepting Our Lady's invitation to go to Medjugorje and being in the company of so many others who have done likewise, really added to the joyful experience that can only truly be understood if you experience it yourself. This is what awaits those who are on route or scheduled to go to Medjugorje.

In addition to the Rosary prayers, the evening part of the Prayer Program also affords pilgrims an opportunity for a special personal encounter with Our Lady. What I am referring to is the brief stoppage of the group recitation of the Rosary at 6:40pm each night. This is done to acknowledge Our Lady's daily appearance to three of the six visionaries: Ivan, Marija and Vicka. All in attendance at the back alter of St. James, both the clergy and the laity, kneel down for approximately three minutes in private prayer to Our Lady. 

Evening part of the Prayer Program - Veneration of The Cross

The healing prayers and meditations were an especially beneficial inclusion in the evening part of the Prayer Program. These prayers and meditations are recited so beautifully that you can not help but feel the healing process begin and a gain sense of gratitude to Jesus and Mary. The many blessings you receive, that feeling of being strengthened with many graces, the overwhelming peaceful experience of it all, is something that can barely be described with words. Medjugorje is a land of great graces and this is what you receive and experience throughout the day and in a concentrated way, at the evening part of the Prayer Program. It is the perfect way to end the day, a peaceful and joyful encounter with Jesus and Mary on a nightly basis. May your daily participation in Medjugorje's Prayer Program be a faith strengthening and grace filled experience.

Hvaljen Isus i Marija (Praised be Jesus and Mary)

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. James, in the same building and adjacent to the parish Information Center.

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.