“I have come to tell the world that God exists. Peace! Be reconciled! Peace.”

With these words, something very interesting began on June 1981. According to the testimony of six young people, the Blessed Virgin Mary began appearing to them with a Message for the World.

Since June 24, 1981 more than 40 million people of all religions and ethnic backgrounds have visited Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They travel to this tiny, remote village because they believe that since June 24, 1981 there have been apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary happening in and around St. James Church in Medjugorje.

I am a native Pittsburgher and I am one of those believers. I traveled to Medjugorje in June 1994 with my sister and my cousin for the first time, after my mom passed away, to thank the Blessed Mother for a miracle my family received from Her. The rosary beads that my mom prayed on everyday changed color. The silver crucifix and links changed to a rose gold color the night she was laid out at the funeral home. I was told by my Pastor, the Rev. Richard Ward at Sts. Simon and Jude parish “that it was a sign from the Blessed Virgin Mary telling my mom was okay.” That night at the funeral home I felt a peace, love and joy I had not known before, and it remains with me until this day.

Our Lady of Medjugorje, as the Pilgrims who travel to Medjugorje call the Blessed Mother, believe She has been sent by God as in the apparitions of the Blessed Mother in Lourdes and Fatima.  She gives messages of Peace and Hope in Medjugorje according to the testimony of six young people from Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The apparition identified Herself as the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace.  She states She is bringing an urgent message for mankind to return to God. She said to the children, “I have come to tell the world that God exists.  He is the fullness of life, and to enjoy the fullness and obtain peace, you must return to God.”

According to the Information Center at Medjugorje, the parish of Medjugorje is situated in Herzegovina, 2 km southwest of Mostar. Medjugorje signifies a region between two mountains where today about 5,000 inhabitants live. The pastoral care of the parish is confided to the priests of the Herzegovinian Franciscan Province of the Assumption of Mary. In historical documents the village was mentioned in 1599 for the first time. The present parish was founded in 1892, and dedicated to St. James the Apostle, protector of pilgrims.

Until June 24, 1981, Medjugorje lived like all other villages of the region: people worked on their land, planted tobacco and vineyards, produced wine and vegetables to acquire just enough for a modest life for their families.

In 1981, when the apparitions started, the life of the parish changed. Our Lady chose for her witnesses and co-workers not only the six visionaries, but also the entire parish and its pilgrims. This was expressly told in the following message: “I have chosen this parish in a special way and I wish to lead it.” (March 1, 1984)

On June 24, 1981, at about 6 pm, six young people – Ivanka Ivankovic, Mirjana Dragicevic, Vicka Ivankovic, Ivan Dragicevic, Ivan Ivankovic and Milka Pavlovic, saw on the hill called Crnica, several hundred meters above the place called Podbrdao, a young woman with a child in her arms, who gave them a sign with her hand to come nearer. Surprised and scared, they did not approach her.

The next day, June 25, 1981, at the same time, four of them: Ivanka Ivankovic, Mirjana Dragicevic, Vicka Ivankovic and Ivan Dragicevic, felt strongly drawn toward the place where they had seen the person the day before, which they had recognized as Our Lady – Marija Pavlovic and Jakov Colo joined them. The

group of Medjugorje visionaries was formed. They prayed and spoke with Our Lady. This is why June 25th is celebrated as the Anniversary of the apparitions. According to the testimony of the visionaries, from that day onward, they had daily apparitions, together or separately, wherever they were. Milka Pavlovic and Ivan Ivankovic never saw Our Lady again.

The third day of the apparitions, June 26, 1981, Our Lady gave the call to peace for the first time with the words: “Peace, peace, peace – and only peace! Peace must reign between God and man and between men!” Attracted by Our Lady’s apparitions and messages, people – first the parishioners and then from other villages and from all over the world – started to gather and pray.

The persecution of the visionaries of their parents and relatives, of the parishioners and priests, and even of the pilgrims began immediately after the beginning of the apparitions. The visionaries were taken for police investigations and psychiatric examinations, but it was always stated that they were healthy. The same conclusion brought about further examinations done in the following years.

Fr. Jozo Zovko, pastor of Medjugorje at that time, was arrested fifty days after the first apparition. Although innocent, he was condemned by a communist court to three and a half years of prison.

According to the unanimous witness of the visionaries, Our Lady gives them messages to be transmitted to the parish and to the world. They mainly address PEACE, FAITH, CONVERSION, PRAYER, and FASTING. The parishioners and the pilgrims have to become witnesses of Our Lady’s apparitions and messages first, and then, together with the visionaries, join her in the realization of the plan of the conversion of the world and its reconciliation with God.

At the end of 1982 in Medjogorje, Our Lady addressed herself through inner locutions (locuto cordis) to two ten-year old girls, Jelena, and Marijana Vasilj. Through their prayer group, she gave – from 1983 to 1987 – counsel to the prayer movement that was created from the very beginning of the apparitions.

Our Lady’s messages given in Medjugorje constitute a specific school of peace, of prayer and of love.

Our Lady has been appearing daily to the seers until the seer receives ten secrets.  She has given them thousands of messages, for themselves, for the parish, for the region, and for the world.  Some people may ask why so many messages and why do the visionaries claim She comes for so long?

Only God knows the answer to those questions. My question is, why would God not want to talk to us – today especially? Our Lady’s call for peace, prayer and conversion has been the main message of Medjugorje for over 34 years. This call is not being embraced. Instead war and suffering of all kinds are emerging as never before.

Our Lady presents herself as a servant messenger from God.  She states that prayer and conversion are the conditions for world peace.  Our Lady says, “Now is the period of great grace and has been given to us for time to pray and convert to God.”  She stressed, “Peace in the world is in a state of crisis. Mankind must be reconciled with God and with one another.”

Her messages are for the entire world, and She calls upon all her children to reconcile with God and their neighbor by converting their lives.  Only then will the world find the peace it strives for, the peace that only God can give.

Our Lady began giving weekly, then monthly messages received and written down by Medjugorje visionary Marija. These messages quickly began to appear around the world in many languages reaching many millions of people. June 25, 2006 was the 25 th Anniversary of Our Lady, the Queen of Peace appearing in Medjugorje. Our Lady gave the following message for the world that day through Marija Pavolovic Lunetti:

“Dear children! With great joy in my heart I thank you for all the prayers that, in these days, you offered for my intentions. Know, little children, that you will not regret it, neither you nor your children. God will reward you with great graces and you will earn eternal life. I am near you and thank all those who, through these years have accepted my messages, have poured them into their life and decided for holiness and peace. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

The visionaries say “Our Lady promised she would leave a visible sign on the hill of the first apparition in Medjugorje for all humanity. She said, ‘the sign will be miraculous in origin, visible and permanent (indestructible); it will be a testimony and cause for conversions among many unbelievers.’”

Signs and miracles have been very evident at Medjugorje.  A common occurrence, witnessed by thousands, is seeing the sun change colors, spin and become a silver disk pulsating in the sky.  I first witnessed this spiritual phenomenon with my sister in June 1994 and then experienced it again in July 2006 with some of our group in Medjugorje. A huge bronze sculpture of a cross called the Risen Christ behind St. James Church has been oozing a substance witnessed by all to see and touch. While there I could sit and look at the sculpture forever.

There have been hundreds of claimed physical healings; MS, recovery of sight, cancer, deafness, and cures from addictions, but the most important wonders have been the spiritual healings, the conversions, people changing their lives and reconciling with God and each other.  Countless thousands have suddenly found their faith renewed in Medjugorje. They come from all over the world. Countless young and old gather each night for Holy Mass at Medjugorje with a love and devotion for God I have not experienced before. The peace and love felt at this time is not of this world.

One might ask if God is everywhere and “the highest heaven cannot contain Him” (Kings 8:27), then why make a pilgrimage to a shrine?

Pope John Paul II answered this very question when he dedicated the International Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, Poland on August 17, 2002. “At first glance to bind ‘certain’ places to God’s presence might seem inappropriate,” he said. “We can never forget that time and space belong to God in their entirety. Yet even though time and the entire world may be considered His ‘temple’, God has chosen certain times and places to enable people to experience in a special way His presence and His grace. Impelled by their sense of faith, people journey to these places, confident that they will truly find themselves in the presence of God.”

In 1986 the Holy Father said, “Let the people go to Medjugorje if they convert, pray, confess, do penance, and fast.”

In documents of Vatican II, we read, “Mary advanced on Her pilgrimage of faith and faithfully persevered in Her union with Her Son unto the Cross” (Lumen Gentium). This sentence makes us realize that Mary, like ourselves, walked in faith. She is as Pope John Paul described Her, “a Pilgrim of Love.” Mary shows us by Her example what it means to be pilgrim and stranger on this earth, ever longing for the final destination of our pilgrimage; the new and eternal Jerusalem.

Medjugorje visionary Mirjana Dragicevic Soldo told our pilgrimage group while in Medjugorje on March 25, 2006 that “she went to Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope John Paul II blessed her. When he was told she was Mirjana the visionary from Medjugorje, she received a second blessing from the Holy Father and a call from a priest the next day inviting her to Castle Gondolfo to meet with the Holy Father.” Mirjana told us, “I had a private ten minute visit with Pope John Paul II and he told me that if he were not Pope he would have visited Medjugorje a long time ago.” He asked Mirjana “to ask the pilgrims to pray for his intentions and he said he was following Medjugorje.” Mirjana said it was such a special time for her – one she will always remember.

Mirjana receives a message from Our Lady on the second day of each month. Our Lady’s message through Mirjana on August 2, 2006 was,

“Dear Children, In these peaceless times I am coming to you to show you the way to peace. I love you with an immeasurable love and I desire for you to love each other and to see in everyone my Son – the immeasurable love. The way to peace leads solely and only through love. Give your hand to me, your mother, and permit me to lead you. I am the Queen of Peace. Thank you.” Mirjana added, “After a long time, I saw the sky opening and then a sign of a Cross, a heart, and the sun.”

On August 15, 1993 His Eminence Cardinal Dr. Franjo Kuharic, Archbishop of Zagreb stated, “We bishops, after a three year long commission study accept Medjugorje as a holy place, as a shrine. This means that we have nothing against it if someone venerates the Mother of God in a manner and in agreement with the teaching and belief of the Church. Therefore, we are leaving that to further study. The Church does not hurry.”

In 1998, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone (then the number two person at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presided over by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI) wrote a letter in response to an inquiry from a bishop in France. He stated that normally the Holy See does not take a position on apparitions before a local bishop (or in this case a Bishop’s Conference) promulgates a decision. The local Bishop (Peric) had then stated his position, but Archbishop Bertone noted that the local bishop’s statement should be considered personal conviction and that it remains his personal opinion. The Archbishop said that private pilgrimages to Medjugorje are permitted on condition that they are not regarded as an authentication of events still taking place and that still call for an examination by the Church. This is the current official position of the Church, and I remain always in obedience to the Church.

Cardinal Vinka Puljic of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina announced in July 2006 a commission would be formed to review the alleged Marian apparitions at Medjugorje and pastoral provisions for the thousands of pilgrims who visit the town each year. Cardinal Puljic told Catholic News Service in a July 24 telephone interview, “I am awaiting suggestions from the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith on the theologians to appoint.” The Vatican announced on March 17, 2010, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had established an international commission to investigate the claims of six young people in Medjugorje who said, and continue to say until this day, Mary appeared to them daily beginning in 1981.  The commission has ended.  All of the visionaries have been called officially to Rome, each one commissioned to share their testimony about the events in Medjugorje since the onset of the apparitions on June 24, 1981.  Also visitors from the commission have officially come to Medjugorje to speak to the priests at St. James Church there.  This is an unprecedented happening.  Never before has a commission been set up officially to investigate the claims of an alleged apparition while it is still going on.  In January 2014, The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, confirmed on the international commission investigating events in Medjugorje held its last meeting on January 17.  The commission, created by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was presided over by Cardinal Camillo Ruini.  The Commission presented its findings, which essentially determined that there was no demonstrable fraud or deception occurring during the period of investigation. Much is still unfolding, and the Church cannot officially proclaim Medjugorje an official apparition site until the alleged apparitions of Our Lady have ceased.

I have traveled to Medjugorje 24 times in the past 21 years since my mom passed away. It is a place I can only describe as an indescribable Oasis of Peace, Love and Hope. Fifty thousand people gathered in Medjugorje on June 24, 1994 with me as the Bosnian War raged on ever so near.  I felt as if we were the United Nations gathered from all over the world praying for peace. Together we lifted our hearts in prayer asking Our Lady to pray for us, truly knowing prayer is more powerful than bullets as Our Lady at Fatima showed us. We could hear the bombs exploding as we prayed but not one touched down on the tiny village of Medjugorje seemingly touched by God. The peace, love and hope in Medjugorje seem to wrap around you as you feel an embrace of an all loving Mother bringing you to Her Son feeling blessed forever by the Forever Blessed and sending you home with great hope. No matter what cross you carry, you are not carrying it alone. One knows all will be okay.

When I returned home in 1994 I felt deeply compelled to reach out to the suffering people especially the children. After visiting a refugee camp nearby, I became an unlikely eyewitness to the pain and suffering of the Bosnian War. I came back home to Pittsburgh with a huge hole in my heart for those children who I felt I had left behind. When I looked into the eyes of my own three children I thanked God, as I had never done before. This experience of great joy immersed with the great pain led me to become the founder and now Executive Director of the Mother’s Hope Foundation, a 501.c3 organization aiding sick and disadvantaged children from Western Pennsylvania and their families trying to cope with cancer in their young lives, and those young refugee children who found themselves without a home, because of the effects of the Bosnian War.  Mother’s Hope is still reaching out to these suffering children at home and abroad through the Mother’s Hope Foundation Endowment Fund at Children’s Hospital Foundation in Pittsburgh and Mother’s Village, an orphanage for those children left behind from the Bosnian War.  To date Mother’s Hope Foundation has raised over $2 million.  For years I battled with my own serious health issues related to a 1993 diagnosis of mastocytosis which led to a 1997 diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, knowing that the great peace and strength I have received in Medjugorje is a gift from God and His Mother which allowed me to embrace this call.

On First Friday, October 5, 2007, feast day of St. Maria Faustina on Cross Mountain in Medjugorje.  I was healed of an incurable disease called mastocytosis which led to a diagnosis non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  The healing was witnessed by Rev. Brian Welding and a group of Mother’s Pilgrims that day.  After an appointment with my oncologist at Hillman Cancer Center, he stated, “You are in complete remission,” and sent a letter to my then spiritual director, Rev. Joseph Luisi, stating there was no medical intervention and this letter was also sent to our Bishop, The Most Reverend David A. Zubik at the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

After my eighth pilgrimage I felt deeply compelled along with a close friend to form a travel group called Mother’s Pilgrims which brings people on pilgrimages to Medjugorje.   I have been most blessed to become sisters of the heart with Medjugorje visionary, Mirjana Soldo and when Mother’s Pilgrims goes to Medjugorje our group spends private time with Mirjana and she answers any questions that they may have about Medjugorje.  What a special grace given to us!

In March and July 2006 Mother’s Pilgrims with a group of young and old traveled to Medjugorje from Western Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Montana, Illinois to celebrate the 25 th Anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Medjugorje. I felt very blessed to have one of my daughters travel with me to Medjugorje and Prague in August 2005, and my husband to be part of our group for the second time in our March pilgrimage. A special blessing also was to have my Spiritual Director, Rev. Francis X. Hanley C.S.Sp. travel with us. Fr. Hanley was our Spiritual Director for the second time in March 2007 and “feels the atmosphere in Medjugorje is one of great prayerfulness and peace.” Rev. Anthony Gargotta,Pastor at St. Edward and St. Frances of Assisi has traveled with us also. Rev. Gargotta said, “through Our Lady in Medjugorje not only was I brought back to the Eucharist, Confession and conversion of the heart, but I was also lead to the Priesthood.” Each year Mother’s Pilgrims continues to bring very special priests and pilgrims from Western Pennsylvania and all over the United States to Medjugorje and as they walk through the door of St. James Church in Medjugorje it becomes the doorway to Heaven.

I believe with all the suffering and evil reported everyday in every corner of the world it is a source of great peace and hope that a place called Medjugorje exists. Medjugorje is to me a Great Sign of God’s love and Divine Providence for all humanity. This holy land reaches out to us in a time when it would be so easy to give in to despair over what we believe we cannot control. For myself, and many, many people around the world, going to Medjugorje is finding Hope Eternal. I believe with all my heart the Blessed Virgin Mary is there, the Mother of all God’s children who wants only to bring us to Her Son the Source of life itself. For me and many others Medjugorje is the Wedding Feast of Cana here and now, and once again Our Lady is saying to us, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) and we are all invited!

We are all children of God. Race, religion and ethnic background have kept us apart. But in Medjugorje we are all little children seeking our heart’s desire and returning home with our burdens lifted and our hearts opened to receive all God wants to give us. My hope is one day you will experience that joy, that peace and hope. We are all invited by a mother whose love knows no boundaries.

With love and great hope,

Life unfolds in directions unknown. And in the summer of 2013 I found myself with a second diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was completely surprised and yet had felt tired for a while. Although the diagnosis seemed to come out of nowhere, I felt the arms of Heaven all around me as the most wonderful events simultaneously were happening in my family. Our newest grandchild, Cameron, was born on June 25, 2013, the 32nd anniversary of Our Lady coming to Medjugorje, and as I held him in my arms the day of his birth I could see the face of God in all His Glory. At a time when my heart should have been so very heavy, as I held our new little angel in my arms, I knew no disease can keep us from God’s Love and Care.

A few weeks later, after much testing I received the diagnosis on the same day which had been planned for a while that my daughters Chelsea, Lyndsay, myself and my granddaughter, Mia, were to meet and choose the type of setting for Chelsea’s engagement ring. The greatest blessings of love and life were all around me and I reveled in all of it. I am being taught by the Master and as hard as it was to get through six very strong chemotherapy treatments, I feel so greatly blessed. As of my third treatment, I was cancer-free again. Praise be Jesus and Mary! I have many lessons still to be learned and roads yet to travel.

My spiritual director had said that God never sends illness. He allows it for a greater good if we embrace it. I had either drove into a wall or a wall appeared. Either way a religious friend said to me I needed to sit back for a while and take in the view. A time out of the race of life which, I believe, is meant to be walked through step by step not ran through as I had begun to do. So much good was all around me and it was almost as if in a very real way to my spiritual director and me I came to a sudden halt. It was as if the message of hope I had been given was to be stopped. Only God knows truly but that great hope continued to be all around me, and I was reminded of that again on August 15, the day of my first chemotherapy treatment which just happened to be the Feast Day of Our Lady’s Assumption. We all have choices to make in life, and I choose to live each day. I look so forward to journey back to Medjugorje and the wedding of my daughter in September knowing the best is yet to come!



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