“Peace, peace, peace and only peace.”~ Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, as relayed through the six visionaries of Medjugorje
When I was 19, I found myself in Medjugorje, a modern-day pilgrimage site in what is now Herzegovina. I hadn’t heard of it until just before I went, but I was intrigued by the notion that the Virgin Mary had for years appeared to a group of “children” (now in their 50s) there, all in communication with the “Queen of Peace.”
It was a long haul to get to Medjugorje, and what started as a disheartening goose chase to a highly commercialized tourist trap ended much more gracefully than I could have imagined. Tonight, I pulled out my tattered Semester at Sea journal and found this account:
“Got to Medjugorje after a long bus ride there, pretty, slept a little. Was a little disappointed when we first got off the bus, souvenir shops everywhere with postcards, rosary beads, etc. Grabbed lunch and then a cab up to the hillside where you walk up to see the site of the first apparition where Mary first appeared. We stopped to listen to what we thought was an English-speaking tour, and then realized it was Marija, one of the six visionaries who communicates with “Our Lady” daily. It was absolutely fascinating to talk to her. I don’t know what it was, but there was suddenly not a question in my mind that this was true, and real, and really just about the most important thing I’d ever dealt with. It’s only six hours later and I’m back on the boat in my Victoria’s Secret PJ’s listening to Cat Stevens – yes very ironic, and I can’t say I feel the same amount of faith I felt this afternoon. But, it affected me in a way I’m not going to forget. I mean, I sat and talked to the girl who was going to meet the Virgin Mary in two hours. We asked her: if those who refused to believe in God were the ones who went to hell, what would happen to all the good people in the world who were not educated and had not heard of Christianity. She said it depended on the goodness in their heart. We asked her why she thought she was picked and she said it was a gift. She was very peaceful and willing to talk and “Spread her Message.” We prayed with her and said the Lord’s Prayer.”
Thirty years later, that is still one of the weirdest, least likely, spontaneous, profound experiences I have ever had. Funny (embarrassing!) to read the language of my nineteen-year-old self. I don’t remember much of what was said in the exchange, but I vividly remember the overwhelming feeling of peace Marija exuded. She had a complete presence that I wanted to be close to. That has stayed with me.
Here’s another heartening story of feeling presence in the midst of mystic. This one comes from my sister-in-law who, in response to my harassing her about her middle name (it’s Pia), shared the following:
My parents married in 1963. In early 1964, my mother found out she was pregnant with their first child. Shortly thereafter, my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The doctors tried everything.They removed a large tumor and his left fifth rib during surgery, but they were defeated. The cancer was everywhere and my father was given six months to live. My mother was still a flight attendant with TWA and they had the opportunity for discounted travel so my parents decided to go to Italy to see Padre Pio, a Capuchin priest in rural San Giovanni Rotondo, who was reported to be a healer. Padre Pio was a friar, a mystic, and later venerated as a saint who exhibited the stigmata. His message was simple: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”
In a letter to his children and future grandchildren my father wrote, “I asked Padre Pio to intercede before our Lord to cure me of my illness, and if this not be his, to grant me the grace to die with courage, and if my faith be not strong enough, then I attach it to Padre Pio’s faith.” He went on to say, “During Mass, at the moment of the elevation of the host, Padre Pio became aglow with an inner light. The host in his hand completely disappeared and Padre Pio was holding in his hand pure light. At that moment I knew I was cured, and if I ever felt the presence of GOD, it was then. I asked Anne if she had seen what happened and she hadn’t. It was for my eyes only.”
Back in Chicago, my Dad went back to his doctors. After multiple examinations, they determined the cancer was gone. In fact, there was no evidence it had ever been there except for his missing rib. The doctors confirmed there was no medical explanation for my father’s healing. While they stopped short of calling it a miracle, we all know it was just that.
Padre Pio was canonized as a saint in August of 2002. My father went to the Vatican for the canonization ceremony just two months before he died at the age of 66. My father lived 40 years after his miracle. Today, his presence lives on in four children and eight grandchildren who carry his peace, with Pio or Pia, as their middle name.
~ ~ ~
I can’t understand or attempt to address why some of us get cured as rewards for our long journeys and others don’t. (I do believe there’s a difference between “being cured,” which involves the absence of an ailment or condition, and “being healed,” which involves a change in perspective and, usually, a release of fear.) I also don’t know why I was gifted this small but impactful chance encounter with one of the Medjugorje visionaries while some of us go out of our way, despite for a sign, and don’t have the good fortune of an encounter like mine. I’m guessing we aren’t supposed to know much. Otherwise, we’d never have to take those leaps…
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When we see someone overflowing with love and understanding, someone who is keenly aware of what is going on, we know that they are very close to the Buddha and to Jesus Christ.”
I know this because I experienced it with Marija in Medjugorje. When you do get that little glimmer of presence, you know.
Today, practice presence. Look for that energy in others. Consider the hindrance when you have a device in your hand, multitasking being present and checking your notifications. Turn it off, put it away, all Sunday. Embody being present and look for that presence in others. And when you see it, believe it.