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He couldn’t wait to get back home and then one night at the Blue Cross life changed for Brian...

About Medjugorje, I honestly didn’t know what to believe. I can’t say I disbelieved and I was fascinated by the simple stories of healing and conversion that Fr Danny proclaimed from the pulpit at Sunday Mass. This was my first introduction to Medjugorje. But then came the downside.

Someone I knew had recently returned from Medjugorje and was forever on to me to pray, pray and pray. Coupled with all the doom and gloom predictions the person was handing out as well, Medjugorje became a turn-off, a subject I did not want to discuss with anyone.

That was until 1998, when my wife announced she was going to Medjugorje with a friend. I didn’t object. How could I? She had recently converted to Catholicism after 25 years of marriage and I viewed her intention of going to Medjugorje as yet another step in her faith journey.

As I greeted Sandra on her return at the airport, she suddenly burst into tears. Her first words were: “Don’t ever tell me there isn’t a God!” She wept most of the way home. I was puzzled. This was not the usual behaviour of my wife – normally so down to earth and not given to tearful outbursts.

Of course, I quizzed her as to what had happened to make her so upset. Had there been a problem? Eventually she explained how, on a visit to Fr Jozo’s church, she had been ‘slain in the spirit’. Excuse me, but just what are you talking about, ‘slain in the spirit’? It was not an expression I had ever come across, and it disturbed me. Just what had she gotten herself into?

Sandra went on to explain how, when a priest approached her at the back of Fr Jozo’s church, an intense bright light descended upon her and such a powerful force went through her body that she fell to the ground, unable to resist in any way. When she sat up she wept, without understanding why, feeling totally exhausted and unable to speak to anyone.

On the return journey back to the house in Medjugorje, still stunned, Sandra could only ask herself what happened and why. Eventually, after talking with a priest, she understood that her experience had been a gift from God.

How could I disbelieve my own wife? But for weeks afterwards I asked her to repeat the story and questioned her in all sorts of ways. Was she pushed? Did the priest have something in his hand? Was she sure she didn’t faint? How long was she out for? What did it feel like? I was so curious. How come my wife had been touched in this way way and me, a cradle Catholic, was not able to relate to her experience. Somehow it just didn’t fit in with my understanding – and I felt seriously challenged.

Two years later, an invite to Medjugorje came my way – and I responded, “No thanks, I have business commitments at that time of the year and just can’t get the time off.” But the person was persistent; in fact, became almost a nuisance. To pacify her, I agreed to take a ticket but did not mention that I planned to back out at the last minute and pass the ticket on to my wife. She had been before, had a wonderful experience, and would no doubt enjoy the opportunity of visiting Medjugorje again.

That was until Marion, who was organising the trip, mentioned the departure date – 19 September 2000 – my 30th wedding anniversary. It was at that moment something touched me, perhaps guilt, and I asked for two tickets. I was going to Medjugorje.

The departure day arrived and I was beginning to regret my decision. We first flew from Birmingham to Dublin to meet with the main party, then onto Shannon to pick up other passengers. After a long wait on the tarmac I was feeling extremely uncomfortable about the whole thing – and then the rosaries started, at a pace only the Irish can seem to manage, and I did my best to hide and switch off from the whole thing, pretending to sleep.

During some heavy turbulence over the Swiss Alps, I felt drops of liquid falling upon me. I thought at first it must be a leak of some sort in the locker above – until I realised there was a woman behind me throwing Holy Water over everyone. I slid further down my seat, inwardly screaming, get me out of here!

For the first three days in Medjugorje, I don’t remember venturing into St James church. I really didn’t want to be part of the group thing and the constant praying. I remember saying to Sandra, “What am I doing here? I can get all this sort of thing back home. I don’t need to be here.” My head was in bits. I just could not get my brain around the whole Medjugorje thing.

I think it was on day four when Marion planned for the group to pray the Rosary at the Blue Cross (apparition site) that evening. She invited myself and an Irish soldier, who was based in Kosovo with the UN peace-keeping force, to take a taxi with two of the elderly ladies and help them up the small hill to the Blue Cross. Eugenie was great company as we stumbled our way up, laughing and giggling in the darkness. It was only later that I discovered she was a nun! Eventually I found myself sitting on the wooden kneeler in front of the Blue Cross, waiting for the others to arrive.

Marion began the Rosary, calling on others to ‘give out’ as the decades progressed. I couldn’t see a thing, but I felt the intensity of the prayers around me and surprised myself when I started leading one of the decades. It was shortly after this that I got up from my sitting position and turned to kneel towards the Blue Cross, and under the cover of darkness I wept bitterly and intensely for 10 minutes or more. And during this time I clearly heard a voice speak to my heart: “My love for you is greater than your sins.”

To this day I cannot explain the reason why this happened. I had no control. I could not stop weeping, even when I tried. Marion quietly said afterwards as I made my descent back to the road, “Brian, that was your Medjugorje.” I understood exactly what she meant. From that moment on, such a peace and conviction descended upon me and my life has not been the same since.

Of course, I tried to analyse the whole thing afterwards, but I couldn’t help realising that up until the night at the Blue Cross, unconsciously I had been very cautious not to get involved with anyone or anything – to keep my distance and remain on the outside of everything. Only at the Blue Cross had I found myself gently drawn into the centre of the group, right in front Our Lady’s statue and the Cross. I was no longer on the outside. Our Lady had drawn me close and I was touched deeply.

I have since come to realise that there is such a special grace, such a gentle touch from Our Lady, awaiting anyone who responds to her call to visit Medjugorje. It doesn’t seem to be about who you are, what you are, how many prayers you say, but about your response.

Say yes to Medjugorje, the calling that’s in your heart, and Our Lady will take care of everything else; all the doubts, the questions, the hurts –and the tears!

My head was in bits... I just could not get my brain around the whole Medjugorje thing...

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