Receiving two Sacraments during her two-day pilgrimage to Medjugorje transformed the prayer life of Anne-Marie...
In May 2011, I visited Medjugorje with my cousin for the first time. We travelled independently, booking a Thomson holiday to Dubrovnik and then arranging a two day stay-over via the lovely Zana & Alan at Medjugorje Tours and Travel. I had read about Medjugorje many years before and a member of my parish had given a powerful testimony of his visit in 2006.
While we were visiting, the second of the month apparition to Mirjana occurred. Crowds of pilgrims, vying for a vantage point, reminded me of the crowds following Jesus in biblical times – an unusual sight. I witnessed no outward signs of miracles; the testimony that I have to share is one of profound inner-transformation experienced via the Sacraments.
The most extraordinary occurrence was at the 10am English Mass in St James’ Church, on our first morning after the 8am apparition. We were fortunate enough to have a visiting priest preside over the Mass, who exuded deep faith. He told us that the first time he had visited Medjugorje his rosary beads had turned gold. He couldn’t see this for himself because he is blind. He joked that the ‘scent of roses’ would have been a better ‘gift’ for him. However, I remember immediately thinking that the rosary beads turning gold was a gift for others, who would see their faith more clearly through him (he had given an illuminating and memorable sermon on suffering).
Although there were other priests offering Communion that day, I felt a strong urge to receive Holy Communion from this blind priest. After receiving the Eucharist, I had planned to pray for a long list of people, but my mind seemed to be completely wiped blank – like a memory stick being swiped clean and replaced. All I could think and say was “thank you”, over and over in my head, with tears streaming down my face. It is so difficult to explain this experience but at that moment it felt like there was just me standing there – a child of God with no worries or responsibilities at all, no-one’s wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, co- worker, neighbour; just me in the blissful presence of my Maker. It was not until I returned home and accompanied my husband to some classes in my parish for non-catholic spouses that I fully realised what had happened to me. In these classes, the priest was trying to explain ‘transubstantiation’ and, to be quite honest, the non-catholic spouses looked liked they’d glazed over. It all sounded too theoretical, even to my ears, too ‘out there’. It was then it struck me – full force – that I had experienced in the Eucharist the living reality of this Catholic doctrine in full measure; in short, I had felt the awesome and overpowering loving presence of Our Lord. I felt compelled to give testimony to this although my heart was pounding so violently I thought it my rip out of my chest.
I had also gone to confession (outside on a bench!) that evening in Medjugorje. I had not been for many years and I was quite uncomfortable at the prospect, feeling exposed in every way. This was quite a disturbing experience for me in that, after confession, I felt very odd for some minutes – like I was on a boat in a storm with no hand rail to grab on to, or like I was one of those ‘snow-shaker toys’, all shaken up in a flurry and waiting for everything to settle back. I actually felt like jumping under a duvet and hiding from the world! The deep sense of peace came later as we went to Apparition Hill and the Blue Cross, lit by candlelight, and prayed the rosary. I wonder now if what I experienced was the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, when I returned home I spent many months feeling ‘out of place’ trying to fit the new me into my old life and yearning for that sense of deep peace again. Prayer, the Rosary, Confession, Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament became my routes to finding the peace I’d tasted in Medjugorje.
A most unusual after-effect of my pilgrimage on my return was, initially, I found that I could not ‘take in’ any reading material related to work or even reading for pleasure. This was somewhat worrying, and yet I simply devoured any reading material related to prayer, Scripture, Our Lady, the Saints, the Pope. Amazingly, my brain simply drank it all in! I felt like I had been enrolled in ‘The School of Mary’. After a few weeks I confided this new, inner-world to my husband with some trepidation, fearful that he might reject me in some way. Instead he accepted it all and is ever-loving and supportive even though he does not fully understand. Fortunately, I am now able to read widely again and have rediscovered my place. However, I now make time to use my experience to compile and edit articles for my parish magazine, exploring traditional Catholic themes and their relevance to the busy, modern person. I find that I love Mass deeply and find great comfort in prayer.
I have received many graces and blessings along the way, which I am humbly grateful for, but it has also been difficult (the daily conversion). Many pilgrims crave to see an apparition, yet I realise how difficult it must be for the visionaries each day, to return to the duties and responsibilities of this world when they have experienced a piece of paradise. They need our prayers to strengthen them.