(Published in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, October 19, 2006 and in http://www.spiritdaily.org)
Some years ago when I was first a bishop in Louisiana, it must have been 1988, I was making my first "ad limina" visit to the Holy Father in Rome.
The other bishops of Louisiana were with me and, as what the custom of John Paul II, we were invited in to enjoy a lunch with him. There were eight of us at the table with him.
Soup was being served. Bishop Stanley Ott of Baton Rouge, La., who has since gone to God, asked the Holy Father: "Holy Father, what do you think of Medjugorje?"
The Holy Father kept eating his soup and responded: "Medjugorje? Medjugorje? Medjugorje? Only good things are happening at Medjugorje. People are praying there. People are going to Confession. People are adoring the Eucharist, and people are turning to God. And, only good things seem to be happening at Medjugorje."
That seemed to have ended the discussion and we went on to another topic. But, I will long remember the very skillfully cautious response of our Holy Father.
A Pilgrimage Adventure
Just two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit Medjugorje. A good friend for more than 50 years, Jim McHale from Connecticut, has been wanting to go to Medjugorje for some time. His wife was not inclined to go at this time for many reasons but mostly because she is preparing for the marriage of their daughter in New York City.
We flew from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Prague and from Prague to Split in Croatia. We remained in Croatia for two evenings before we traveled up the mountain to Medjugorje in Bosnia along the Adriatic Sea.
It is quite an adventure in arriving in this little mountain village which has apparently become famous because of the alleged apparitions that take place there.
We were fortunate enough to have made contact with Stephanie Percic from Minneapolis. Stephanie was making her 100th pilgrimage to Medjugorje and leading a group of people from the Twin Cities, Crookston and Duluth and some from other parts of the country.
Having been there so many times, Stephanie is well-known to the villagers. Certainly that helped us a great deal in getting about.
The drive from Split into Medjugorje is a beautiful one, indeed. The road snakes around the Adriatic Sea and up the mountain. At times it might seem a bit perilous but the beauty if overwhelmingly inviting.
We arrived in the village on a Friday afternoon. There were 30,000 to 40,000 pilgrims there for the weekend. I was quite impressed with them all.
They were from all over the world -- countries throughout Europe, the United States, Ireland, Canada and the Philippines. Italy was well represented also.
On Saturday morning we heard one of the visionaries speak and I must say that everything that he said was very solid.
Someone in the audience asked him a question about "Communion in the hand."
His answer was very direct and very simple. "DO what the church permits you to do. You will always be safe."
The great moment, for me, was the hearing of confessions every afternoon from 5 p.m. until 10 or 10:30 p.m. There were 46 priests hearing confessions in various languages. What a great grace that is onto itself: "People turning toward God."
I just walked and around and looked at the lines. There were 26 confessional stations in which there was a priest and then 20 more priests hearing confessions in temporary stations. This happened also on Sunday afternoon from 5 p.m. until about 8:30 p.m. I heard confessions in English, and it was a great grace for me and a wonderful experience.
The Chapel of Adoration was most edifying. People came in quietly to adore the Eucharistic Lord and to pray. Everything seemed to have been so orderly and quiet, as were the groups of people in the streets and on the hills saying their Rosary and praying.
I celebrated the noon Mass on Sunday in English. The church was packed to overflowing. There are pews outside on all three sides of the church in which people can hear the Mass but they cannot see it. Once again the faith of so many people touched me deeply.
A Yearning Within
This past week we celebrated the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch. In his letter to the Romans, Ignatius wrote: "Within me is the living water which says deep inside me: 'Come to the Father.'"
There is something of that yearning in all of those pilgrims who visited Medjugorje.
Somehow there is something deep within them which keeps crying out, "Come to the Father."
They do this through devotion. They do it through their love for Mary. They do it through their love for Jesus Christ. "Come to the Father" is deep within each of one us.
On Monday morning, our pilgrimage was coming to a close. I celebrated Mass in the chapel of the Eucharist for the pilgrims who were led by Stephanie Percic. So many of them were from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and I was impressed by their strong faith and their promise of prayer for the entire archdiocese.
...All in all, after the journey to Medjugorje, I keep pondering the words of John Paul II as he was eating his soup on that day sometime in 1988:
"Medjugorje? Medjugorje? Medjugorje? Only good things seem to be happening at Medjugorje. People are turning to God."