Mauro Harsch was born in Lugano (Switzerland) and completed his musical studies at the “Benedetto Marcello” Conservatorium in Venice (Italy), where he obtained his diploma in 1987. He has performed in Switzerland as well as abroad, and has made CD-recordings - available in Europe, Australia and the US - obtaining unanimously favorable reviews by both critics and audiences alike. In 1987 he founded the Medjugorje Foundation per l’Infanzia. In 1994 he established the “St. Moritz Piano Festival”. In 2002 he founded “Ars Dei” which promotes the activity of young musicians in various European countries. Since 1987 he has been teaching piano and chamber music at the “Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana”. He is often an adjudicator in international competitions. (http://www.arsdei.org, http://www.medjugorje.ch/cd.htm)
An adventure that transformed my whole life
During the summer of 1984, I spent a long period on vacation in a small mountain village in Switzerland. It was there I began an adventure that, a few short months later, was to transform my whole life.
At that time, I was quite an indifferent Christian and somewhat mistrustful towards the Church. I was in search of something that could give a deeper value to my life, something that until then I could not find. I often asked myself what was the true meaning of human existence, and I knew that in this inner search, my love of music, a passion since my childhood, would be somehow instrumental. For a long period I had practiced transcendental meditation and studied different philosophical currents, but the satisfaction that I had found there proved illusory.
While reading an Italian magazine, a strange title attracted my attention: “The Madonna is appearing… six children claim to see, on a daily basis, a mysterious “Lady” who gives messages of love, peace and reconciliation… thousands of faithful, many healings, numberless conversions!...”. I could not believe that in our modern times a serious review was giving space to that kind of news.
Some days later, I had a strange dream, the meaning of which eluded me at that particular time… Over a great hill I saw a splendid rainbow whose brightness begot in me a feeling of great beatitude. Suddenly, this vision was interrupted, and some force made me fall on my knees, causing me acute physical pain. I woke up wondering where this pain was coming from, since it was just a dream. Amazingly, my knees were hurting, although I hadn’t fallen at all. It was one of those early signs that slowly brought me to believe that God, at the right moment, can touch our hearts and yet leave us the freedom to follow Him or reject Him.
From that day onwards, I often thought about the six children of Medjugorje, and I began to be attracted to visiting that village in Herzegovina. For me, it resembled a call of some sort.
At the end of November of the same year, in a bookstore in Como, I found a book by the French theologian René Laurentin, entitled “Is the Virgin appearing in Medjugorje?”. My decision was made. I absolutely had to go and visit that place.
As if time had stopped
Together with a musician friend, I arrived in Medjugorje on the 19th of February, 1985. The large square in front of the church was completely deserted. The temperature was glacial and the wind blew in a most frightful manner. I thought that we had come to the wrong parish. We entered the church, which was also bitingly cold. There were no pilgrims, but just a few inhabitants of the place reciting the Rosary aloud.
After many years of refusing to kneel down in front of a tabernacle, I fell on my knees… and I felt within myself an intense joy which, to this day, I cannot adequately describe in words. I remembered my dream. I abandoned myself to the praying of the Hail Mary and to the sound of the songs... all of which flowed like clear water from a pure source. Those liturgies, in the Croatian language, lasted more than two hours, but I was not aware of the time passing. It seemed as though time stood still. It was the beginning of my conversion. I began to believe that in the very tabernacle that I had neglected for such a long time, in the Eucharist Itself, the source of all grace, all truth and all good was to be found.
After Mass, we entered the sacristy where we saw Marija, one of the visionaries. A friar also came who kindly invited us to come to the parish house on the following day. As soon as he found out that we were musicians, he asked us to play in the church during the apparition, at 5.45pm that same day.
At noon we climbed Apparition Hill. A strong wind was still blowing. The path was rocky and overgrown with spiny bushes, which made it painful to climb. The stones seemed to symbolize the many trials and difficulties that we encounter in our lives. I felt a deep inner peace. From the place of the apparitions we had a beautiful view of the plain of Medjugorje. It was like stepping back in time. Everything was simple and tranquil, a genuine oasis of peace.
For the first time I understood what it means to pray with the heart
In the early afternoon, we headed towards the church for a rehearsal of the Schubert’s Ave Maria, which we had chosen to play for the great occasion. But then we met a Franciscan who exclaimed: “No electricity today!”… It would not be possible to use the organ! However, we hoped that in the meantime the power would be restored. The Rosary began, but the situation remained unchanged. We continued praying in the church. Happily, just half an hour later and without any forewarning, the lights came back on! At 17.45, while Jakov, Ivan and Marija were conversing with the “Lady”, the organ played the Ave Maria as originally planned. I didn’t understand what was happening to me during that time. I think that for the first time I understood what it meant to pray with the heart… and I was overwhelmed by a great sense of freedom.
At the end of the Ave Maria, I found myself surrounded by a group of children from the parish who were praying with particular devotion, a sign that I only came to understand much later.
Back in Switzerland, I meditated a lot on what had happened to me, and why in Medjugorje in particular? Why had I to go to a poor, small village in a communist country, in order to discover such deep values? Why had I tasted Christianity in Medjugorje of all places? I thought that it was merely a fleeting enthusiasm, a straw fire which would quickly subside, and that normality would be restored within a matter of weeks. However, it was not to be. Although I did not speak to anyone about what had happened to me, my friends and acquaintances noticed that I had changed as a person and as a musician. Days and weeks passed. Within a couple of months something was achieved both in my spiritual life and in my life as a musician, something that was beyond me in previous years. Externally nothing at all had changed, but interiorly all had changed utterly. Never before was I so convinced that faith is a force that should be transmitted, and that we were required to transmit it and share it with our neighbor.
I decided to begin something new
I returned to Medjugorje in December of the same year, and again in summer 1986. A sincere friendship developed between myself and Fr. Slavko Barbarić.
In March 1987, Father Slavko invited me to be present at one of the apparitions in the parish house. I viewed this as a special grace for me, an unexpected gift. Considering the small size of the room in question, it was only possible for very few people to enter. Jakov arrived at the appointed time.
He fell on his knees. The mysterious encounter with the “Lady” had begun. His eyes were radiant. He moved his lips, but the words could not be heard. The boy was absent from our conception of space and time as he lost contact with the external world. Everything was very natural and simple. The people remained absolutely still. The silence was extraordinary. In fact it seemed as if time stood still. After some minutes, Jakov reverted back to our reality. The apparition was finished.
Mere words are not able to describe the supernatural event. I can only assert that during those moments I really believed that Medjugorje was truly a gift of God for the Church and for humanity as a whole. That day I informed Father Slavko that my experience of Medjugorje was inspiring me to some charitable work, most likely with children. “Do not worry”, said Fr. Slavko, “when the time comes, Our Lady will show you the right path to take”.
During the following months I contacted various humanitarian organizations, but I noticed that they tended towards particular political and ideological doctrines, which did not convince me. My preference was to source an organization that could not only provide material help, but one that could also supply moral and spiritual support in the spirit of that authentic Christian fraternity which I had witnessed in Medjugorje. I decided therefore to establish a new Foundation. On the 31st of December, 1987, I founded the Medjugorje per l’Infanzia Foundation. Two months later, it was officially recognized by the Swiss Confederation.
Within one year, the number of benefactors supporting Medjugorje per l’Infanzia had risen to six hundred. In order to inform the public at large about the Foundation, I invited various artists and personalities from both the cultural and religious spheres of life to become members of the Board. With their support, we organized various fundraising concerts in Lugano. A great family was formed that walked the same route together in harmony, the way of solidarity towards children in need.
The first project was the construction of a house for children in India (1989). Then there followed the construction of houses in u Brazil (1992), in Mother’s Village in Medugorje (1995), and other projects in Romania, Madagascar, Poland, Kosovo, in Russia and in Ukraine.
In response to an invitation from Fr. Slavko Barbarić who, in addition to Mother’s Village in Medjugorje, wanted to alleviate somewhat the consequences of the war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, so the Foundation built the Germogli (Buds) house. Work began at the beginning of 1995. The UN soldiers present in Medjugorje dug the foundations free of charge. On the 27th of June, 1995, our building, together with three more buildings sponsored by other benefactors, was officially opened. The Foundation continues to support the work of Mother’s Village as well as Fr. Jozo Zovko’s projects in Široki Brijeg.
Our Lady gave me a sign
As the years passed by, I experienced joyful moments and periods of difficulty, but the faith that I had discovered in Medjugorje never waned. Yet, in 1998, I had to face doubts concerning my experience in Medjugorje for the first time. I was tempted to explain everything as an illusion. But two unexpected happenings encouraged me to continue.
I met Pope John Paul II on two occasions. On the 25th of February, 1998, (the 25th day of the month is the day on which Our Lady gives her message in Medjugorje) I was allowed to assist at a private Mass in the apartment of the Pope, and I met him again on the 20th of February, 1999 (the anniversary of the date of my conversion in Medjugorje). Coincidence? I hadn’t chosen those dates. There simply was no possible way I could do so. For me, they were two hugely significant dates. In addition to all of this, it happened that on my way home after the second audience, I listened to a catechesis given by Father Livio Fanzaga on Radio Maria. Speaking about the apparitions of Fatima and Medjugorje, he underlined with his usual vigor: “Our Lady often gives us confirmation through numbers, through particular dates!”…
I had my confirmation.