Mgr Issam John Darwish, BSO, DD., eparch of the Melchite Catholic Church in Australia and New Zealand, was on a private pilgrimage in Medjugorje from September 12 to 19, 2005. In Medjugorje, he celebrated the 33rd anniversary of his priestly ordination. He was born in Syria. Before becoming bishop for the Melchites in Australia and New Zealand in 1996, he worked in Lebanon in favour of abandoned children.
Here are his impressions:
“Last Sunday, I was in Castel Gandolfo with my group of pilgrims, and we prayed the Angelus with the Pope. After the Angelus, as it was arranged before, I went to visit the Holy Father. The program of this visit was specified in advance. At the end of our conversation, I asked the Holy Father to give his blessing to the group of pilgrims, which was going to Medjugorje the following day. If you have ever met the Pope, you know that he has a splendid smile. He smiled with great kindness and he said: ‘May God watch over you and bless you’.
The devotion towards the Virgin Mary is very widespread among our parishioners. They came to me and they asked me to accompany them this year to Medjugorje. I have much work, but I accepted immediately. Then, I thought that I should have perhaps said no, but now I am glad to have come. With the group, we contemplate each day the life of Mary from the beginning to the cross. For me, it is a Marian retreat. I wanted to transmit to the faithful what our Byzantine Church is saying on Mary. All the prayers were directed towards a better knowledge of the role of Mary in our life. For me and for the whole group, the coming here is a blessing. We see Mary as a person who leads us to Jesus. She plays an important role in our life. She is leading us to Jesus and she is deepening our faith.
The number of pilgrims coming to Medjugorje is a sign of God. The atmosphere of prayer spread by the priests from here is very deep. I believe that Medjugorje is a place of expectation, a place that is questioning our faith: how to deepen our faith? The prayer in front of the cross, adoration, the Eucharist - all this gives to the pilgrims a deep spirituality. It is a place of prayer.
I think that the role of the priest who accompanies the pilgrims is very important. In order to bring fruits, the pilgrims must be accompanied by a priest. His role is to help them to go further than seeking signs. I said to my pilgrims that we have already the signs: it is the Blessed Sacrament of the altar and other sacraments. All the sacraments should be lived: sacrament of penance, the Eucharist; their spiritual role should be discovered. The Mother of God speaks to each one of us. It is not necessary to see her. We can see her with our interior eyes, the eyes of faith.
I think that the priests from here are giving to the pilgrims a very good orientation, but the priests who accompany the pilgrims should pay more attention to the teaching of the Church. The priests from here could give the priests who accompany the pilgrims some directions: how to live the interior conversion in a deeper way. And let us allow the Lord to act in the hearts of the faithful! Some people need feelings, others don’t. This is Christian life.
The messages of Medjugorje are messages of the Gospel. I do not see anything else. Eucharist, penance, prayer... it is the Gospel. The apparitions? I do not know. I do not have any clear idea, but I think that God can do all that He wants.
I will write a booklet on my impressions of Medjugorje. I will encourage the faithful to come to make this pilgrimage, to live a few days of prayer and interior conversion. I will encourage them. I also will encourage the priests to come with them.
I have a desire: that Medjugorje opens to the environment, to the Orthodox and to the Moslems, that Medjugorje becomes a centre of dialogue with them.”