Sunday, August 31, 2014

Medjugorje's Apparition Hill: Encountering Our Lady's Presence

A photo of Apparition Hill at sunrise
Apparition Hill (Brdo Ukazanja) just after sunrise

Apparition Hill (Brdo Ukazanja) in Medjugorje is one of, if not "the" most sought after locations in Medjugorje and for good reason, it is where Our Lady first appeared to the six visionaries on June 24, 1981.

Marking the spot of Our Lady's appearance is a beautiful white statue surrounded by a protective star shaped fence. Although Apparition Hill continues on for several more meters above this location, the spot of Our Lady's initial appearance is the "spiritual summit" that all pilgrims strive to reach when making this climb.

I had the pleasure of visiting and remaining at this location for countless hours during my pilgrimage this summer and today's post shares some of my experiences. In so doing, I hope it will not only help recapture the spirit of Medjugorje for those who have been there, but also encourage those who are considering a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a place that truly is as Saint Pope John Paul II has put it, "the spiritual center of the world." 

I don't think enough can be said about Medjugorje and the pilgrimage sites, of which Apparition Hill has a special significance. All of us who have gone to Medjugorje have done so accepting Our Lady's invitation. It is an acceptance of Our Lady who is the first message of all the messages she has given us; that is, Our Lady is Our Mother who is present and she is calling us.

This is the primary reason why many pilgrims, the overwhelming majority, go to Medjugorje. The statue at Apparition Hill is a visible symbol and beautiful reminder not only of the initial apparition, but of Our Lady's invitation to each and every one of us. Our Lady's continues to invite us and make her presence known with her monthly and annual apparition messages and her daily appearances to three of the six visionaries: Ivan, Marija and Vicka.

The view of Our Lady's statue from the main climbing path
The view of Our Lady's statue on approach from the last Joyful Mystery plaque

Upon my arrival in Medjugorje in late June of this year, I was very drawn to Apparition Hill. It was only a few days after my arrival with the pilgrimage group that I came to Medjugorje with, that our local guide scheduled a climb.

The enthusiasm of reaching the "spiritual summit" was evident amongst the group with our energetic and joyful demeanour. Our facial expressions were but a glimpse of the joy we were about to experience of this much anticipated climb that was fully realized upon arrival at Our Lady's statue. Guided by one of Medjugorje's best guides, our initial climb was truly a very special experience. 

Very much in the same way that Cross Mountain (Križevac) has bronze plaques for each of the Stations Cross, so too Apparition Hill invites pilgrims to a spiritual climb with bronze plaques of the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the Rosary.

Approximately half up Apparition Hill, pilgrims will see a large wooden cross, marking the spot where Our Lady appeared to Marija on the third day of the apparitions, saying to her "Peace, peace and only peace."

Our guide led our Rosary recitation with beautiful reflections that made this group recitation of the Rosary the best I had ever experienced. Our recitation ended with the the Joyful Mysteries and it is at this point that we made our way to the statue of Mary. 

The ending of the Joyful Mysteries plaques affords pilgrims the choice of proceeding with the Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries, taking pilgrims further up the hill or making a horizontal break toward the statue of Mary.

If pilgrims decide to continue with the other sets of the Rosary mysteries, the placement of Rosary plaques eventually leads pilgrims to the statue of Mary, looping around the hill through an alternate and longer route. Our guide’s intention, as he made it known from the beginning, was to take us to the statue of Mary and rightly so, as this is the prime location and main purpose of climbing Apparition Hill.

At Apparition Hill awaiting Our Lady's appearance to Ivan.
At Apparition Hill for Ivan's apparition

On another day, our pilgrim group made a second climb up Apparition Hill to the statue of Our Lady, but this time the encounter with Our Lady was to be a much more profound experience. The reason being was that we were going to be present during an actual apparition to the visionary Ivan.

The apparition occurred well into the evening around 10:00pm and Apparition Hill was "packed" with pilgrims from all over the world. Our group arrived at approximately 6:00pm only to be met with thousands of pilgrims who had already stationed themselves well in advance. The above photo depicts part of the scene. That is me in the black shirt and shorts with the Rosary in my hand, looking straight ahead at the statue of Our Lady.

Together with my fellow pilgrims I recited the Rosary and we were just a few among many groups doing likewise in many languages. In addition, songs of praise were sung to Our Lady in anticipation of her arrival. It was an absolutely amazing experience! To have been in Medjugorje, on Apparition Hill only 50m away from Our Lady and to have prayed to her as she appeared was a gift that one only hopes for. 

The statue of Our Lady at Apparition HIll
A closer view of Our Lady's statue

By the first week of July, the second week of my pilgrimage, I frequently ventured up Apparition Hill by myself with the hope of entering into a time of divine intimacy with Our Lady. I was not disappointed.

Many of the pilgrims who were in Medjugorje in late June were there for the thirty-third anniversary of the apparitions. Within the first few days of July, there was a noticeable departure of pilgrims and much to my pleasant surprise, the opportunity for quiet and personal time at the various pilgrimage sites increased dramatically. Many times I was alone or with only three or four other individuals. The photo above depicts one of these moments; one of many gifts that I had received.

It wasn't long before I had established my "prayer spot" on Apparition Hill where I could sit, pray and converse with Our Lady. The first photo included in this blog post captures the view from my favourite spot, approximately 20m away from the statue.

In addition to peaceful prayer, this location afforded me a wonderful panoramic view of Medjugorje, the surrounding mountains and valley below. This is definitely the location to encounter Our Lady's presence in Medjugorje.

The beautiful prayer time I experienced, one that was undisturbed and totally focussed was no doubt a shared experience with many who have been there. To be in conversation with Our Lady, to be able to "pray with the heart,” was a beautiful gift. Only those who have been there fully understand the divine intimacy available to all who visit this grace-filled region. For those that have yet to go to Medjugorje, this is what awaits you.

Although pilgrims will find Apparition Hill to be a much easier climb than Cross Mountain, it requires your undivided attention to ensure a safe ascent and back down to the base.

Apparition Hill is not as steep as Križevac, but pilgrims are still confronted by a non-negotiable rocky terrain. Providing some temporary relief are a few clearings, but hardly worth mentioning as the majority of this climb is a continuous series of challenging steps on rocks of all shapes and sizes. It is due to this inhospitable terrain that makes Apparition Hill's recitation of the Rosary a much more beneficial experience; a time that invites pilgrims to enter into the spirit of prayer right from the beginning of the climb.

If you have been to Medjugorje and climbed Apparition Hill, I hope this post has rekindled the spirit of Medjugorje in your life and that it may spread to everyone connected to you.

For those who are considering going, on route or scheduled go, expect to encounter Our Lady's presence at Apparition Hill because Our Lady is Our Mother, she is there and she is calling you!

Hvaljen Isus i Marija (Praised be Jesus and Mary)

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