Saturday, August 23, 2014

Medjugorje's Cross Mountain: The Way of The Cross

A photo of Cross Mountain taken from Apparition Hill.
Cross Mountain (Križevac), captured from Apparition Hill (Brdo Ukazanja) 

In Medjugorje there are a few key locations that pilgrims should frequent and one of these is Križevac or Cross Mountain. It towers 1760 feet above sea level and has at its summit a large concrete cross, the final destination of all who climb it.

The cross was built in 1933, to commemorate the 1900 anniversary of Christ's passion. Completed in 1934, a local tradition was established to celebrate Mass once a year on September 14, in honour of the feast of the Triumph of The Holy Cross. In addition, this year being the twenty-fifth anniversary of Medjugorje's International Youth Festival, a Mass was celebrated at the top of Cross Mountain on August 6, by Fr. Marinko Sakota, the parish priest of Medjugorje, to close out the festival.

View of the valley of Medjugorje between the 7 & 8 Stations of the Cross
Between the seventh and eighth stations during my first climb up Križevac (Cross Mountain)

Cross Mountain has both a physical and spiritual dimension. The climb up Cross Mountain is quite a challenging one due to its steepness and the rocky terrain. There are no man made paths and coupled with an abundance of rocks in all sorts of shapes and sizes, this climb requires pilgrims to have all their wits about them.

Many of the rocks have become smooth over the years from the millions of pilgrims making the same journey, which makes climbing Cross Mountain especially dangerous in the rain. I experienced such inhospitable conditions during one of my climbs, approximately half way up the mountain when it began to rain. It did not detract from my spiritual focus, but it did put me to task to ensure I was prudent and cautious about my climb.

The descent down to the base of Cross Mountain does not offer much consolation to pilgrims. At times, negotiating this rocky landscape can be a series of challenging steps without a flat base to land on. One needs to be careful of leaping down from rock to rock to avoid sore knees. Maintaining a steady pace on the way down will help to ensure a safe return to the base. In my own experience, what ever the physical challenges were at each climb, in no way were they an impediment to the spiritual dimension.

In front of the 13 Station of the Cross
Two of my fellow pilgrims at the thirteenth Station: Jesus is Taken From The Cross

The spiritual dimension of Cross Mountain is one of prayer not only at its summit, but throughout the climb, especially the Stations of The Cross. To aid pilgrims in their penitential climb up the mountain, there are bronze plaques for each Station of the Cross, with an additional special commemorative boulder for Franciscan Father Slavko Barbaric, who died at the spot of the boulder on November 24, 2000.

Father Slavko is a legend in the Medjugorje community, a Franciscan friar whose tireless work produced so many spiritual fruits for locals and pilgrims. In addition to establishing Majčino Selo (Mother's Village)—a place for war orphans, children from separated families, unwed mothers, elderly abandoned persons and sick children—Fr. Slavko has written books such as In The School of Love and Pray With The Heart, and several others which have been translated into twenty languages with over twenty million copies sold.

For those who are currently in Medjugorje, I highly recommend you purchase both aforementioned books at the Franciscan Book Store adjacent to the Information Center. Father Slavko's writings properly prepare pilgrims to enter into the spirit of prayer at Cross Mountain, Apparition Hill, the Blue Crosses, at Mass, before confession, for morning and evening prayers and the recitation of the Rosary. Both books were essential companions during my pilgrimage this summer.

My initial climb up Cross Mountain was part of a group effort, guided by one of Medjugorje's best guides, who did an excellent job of introducing the spiritual dimension of the climb by providing us with meditations and prayers at each Station of The Cross. We were further encouraged by our guide to hold Our Lady's "little stone," the Rosary in our hands and recite it as we ascended to each successive station.

This initial climb was a very special one. It was a wonderful gift from God to journey up the mountain with like-minded Catholics, all of whom were called by Our Lady to journey together during that grace filled time in our lives. Accepting Our Lady's call to Medjugorje entailed many things and the climb up Cross Mountain was just one of them.

Each of my climbs up Cross Mountain were peaceful hours in prayer, in divine intimacy with Jesus and Mary. I am not sure that there are words to adequately describe the peaceful feeling of each step of the climb. The best way to understand this is to experience it yourself.

After my initial experience climbing up Cross Mountain, I decided to frequent Križevac many times during my pilgrimage. Most of my climbs were done on an individual basis accompanied by the prayers and meditations of Saint Alphonsus Liguori's Way of the Cross. These prayers and meditations were a perfect companion during my climbs.

No matter how many times you climb Križevac, it will always be a challenging climb. Certainly if you climb it frequently enough, your physical conditioning will make it somewhat less challenging, but what really makes each successive climb so much easier than the previous one, is the spiritual aspect of it.

From my own experience, it was only after a few climbs that the physical challenges were hardly a concern. My greatest and overwhelming thought each time I approached the base of Cross Mountain was about the spiritual journey of this penitential climb, to encounter Jesus and Mary anew in a more profound way.

A photo of two fellow pilgrims completing the climb of Cross Mountain.
Two of my fellow pilgrims arriving back down at the base of the mountain.

Cross Mountain is a great climb any time of the day, but I found an afternoon climb to be the most preferable. The physical requirements coupled with the intense heat of the day were perfect compliments to enter into the spirit of prayer and share in what Christ suffered from the house of Pilate to Calvary. To keep myself well hydrated I also made sure to include a large bottle of cold water during each one of my climbs.

If you have recently arrived in Medjugorje, are on route or scheduled to go, I highly recommend that you climb Cross Mountain. All of my climbs were a grace-filled time of peace that made this penitential climb a joy.

I hope this will be your experience as well. May each one of your visits to Cross Mountain be a safe and spiritually beneficial time for you and your fellow pilgrims.

Kraljica Mira, moli za nas (Queen of Peace, pray for us)

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