Monday, August 31, 2015

A Miraculous Climb Up Apparition Hill

Statue of Our Lady where she first appeared in Medjugorje
The statue of Our Lady at Brdo Ukazanja (Apparition Hill) and where She appeared to the children

Today's post continues with a series of posts I will be publishing on my recent pilgrimage to Medjugorje. If this is your first visit to my blog or you are not familiar with Medjugorje and all that has happened since Our Lady began appearing to six children in 1981, you may want to consider's Overview page. Of the many posts I have published under the "Medjugorje" label, I would like to recommend one in particular, the Queen of Peace: The Medjugorje Documentary.

Medjugorje is a place of peace and reconciliation, where an abundance of graces and blessings have been and continue to be bestowed upon pilgrims, and those who live and work there. Medjugorje is considered to be as Saint Pope John Paul II put it, "the spiritual center of the world." I affectionately refer to Medjugorje as a "spiritual orchard" one that has yielded many fruits: conversions, spiritual, physical and emotional healing, vocations to the priesthood and religious life, answers to life questions, deliverance from demonic possession, recovery from drug addictions, the curing of diseases, illnesses and cancer and the spiritual renewal experienced by many who return annually to "recharge their spiritual batteries."

Today Medjugorje is considered a holy place, an international shrine where Catholics are permitted to venerate the Mother of God in a manner and in agreement with the teaching and belief of the Church. This was officially declared by his Eminence Cardinal Dr. Franjo Kuharić, Archbishop of Zagreb in August'1993. In simple terms, this means that all Catholics, laity, religious, and clergy can make a pilgrimage to Medjugorje as part of a personal devotion to Our Lady.

Medjugorje is very special in terms of its significance with respect to other Marian apparitions in the history of the Catholic Church. One of the special aspects is that the apparitions have been on going since June 24, 1981 and continue to this day. Unlike Lourdes, Guadalupe, Fatima, Zaragoza, Montserrat and other Marian apparitions, Medjugorje is happening right now in our life time; Our Lady is appearing there everyday! Our Lady has specifically stated, "What I started in Fatima, I will finish in Medjugorje, my Immaculate Heart will triumph."

Our Lady not only chose six local children to communicate her messages to the world, but the entire parish and its pilgrims, "I have chosen this parish in a special way and I wish to lead it." (March 1, 1984) The parish and pilgrims from all over the world have responded to Our Lady. What was once a small village has become a modern developed pilgrimage site. To date, a multitude of pilgrims have made their way to Medjugorje, approximately 55 million people.

As for my own pilgrimage experience this summer, my first climb up Brdo Ukazanja (Apparition Hill) occurred during the first week. It unexpectedly came about from a late morning chat over coffee at Mary's Meals (see the photo below) where I met the most wonderful elderly couple, John and Charlotte from Scotland. Spending time with them, sharing and getting to know them better was but the beginning of an absolute joyful experience that unbeknownst to me was to be one of the highlights of my pilgrimage.

During our chat, John and Charlotte had informed me that they were in Medjugorje only for the day, as they were scheduled to join a friend and visit a town in Bosnia or Herzegovina (the town's name escapes my memory), where John's friend was stationed as part of the international peace keeping force during the Balkan War of the 90's. If that wasn't interesting enough, I soon discovered that John was an active duty paratrooper during World War Two. Upon hearing that I developed an even greater respect for him and expressed how it was an honour to have met him!

A photo of Mary's Meals in Medjugorje
Mary's Meals where English speaking pilgrims typically meet for coffee or tea.

John and Charlotte had also informed me of their desire to climb Brdo Ukazanja (Apparition HIll) before they left. They had tentatively scheduled a climb with a group of other pilgrims (who were at their pension), which would have basically been the equivalent of "tagging along." I could see from both of them that this was not really what they had hoped for; they had basically settled for an arrangement that did not accommodate them at all. So, I offered up myself as their personal guide for a late afternoon 4:00pm climb. They accepted and we looked forward to our climb together in only a few hours time.

In discussing our climb, I had expressed my hope that we would make it back to St. James Church for Mass which began at 7:00pm. I had initially wanted to be back even earlier for the group recitation of the Rosary which begins every evening at 6:00pm (the beginning of the Evening Prayer Program). I knew very well that it would not have been possible on that day. They informed me that they would have a taxi available to and from Apparition Hill to save time (as opposed to walking the fields or the road, each way taking approximately 30 minutes), which offered me some consolation, but I still was not confident that we would make it back in time for Mass.

At this point, all seemed fine from my perspective, except one thing, the fact that John was blind. He had only 3% of his vision left and he walked with a cane. Throughout our entire discussion both John and Charlotte spoke of the climb irrespective of John's blindness. I had wondered what the actual climb would be like, but I never questioned his ability to make the climb. It was a telling sign of something special awaiting us all. 

Moving forward a few hours later, I had walked to Brdo Ukazanja and arrived at the base at around 3:30pm reciting my Rosary. It was a typically hot and dry day in Medjugorje so I patiently awaited the arrival of John and Charlotte, continuing with the recitation of my Rosary.

As 4:00pm approached, there was no sign of them. I figured they were somewhat delayed which is not an unusual occurrence during a pilgrimage. A quarter past 4:00pm and still no sign of them. I began wondering if they had changed their minds, but I stayed regardless and intended to do so hoping they would arrive. That moment came at 4:30pm and upon seeing them, it put a smile on my face. I waved from afar as they were walking toward the base with a group and upon seeing me (Charlotte informing John), they too smiled.

John and Charlotte at the wooden Cross on Apparition Hill
John and Charlotte at the Cross, where Our Lady expressed to the visionary Marija, "Mir, Mir, Mir"
(Peace, Peace, Peace)

At the base of Apparition Hill, there is a steep cobblestone road that pilgrims must walk, just to get to the rocky landscape, where the real climbing begins. As we walked up the road, Charlotte had been at John's side. When we reached the rocky landscape, I took over as John's escort and we made our way up to Our Lady's statue (see the first photo published with this post). I had no experience in leading a blind person before, but placing my trust in Jesus and Mary, we began our ascent praying the Rosary along the way.

The miraculous aspect of the climb was revealed almost immediately from the first step that John took. Together wIth his walking cane and my grasping his other arm, we ascended the hill as I verbally instructed John of the specific terrain, be it smooth flat surfaces, loose stones, or rising steps. No matter what the description I gave, John climbed the hill as if he had perfect vision. There was never a stumble; nor, any degree of panic or apprehension in his footsteps or general demeanour. He climbed the mountain with confidence and trust. It was miraculous to have experienced it all!

I was so pleased that the climb was going so well and hoped that there would be no accidents or issues to deal with. There were none! The more we climbed, the more I realized that something was going on that was well beyond my ability to guide and assist John. It was a realization that Jesus and Mary were guiding us and protecting us at every step, in a very special way.

During our climb we stopped and took a few breaks to "catch our breath," which provided us with further opportunities to chat. It made for an enjoyable climb that was complimented by our consistent slow pace, allowing us to pray the Rosary comfortably. This climb was absolutely a fantastic one for me; I never experienced such a wonderful climb up Apparition Hill as I did with John and Charlotte.

John and Charlotte at Our Lady's statue
John and Charlotte at the statue of Our Lady

As you can see from this post, I was inspired to take photographs of John and Charlotte's time at Apparition Hill. Several photos were taken capturing various moments of the climb, all of which I had emailed to Charlotte.

Prior to their approach of the statue of Our Lady, I had encouraged them to take all the time they needed to pray and absorb the moment. At this point, I had lost track of time and figured that Mass that night was probably not going to possible for me to attend. 

Eventually we made our way down the hill. The ease with which John ascended Apparition Hill was equally matched by his descent. It was just amazing to witness John as he placed each foot in front of the other, listening to my instructions and doing so without a misplaced step. 

John and I at the entrance path to Apparition Hill, after our climb
John and I at the base of Apparition Hill at the completion of our climb

The miraculous experience of this climb left me in awe of this wonderful gift; to have climbed Apparition Hill at the service to others. It was an opportunity to do what we all are called to do; that is, live in communion with others as a sincere gift of self.

As you can see from the above photo, I simply refused to contain my joy and happiness of the entire experience. I am sure you have heard of the saying, "it is better to give than receive?" Well, I can personally confirm, from this climb, how true that is. I had received many graces during my time with John and Charlotte and the joy of offering myself up as their guide was a feeling like no other I had ever experienced.

After the completion of our climb at the base of Apparition Hill I checked the time and it was 6:30pm; plenty of time to get to St. James by taxi. Not only did I make it in time for Mass, but I had offered John and Charlotte to join me as well. They accepted, but had to first go back to their pension for a change of clothing. So I arranged to meet with them at one of my usual locations at the back alter of St. James. With the back alter being so vast and packed with people, it proved to be too much of a task to locate me prior to Mass. I too was not able to find them, either before or after Mass. I did not see them again.

One of my most fondest memories of my pilgrimage this summer was the few hours I had spent with John and Charlotte. It saddened me somewhat to know that they had to go the next day, but we had exchanged contact information and have kept in touch since our climb. Charlotte had emailed me upon their arrival back in Scotland that they were in attendance at Mass and had tried to locate me, but to no avail.

To have had such a wonderful experience with John and Charlotte, a couple whose  kindness, generosity and faith had touched me, is but one of the many gifts I received during this summer's pilgrimage, to which I am grateful to Jesus and Mary.

Hvaljen Isus i Marija (Praised be Jesus and Mary)

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