Medjugorje is a small town in the former Yugoslavia. In 1980 it is alleged that the Blessed Mother, The Virgin Mary, appeared to several young children of that town. From the outset it has been controversial. Some people believed and others didn’t. This controversy continues to this day with many very intelligent, devout,  and scholarly people weighing in with their thoughts on whether or not this is genuine.

What follows is my story of going to Medjugorje in 1990 and how I came to believe that it was in fact a genuine apparition worthy of at least my consideration.

First off, no Catholic is required to believe a private revelation, regardless of whether or not it is approved by the Church. You can check the Catechism of the Catholic Church for its stance on this issue . (#67)

Examples of these special types of spiritual encounters would include the apparition of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque which gave us the devotion of the Sacred Heart. Similar to that would be that of Saint Faustina and the Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe. All of these apparitions were meticulously studied and eventually approved by the Church. Medjugorje has been watched closely but has not been approved as of yet. One major reason is that the apparitions continue. The Church would typically  wait until they conclude before offering any definitive statement.( that may not be the case with Medjugorje because I hear that Pope Benedict’s Commission on Medjugorje has been handed over to Francis and we may get a definitive ruling soon, Summer 2018)

Generally speaking, the Church believes in these spiritual encounters but recognizes also that they can be demonic deceptions, or could also be the result of human failings such as a mental illness, a desire for attention, or to willfully deceive, that is, to perpetrate a hoax. The Church has 2000 years of experience in discerning these types of things so they should be listened to as being the experts.

Now I would like to mention that my call to the priesthood was very fresh at this time. Only a few weeks old when I decided to go on my personal pilgrimage. Various individuals were suggesting that I should consider becoming a priest. Not exactly the news I wanted to hear. I was resistant. I’ll tell you of one of those instances. In anticipation of my pilgrimage I decided to go to confession. I figured it couldn’t hurt. I went to the pastor of my church for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We didn’t know each other and so he didn’t recognize me as one of his parishioners. But the first words out of his mouth were a question. He asked me if I was a priest. I asked him why he asked that question. He said I kind of looked like a priest. Well I was not wearing any black that day. More than likely I was wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt. But I left that confession thinking that maybe I was actually experiencing a vocation call. That experience in the confessional was repeated about 20 times from different people in different ways. It took me five years to work up the courage to approach the bishop asking for entrance into the seminary formation program.

Now back to my story. When I first decided to go to Yugoslavia to investigate for myself, I was given widely different opinions as to whether not I should. Some good, devout Catholics had said yes while others said absolutely not. I eventually reasoned  that all approved apparitions started out as unapproved apparitions. The people went regardless of whether the Church had given its “stamp of approval”. ( You can see this played out in the movies about Lourdes and Fatima.)

I remember first learning of the apparition in the mid-eighties from a small postage stamp-sized ad in Catholic Digest Magazine. It asked the simple question: “ Is Mary appearing in Medjugorje?”

I was intrigued and began to study more deeply. One book I read was by a Lutheran man who was a publisher. Wayne Weibel. I remember attending a talk by him at the other Holy Spirit Church, in Highland. His report was quite positive and I think it eventually led his own conversion to Catholicism. I remember asking the opinion of two friends at my home parish in Ann Arbor about whether I should go. One said no because it was an unapproved apparition. But the other person said sure, why not? He and his wife had been there and came back with one of those positive signs that would seem to confirm the validity of the apparition.

Well, in any case, I did choose to go and began to plan my journey. I chose a particular date to go with the intention of being there for the anniversary date of the apparition. The travel agent took on the task of making the arrangements. After several weeks I had not heard anything so I gave a call. She apologized profusely saying that she forgot. This actually happened twice. She then immediately made the arrangements but because of the delay, the trip was now far too expensive. We selected another date so as to get the price down to reasonable levels. I was disappointed but I was beginning to get used to the idea that God‘s plans might be better than mine, so I remained calm and didn’t yell at the travel agent.

I tried to work out my itinerary as best I could before I left but miscalculated in a few areas. I ran into roadblocks and detours and endured several delays that really kind of threw a monkey wrench into all of my planning. Take for instance, at the beginning of my journey in Italy, taking the wrong bus (boat) in Venice and going out to the working class neighborhoods instead of returning to the parking lot where my rental car was. I have to admit that I was kind of ticked off. But this caused several hours of delay. I eventually made it to the border of Yugoslavia and had to wait in line at the checkpoint. Remember, this was a communist country at the time. I remember the stern-faced guard asking me where I was going and when I told her, she looked at me with disdain, rolling her eyes in disgust at yet another foolish Christian  pilgrim/tourist heading off to that strange little town.

The trip down the coast took far longer than I anticipated. I had not taken into account the winding road down the very irregular coast of that country. It took me 12 long hours to make my destination late that evening. It was the city of Mostar on the coast. I was tired and lonely and getting concerned that I wasn’t going to find lodging for the night. I pulled into a high-rise hotel and was told by the concierge that there was only one room left in the hotel. There was room at the inn and I took it ! And I praised God that night for delivering me safely to a comfortable bed and a hot meal.

The next morning I headed out  inland from the coast, on the final stretch of my journey. When I arrived in Medjugorje it soon became apparent to me that everything that happened up to that point had definitely unfolded according to God’s plan and his timing,  and not mine. I arrived on the square in front of St. James Church at noon, just in time for the Sunday English-language Mass. It was there that the celebrant informed us all of the significance of that particular date and day, and time. It was noon, May 13th, the anniversary of the first apparition of Fatima (to the day and hour) and it was also Mother’s Day in many parts of the Western world.

I had a very short stay in Medjugorje and I and I did not experience any of the so-called “signs and wonders” that many of the pilgrims claim to see. No rosary beads turning gold, and I was not able to look at the sun unshielded as many others could do. After only two short days there I made preparations to return to Italy. I had to drive off into the night to catch the ferry at Dubrovnik. A bunch of charismatic types prayed over me and sent me off into the dark. I have to admit I was a bit unnerved because I got kind of a late start. When I got to the ferry I was relieved to see that there was another delay. A large truck had difficulty getting onto the ferry because it was about 2 inches too tall and so they were letting air out of the tires. I was able to drive right on with time to spare.

In due time I returned my rental car in Rome and began my journey back home to Michigan. At some point I was reflecting on all the special things that happened to me along the way and I thought to myself that one final sign that would be kind of a “frosting on the cake” would be to arrive home on my birthday. Well, I was scheduled to arrive home on the morning of the 16th. Oh well. It was a nice thought. But, weather had turned sour over the Atlantic and so we began to experience more of those delays, detours, and roadblocks. By then however, I was learning to keep my cool and so I just sat back and calmly waited for the plan(His plan) to unfold. And wouldn’t you know it, I eventually landed at Detroit Metro at one minute after midnight, on my birthday. How’s that for timing?!

There are more details I could share with you but let me give you just one more. On the ferry back to Italy I met two ladies from Florida who ran a retreat house near Clearwater. For some odd reason, while talking with them,  I blurted out that my home in Ann Arbor, in which I was a renter, would be a retreat house. I have no idea why I said that. Kind of mysterious. But when I arrived home my landlord said that she and her husband  were planning to sell the house and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. After taking ownership I began to work towards making it that retreat house but all my efforts fell flat. Remember that call to the priesthood? Well, once I got my priorities straight and got accepted into the seminary, I sold the house. The new owner handed it over to the religious order called The Servants of God’s Love. (SGL)

Several years later, now a newly ordained priest, I met Sister Ann (SGL) at a party. We talked about my old home and how the sisters had turned it into a …..retreat house.   It seems my prophetic utterance on  the ferry had been fulfilled, just not the way I expected.

So, again, the point of all of this was to share my perspective about this “alleged” apparition site of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It does not represent any kind of detailed, in-depth study, and no deep theological investigation. No, but only a personal experience that seems to me to be beyond mere coincidence.

I do recall however, a certain passage from the Acts of the Apostles that might be helpful. The early Church was thriving and the Sanhedrin was concerned about what to do next. The wise old rabbi, Gamaliel, said that if it was not from God, it would go the way of all false religious movements. That is, it would fail. If however, it was truly from God, there would be no stopping it.

I guess then, that we will have to wait on heaven to see what the answer is about Medjugorje.

Fr. John Rocus

May, 2018

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