America, Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage

Give us this Day – the sermon on the mountain

Watch therefore for ye know neither the.day nor the hour that the Son of Man cometh – Matthew 25

Ignoring that this is the Parable of the Ten Virgins and that it deals with how prepared or otherwise they were to serve the bridegroom.

But there is a message here about preparedness and the buzz phrase ‘stay alert’ and, scholar that he is, I’m sure Boris Johnson would know of the passage’s significance.

All of which Biblical touchpoints brings me to a mountain looking over Jericho, Jerusalem and The Promised Land… www.visitjordan.com and Wham bam, thank you Hamam

The Promised Land: On Mt Nebo

Which is the closest Moses got to taking his people home which was of course the central theme of the sermon on the mountain.

He died atop the mountain, punishment for an earlier row with God.

No, not that one, but a homily in the church given by the Sri Lankan pastor in Mt Nebo.

Alas, I was whisked away from hearing his pay-off as our G Adventures group www.gadventures.co.uk were bound for the desert.

As you all know by now I make a point of going where people play and pray.

And listen to the sermons.

Here’s to Moses

When your holy man (and it’s almost always a man) gets to pace the stage.

Use his hands and tease, cajole, comfort and berate us.

It’s no coincidence that some of the world’s greatest orators have been preachers… Martin Luther Dresden’s renaissance and https://www.dresden.de/en/tourism/tourism.php.

And Dr Martin Luther King Easy DC and https://washington.org,

Me and Martin: In Dresden

Though, of course we could never see Martin Luther in his pomp now but you couldn’t help but get a sense of the man in Saxony.

And there is a preacher at Luther’s church, the Frauenkirche in Dresden worthy of his famous predecessor.

As he recalled his own father taking him to the ruins of the church where only the statue of Luther still stood and vowed that one day it would be rebuilt.

His near namesake is all over Washington where his statue remains unfinished in homage to the unfinished struggle.

While in Memphis https://www.civilrightsmuseum.org his last resting place The Promised Land the Civil Rights Tourist will want to take in the Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) in Memphis, Tennessee.

Where he gave his rousing ‘I have been to the Mountaintop sermon https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zgVrlx68v-0.

Like Moses he (and me) did not get to the Promised Land but he has seen the glory of the Lord.

And we will too when all this is over.

Countries, Culture, Europe, Food & Wine, Pilgrimage

Hungry and Thursday – Pickle your Croatian walnuts

It was a family tradition to bring home a bottle of liqueur from foreign shores.

But my parents” drinks trolly seriously lacked a bottle of Croatian Orahovaca.

Sure we had Dubonnet from thr Riviera The Boat D’Azur and https://www.google.ie/amp/s/us.france.fr/en/news/article/about-atout-france-0/amp made for a competition in 1846.

Here’s to Our Lady

To provide the French Foreign Legion to take quinine to combat malaria.

And ouzo from Greece My Greek odyssey https://athensattica.com and Aperol in Padova https://www.google.ie/amp/s/jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/2019/09/15/padova-city-of-frescoes/amp/ to name just a few.

But while we’ve all ventured through the Balkans on the other side of the Adriatic nobody dipped a toe in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Would I look big in this?

Until I visited Our Lady and Medjugorje where they’re all Croatians, with Marian Pilgrimages https://marian.ie and https://www.google.ie/amp/s/www.thesun.ie/travel/5132756/a-pilgrims-progress-in-medjugorje/amp/.

Now Medjugorje is many things other than a site to Mary… who am I kidding, it’s all about Our Lady.

But trawl the stalls and you’ll find some treasures other than the holy water and Virgin Mary that will get you into Heaven.

A cross around every corner

Such as Orahovaca which a Balkan trader up by the bus station in Medjugorje was showcasing.

I’ve been to a few wine-tastings in function rooms of hotels, so testing Maria’s samples from plastic cups was a different experience altogether.

But it was worth it and got the thumbs-up from the Scary One and Daddy’s Little Girl when I finally broke open the bottle yesterday.

We adapted the sweet walnut drink by having it on the rocks which meant we drank more.

And you’ll get a statue in the village

But at about a fiver I can always stock up the next time I’m out there.

And at the end of it all we all felt filled with wholly spirit.

Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage, UK

Give us this Day – church is back in Germany

And again the Germans are leading the way.

With Chancellor Angela Merkel giving the green light for churches to reopen.

Worshippers will have to wear masks, respect social distancing, and there will be no singing.

Which will, alas, be taking the best bit out of the service.

Signs of peace are out and you will have to keep to your own marked territory at communion.

Pray de Cologne

Closer to God: Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral will be their guide with only 122 people allowed in for its reopening ceremony as opposed to the 20,000 who visit every day.

Now I’ve spent a bit of time in German churches.

Not as much as I’d like… wherever I travel I love to go where the locals play and pray.

Churchtown: Oberammergau

This year I was meaning to go to Oberammergau for the ten-year resumption of the Passionsspiele https://www.passionsspiele-oberammergau.de/en/home.

Passion of Bavaria

But the reenactment of the Passion of Christ which the villagers first put on in 1634 as a thank you to God for ridding them of the plague has been moved back to 2022.

Thankfully I did get to join the Bavarians at play as part of our walking holiday with www.topflightforschools.ie and www.topflight.ie.

When they had the drapes out for the 2020 Oberammergau which was due to start on May 16.

Everyone has a cross to bear

But they were that day celebrating a landmark anniversary of their fire service.

By dressing up in traditional lederhosen and parading through the streets.

With their buildings adorned with murals depicting their plague history.

Simple Christianity

Their churches by contrast are fairly simple affairs with small wooden crosses, a lectern and an inviting Bible on a seat when you enter.

Light a candle: Oberammergau

Which I did, taking a detour from the people milling through the streets and villagers to find a place of worship with its doors open.

Remember that!

Plague reminders

Now while it seems like 40 days and 40 nights since we last did Mass…

It’s as nothing compared with the resilient and God-fearing Dresdeners.

Dresden, a city rebuilt

Who saw their Frauenkirche levelled by the Allies’ firestorm in 1945.

And left in rubble all through Communist rule until the Saxons started rebuilding it when they got their province back.

Which you can read about in Dresden’s renaissance and https://www.dresden.de/index_en.php.

A day out in Oberammergau: Remembering the firemen

It’s an inspirational story, one of endurance, patience and redemption.

Here in Scotland it’s our Catholic Church rather than the reforming church which is first out of the blocks on lockdown xx (yes, the great resistors).

And of course in the absence of live sport never since the Holy Spirit dropped in on the Apostles will transubstantiation feel so exciting.

When the church doors reopen.

MEET YOU IN THE PEWS

Adventure, Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Food, Food & Wine, Pilgrimage

Every day’s a schoolday – the virtual Seven Wonders

Every day is a schoolday was never so apt with parents all over the world going back to class with their kids… and relearning our geography.

The world is all around me… from fridge magnets to desk souvenirs to the big atlas that takes up half the wall.

Say a prayer: With my pal Hannah

But in the absence of actually being able to get out there just now to visit the wonders of the world we can take a virtual voyage.

Uswitch have brought together seven virtual tours of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World to inspire us for the future.

In with the locals: With my pal Humpy

Carved in my heart

Which, of course, includes magical Petra, where I sweltered and swooned… www.vistjordan.com www.gadventures.co.uk.

This is what Uswich has got for you .

With the honey-toned voice of this teacher better suited than the nasal Scottish twang of your Bandanaman… https://www.google.co.uk/maps/about/behind-the-scenes/streetview/treks/petra/.

But, of course, I took my own circuitous journey… The water of life, Petra, and the sands of time.

Don’t tell anyone… I’m a Christian

Colossal

Like everything in life there is always someone who wants to charge you for what you can see with your own eyes.

The Colosseum is one such example.

Your own imagination is your best tool… and supplement it with Uswich’s tour with this hour-long walking tour of the Colosseum.  

And why not at the end of your Francigena Ways 100km pilgrimage walk from Viterbo into Rome www.FrancigenaWays.com

Now that obviously leaves a golden of wonders (if that’s the collective term) for me still to do.

Now that’s a walk

China in your hands

Which are… The Great Wall of China. And one that got away from me.

When a former colleague who would usually turn their nose up at going to Travel events decided they would grace this promotion in Dublin.

Hey ho, I was off on my travels elsewhere at the time.

But I’ll get there yet, and don’t you know the Wall isn’t going anywhere… Virtual Tour provided by The China Guide

And that’s another

Peru too true

Machu Picchu, Mexico: And the preserve of the backpacking trustafarians but heck us oldies can walk the legs off most of them.

The Uswich virtual tour comes complete with a voiceover, will be right up your street.

Dome from home

Indian stunner

Taj Mahal, India: I’ve spent many a happy and drunken night at the Taj Mahal… trouble is it’s the Indian restaurant in Glasgow.

Still Uswich have allowed me behind the scenes of India’s Crown Jewel and once I do get out there I will channel my own Princess Diana look.

Mexican rave

Mexican areeba

Chichen Itza, Mexico: The nearest I’ve got to Mexico is a summer spent working in GuadalaHarry’s in Boston.

Don’t judge me! Rather let’s us all experience a 360 view of the stepped pyramids in this virtual tour. 

Putting Christ on his pedestal

Rio by the sea-o

Christ the Redeemer, Rio: And did you know there’s one in Lisbon too? Yes, if you’re Portuguese obviously.

But Rio offers the added extra of the Copacabana.

Here’s Uswich’s www.uswitch.com introduction to Christ the Redeemer in Rio… a virtual tour of the statue.

All wonderful wonders we’d all agree and ones you can tick off with G Adventures www.gadventures.co.uk and well done Uswitch but why no place for the Acropolis?

The wonder of the Acropolis

Greek gift

Which is just one of many contenders for the Wonders of the World… https://athensattica.com and My Greek odyssey.

And your teacher will be back next week with more perils of wisdom. Remember your homework everyone.

Adventure, Countries, Culture, Europe, Flying, Food, Food & Wine, Ireland, Pilgrimage, UK

Sign me up for the end of the world… Finisterre

Our forebears in the Middle Ages believed that Finisterre at the outpost of Galicia in north-west Spain was the end of the world.

And they would carry their penitential pilgrimage, the 87kms to Santiago de Compostella on to Finisterre.

Well, if this is the end of the world I’m jumping right off. Gladly!

Here’s your ‘cut-out and keep’ guide to everything you want to know about Finisterre and the Camino…

I need a rest… after that coach ride!

Piper at the gates of heaven

Santiago to Finisterre, 87kms: What else would you expect at the Edge of the World? A Galician piper belts out a Celtic tune by the lighthouse at Finisterre, the westernmost post of their world.

A sign with the Camino shell, marks 0,00kms.

Many pilgrims continue on by foot from Santiago to Finisterre.

Wendy, my fellow peregrinos, take a three-hour coach ride from Santiago (€26 return) on our last day, Wednesday.

Any trip to the Edge of the World should not be rushed, there is much to see, from quiet coves to golden beaches and coastal villages.

With azure and terracotta-washed cottages.

As I look out on the horizon from atop the cliff on the clearest of clear days I can see why my Celtic predecessors refused to countenance that there could be anything beyond or above this.

Wear light clothes

The legend of the Camino

Santiago de Compostella, or ‘St James of the Field of Stars’, the name derives from the belief that the bones of St James the Greater were taken here from the Middle East to Spain.

Where he is reported to have preached earlier in his mission.

In 814AD Bishop Theodoric of Aria Flavia, is said to have been guided there by a shepherd who had been led to the bones by a star.

A church was built over the bones and later replaced with the Catedral de Santiago.

Pilgrims have been walking the Camino, originally from their own homes as a starting point. ever since, as a penance and to gain indulgence.

The Scallop Shell

When St James’s disciples were shipping his body to the Iberian Peninsula a storm is said to have hit the boat and his body was thought lost to the sea.

However, it washed ashore undamaged, coated by scallop shells.

Pilgrims display their shells for identification and are rewarded still with charity from locals.

Medieval pilgrims would also use them to scoop up drinking water: pilgrims take them home as keepsakes.

When to go

April-June, September-October: Galicia is at its most colourful with spring and autumn hues and the temperature is warm without being baking (late teens to early 20sC).

Winter is quieter and temperatures can dip to the early double figures.

Galicia is so verdant because of the rain so be prepared.

A hat and a rucksack… and you’re ready to go

What to bring

Walking boots and socks, picking trousers (convertible with zip to make them shorts).

No jeans, they’re restrictive and will weigh you down in the rain and mark you out as a newbie.

Shirts (long-sleeved and t-shirts).

Walking stick (depending on agility and age).

Light rain jacket and polar fleece.

Sun hat, sunglasses, sun cream.

Water bottle, first aid (Paracetamol, competed blister plasters and anti-inflammatory cream).

How to prepare

Caminoways.com hold training walks throughout the year for different levels of walker.

Alternatively avail of the many walkways around the country which can be similar to the Galician terrain.

And do your basic stretching exercises before and after walks.

Some Halloween spirit

Where to eat/drink

Breakfasts in designated Caminoways.com hotels are buffet style. The large range of fruit is healthy and refreshing, bacon and sausages are thinner than Irish tastes while scrambled eggs are constantly light, fresh and tasty.

Cafe/bars on the Camino are well priced, a range of filled baguettes are around a fiver.

And wine and lager range from around @1-1.50 and while the costs increase the nearer to Santiago you get they are not prohibitive.

Hamlets and towns are well served for eating places.

And if you do stumble across a Queimada (a Galician ritual involving stirring a brew in a fiery cauldron) as I did at the Mandala restaurant in Rua Cima Do Lugar, Arzua then that’s a bonus.

I had their equivalent of an early bird of skag bol and wine which filled the plate, all for €6.

I always seize on calamari where I find it, but it’s pulp (octopus) which is Galicia’s speciality.

Sit on a stool and eat with fingers, mopping up the tomato sauce from the bowl with bread and swirling it down with a large red (at La Puerta, Santiago, €6.50).

Santiago is noted for Padron peppers, usually green where the random one is very hot…. Galician Roulette. I chickened out.

Where to stay

Alfonso IX, Rua Do Peregrino 29, 27600, Sarria (close to the river) Good starting point, good hotel sundries.

Pousada de Portomarin, 27170, Avda de Sarria, Portomarin. A welcome archway after the first day. A cosy stay, and ah, a bidet!

Complejo la Cabana C/Dr Pardo Ouro, 27200.

Palasd de Rei: A bit of a hike up town so a walk to restaurants if you choose not to eat at the hotel. There was a wedding on when I tased which was good of them to arrange for our evening entertainment.

Teodora, Avda de Lugo, 38 Arzua: Centrally located, comfortable and friendly.

Amenal 12, O Pino: One-horse hamlet but that’s OK after a 30km trek, and the stew is filling.

Santiago: HOtel Geimirez, Horreo 92, 15702: Ideally located close to the historic old town. A welcome and deserved bottomless tube at the end of your Camino.

Walk this way

The different ways

The French Way: Saint Jean to Santiago, 770km. Las leg: Sarria to Santiago, 116kms.

Portuguese Coastal Way: Porto to Santiago, 236km.

Northern Way: San Sebastian to Santiago, 806km.

Le Puy Way: Le Puy-en-Velay to Santiago, 713km.

What to read/watch

John Bierley: Camino de Santiago guide.

Lonely Planet: Walking in Spain.

Cicerone: Way of St James – Spain.

Everest: Camino de Santiago.

The Way starring Martin Sheen and James Nesbitt.

Who to go with/How to get there

I travelled with Caminoways.com http://www.caminoways.com and Aer Lingus http://www.aerlingus.com.

Caminoway organise guided and self-guided tours on the many routes across Spain, Portugal and France.

Prices start at €560pp sharing for a six-night Camino trip, walking the Camino Frances from Sarria to Santiago, including half-board, luggage transfers from hotel to hole and holiday pack with pilgrim passport and route information.

Airport transfers, hotel upgrades and bike rental are also available.

This year is a Holy Year for Pilgrims as declared by the Pope The Holy Door of the Cathedral will be open for the Year of Mercy.

And, of course everyone’s Camino is their Camino… This was mine A pilgrim’s prayer.

Have stick, will travel

And this was my Via Francigena.. the last 100kms walk of which I did into Rome from Viterbo www.Francigenaways.com and Small roads lead to Rome.m

My sore feet… on the road to Rome

Heck, let’s go the whole hog and flag up Tenerife too and www.visitingtenerife.com and A walk through the ages… Tenerife.

America, Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage

Give us this Day – Sing a song of prayer to the Lord

I’m sitting out my Sunday service today but I will sing a song of prayer to the Lord.

The advice on attending your place of worship has swung back and forth like yon botafumeiro incense holder that almost took me out in Santiago.

With the Diocese of Rome, whose boss, the Pope the ma. I defer to, ordering the closing of churches and then their reopening.

While mosques, synagogues and temples are also reacting coronavirus by closing their doors to protect their flock.

Best consult your place of worship for latest advice.

Of course there has always been an exemption from Sunday worship in my church for those who are old or infirm, if you’re sick, or at risk.

While there is no compulsion on Protestants to attend church with the emphasis very much on an individual’s personal relationship with God.

Through the Good Book and prayer.

And much like Methodists, Baptists and Gospel choirs the best way to pray is to sing.

And to Our Lady

So here are a few songs from my travels to get you going:

Ave Maria (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XpYGgtrMTYs): Well they are Marian sites…

Lourdes https://www.lourdes-infotourisme.com and The Lourdes prayer, Fatima in Portugal Centro www.visitportugal.com.

And Secret Portugal Medjugorje What’s the story, Medjugorje? Wouldn’t you like to know. And Marian Pilgrimages www.marian.ie.

Spiritual

Which is where the greats from Motown from Aretha to Whitney started out and how cruise ships https://www.celebritycruises.co.uk put on entertainment.

I’d missed the old gospel choir in Memphis after I had to get the early-morning connection back to Europe.

But we were greeted to Christmas songs in an antebellum house turned B&B (and Deep South B&Bs are actually country houses). Visit https://www.deep-south-usa.com.

I did manage to get my fix though in Anaheim. See https://visitanaheim.org and www.visitcalifornia.com

And breaking news…

Word reaches us from Siena, Italy, where the locals have been singing to each other for moral support.

Down an empty street https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hDu_kLJ-5Mk.

The song: E mentre Siena Dorme, or While Siena Sleeps.

Italians have never been silenced and never will… http://www.italia.it/en/home.html and Small roads lead to Rome.

And remember everybody has a place in God’s choir.

Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage

Italy – Il Bel Paese, the beautiful country

They’ve thrived and survived the Caesars, volcanic eruptions, the Vandals and the Goths, Napoleon, the Nazis and Mussolini… and Italy WILL survive Coronavirus.

The Italians have been at the Travel Fair, IMM2020, in London, this week.

Out doing what they do best… putting on their best front to the world.

It isn’t time now to deliver blame for Italy being in lockdown.

Rather it is best to dig out our holiday snaps, put on those old Dean Martin records and maybe a Fellini film.

Maybe go to our favourite Italian restaurant where your restaurateur is your best friend and you get the best pasta and risotto al funghi and Chianti.

And guess who knows how to make pasta from scratch now… thanks to my pal Catherine Fulvio at her Balkynocken Coikery School https://ballyknocken.ie

With Topflight, the Italian specialists www.topflight.ie. Also visit http://www.italia.it/en/home.html

Because if Italy can’t bring us out to them at the moment let’s bring Italy out to us.

The Roman Empire

Of course what the Romans did for us was only to give us all in the Western World the building blocks of civilisation.

I saw much of that on my walk along the Via Francigena, the last 100kms from Viterbo in Lazio into Rome Small roads lead to Rome and www.FrancigenaWays.com.

Where every small town boasted an antiquity, a fresco.

It wasn’t built in a day and Italy and Italians won’t be destroyed in a day either.

FORZA ITALIA

Adventure, Countries, Culture, Deals, Ireland, Pilgrimage

St Paddy’s Day crawls

You’ll see them, clad in their green cassocks enjoying the craic, with St Paddy’s vital accessories, his crook or crozier staff… and a pint of Guinness.

It’s the St Paddy’s Day procession only, in fairness, there is very little proceeding… unless it’s to the next pub.

St Paddy’s staff, or crook with cross on top, is a symbol of his high status but probably not the best walking aid.

It’ll turn your beer green

I’ll get onto walks around Ireland with IrelandWays www.IrelandWays.com but first a walk around the houses.

My Dear Old Dad, a doctor, and perhaps a sainted figure himself by now would always advise people use walking sticks.

I must say on my first Camino A pilgrim’s prayer and www.CaminoWays.com I thought differently of those clicking their sticks into the holds on the Ryanair www.ryanair.com flights.

My Way… the Camino

How wrong I was.

I could have done with a stick as I stumbled along the Via Francigena Small roads lead to Rome and www.FrancigenaWays.com.

On top of the world… well, Germany at least

I had one, hewn from wood, on my historic walk through Austrian and German history with Topflight for Schools… https://topflightforschools.ie

In fact two, three, four, five… they are left around the mountain by previous walkers.

Who, like me, forgetfully leave them behind as they take photos and selfies of the breathtaking scenery.

And I could have done with one on my toughest trek yet in the height and heat of a Tenerife autumn day…

I’ve got style and stile

On a storied climb up to Afur.., A walk through the ages… Tenerife and www.CanariaWays.com.

While walking through the Bohemian Switzerland section of the Czech Republic Hungry and Thursday – Czech please and www.czechtourism.com.

Czech me out in Bohemia

And on the actual Switzerland… it’s definitely worth a walk too https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/ and Swhisskey on the rocks.

So take your stick with you on your IrelandWays trek.

With particular reference to my old stomping ground of Co. Wicklow, the Garden County.

Hike the Wicklow Way

Follow peaceful paths through ancient forests and open mountain trails to Glenmalure, Ireland’s longest glacier valley… and finish in Dublin.

Duration: Up to eight nights. Price: From €900pps.

And my best walking companion

The Kerry Camino

In olden times, Dingle was one of the departure points for ports for the north-western port of A Coruna.

From here set on foot for Santiago de Compostella

Duration: Up to four nights. Price: From €410pps.

*Book before March 31 to get a 10% discount off your trip.

MEET YOU ON THE ROAD

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage

Give us this Day – missing Mass

Nothing much got past my Dad… he had rows of the Western Catholic Calendar in his bookcase to check when I was missing Mass.

Which I did today… and I’m only hoping that he’s not telling The BIg Man although He sees everything anyway, a bit like my Dad.

I did get up for 10am Mass today, albeit I cut it a bit fine… the trouble was I got lost. Obviously.

I’m still getting used to my new town, North Berwick, near Edinburgh.

North Berwick RC church

And I can find it if I set out from my Outlaws where we were living when we first turfed up here a fortnight ago.

But not from my new demesne, near the North Berwick sign on the main road.

I also missed Mass last week in the Czech Republic.

But my Dear Old Mum who is still alive and kicking, going to Mass, and telling everyone what they’re doing wrong, says: ‘You don’t have to go when you’re on holiday.’

It’s just that I do… my mantra is go to where the locals pray and play.

Old Czech Protestant service

And so on my previous sortie into the Czech Republic www.czechtourism.com I stumbled upon the first Protestant Jan Hus… Hope springs eternal.

I caught up with the one we know better, Martin Luther, in Dresden Dresden’s renaissance.

While in Tobago I sought out a happy-clappy West Indian Mass… On your marks, get set, GOAT in Tobago and Give us this Day – Sunday School.

At the Blue Cross, Medjugorje

I’ve also been on pilgrimage.. to Lourdes The Lourdes prayer, Fatima Secret Portugal and Medjugorje What’s the story, Medjugorje? Wouldn’t you like to know.

Where I went to Mass every day and wore out my Rosary beads.

While there was also the Camino A pilgrim’s prayer and the Via Francigena Small roads lead to Rome and Jordan The water of life, Petra, and the sands of time.

Do I protest too much?

Bernadette and me in Lourdes

It’s not just Christian Masses though… I seek out Mosques in Istanbul Wham bam, thank you Hamam and Sarajevo.

And synagogues and Jewish history in the Czech Republic and Amsterdam Pictures of Amsterdam.

So, I’m ready for my penance… and, yes, I know the tariff off by heart by now. Three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.

MEET YOU IN THE PEWS

Adventure, Countries, Deals, Europe, Pilgrimage

What’s the story, Medjugorje? Wouldn’t you like to know

It’s 5.40pm in mid-October in Medjugorje and everyone and everything stops… for Our Lady, although check your times as I’m told it’s 6.40pm in the summer.

The fast-praying, gesticulating Italian priest (I’ll call him Fr Luigi) in his open-necked dog collar… it’s a balmy late afternoon.

Fr Leon, the wise-cracking, whip-cracking Chaplain to the English-speaking Community.

And the Irish Franciscan brother and pastor to the young, Brother Columba.

Who thankfully isn’t standing too close to the candles – he admits that he once burnt his navel-length beard at a procession.

Hurling posts anyone?

We are all marking the moment 38 years ago in 1981 when Our Lady appeared on a cloud to six children from the village.

She can’t be much of a fan of teatime television then or maybe she had Neighbours on record.

It was certainly a half-time break back in 1981 in the big Yugoslavian basketball game which helped draw the two boys out.

Ivan Visionary (our guide Daniella’s nomenclature for him) will join us later in the week at the Blue Cross where Mary first appeared.

My way: And I’m saying me some rosaries

Although when I say join us, he is two rows of heads in front in a circle of worshippers.

I had hoped to see him in the ecstatic trance of those childhood photos on the boards in the grounds of St James’s Church.

Or heard some speaking in tongues. I know I’m unlikely to see Our Lady or hear her but Ivan Visionary has been on speaking terms with the Mother of God for 40 years.

I’ve every chance of seeing her though, or at least feel her presence, around Medjugorje which has expanded a millionfold since 1981.

Our Lady is everywhere

From that two-towered hurling posts-looking church, some tobacco fields and vines, to what it is today, a Marian resort dedicated to the worship of Her and Him.

And as with everywhere, Commercialism.

Our Lady is there in every shop on every corner, as are her beloved rosaries, 

Where you can get your own name engraved on them. 

There are holy water bottles aplenty and any amount of religious paraphernalia including your own cassock.

Does it come in my size?

But Our Lady is also here in the minds, in the souls and the hearts of the pilgrims, of which I am one.

A mother and daughter in our 20-stong Marian Pilgrimages (www.marianpilgrimages.com) group when we visit in October ask expectedly if I smelt the roses, Mary’s flower, as I make my way back from 10am Mass.

Try as I may, and maybe that’s where I’m going wrong, I can’t raise her.

But I do see Her in the eyes of eager Eddie who buries his head into his brother’s chest at the Blue Cross.

Bustling Medjugorje now

And who shoots a smile towards me from his wheelchair by Our Lady’s statue at the 5.40pm remembrance.

A million flock to the Bosnia & Herzegovina village every year to feel the grace of Our Lady, to ask her to intercede on our behalfs to Our Lord.

And to climb up to the Blue Cross, Apparition Hill and Cross Mountain.

Many leave changed by their visit while many return year on year.

And there’s wine in them thar fields

Marie from our group is back for her 60th pilgrimage.

She is in with the bricks at Mileina, our boarding house for the week, where she embraces Ines’s daughter at the breakfast table, whom she has known since she was a baby.

Ines is the perfect mine host

Ines looks after us all like her very own babies with breakfasts to set us up in the morning, the best of which is the steaming porridge.

And for dinner where we settle down, after Grace Before Meals  obviously, for big plates of family food, hearty soups and meaty feasts, chicken, lamb chops, potatoes (we are Irish after all) and veg.

With jugs of her own house wine.

I swear that ‘permanent’ house guest Marie gets an extra portion!

Like Marie, Medjugorje drew Scottish pilgrims Magnus and Fergus MacFarlane-Barrow back time after time following that first visit.

Mary’s Meals

To set up a support system for the village during the Balkan Wars in the mid-Eighties.

And then a charity for disadvantaged people around the world, Mary’s Meals, which feeds 1,000,000 children around the world for a €15 donation which energises them to then go to school.

It feels infectious this Christianity in action.

Mother Elvira runs a rehab centre, Comunita Cenacolo, near the village while there is also an orphanage nearby.

We hear the testimony of Italian Twentysomething Andre, a dyslexic who suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder as a child and felt swamped in a family where his two brothers were super-achievers.

Can you hear my confession?

And whose life spiralled out of control, landing him on the street, in trouble with the law and twice overdosing.

Before Mother Elvira rescued him and is now setting him and others like him back on the right path.

Andre is now looking after maintenance in the house and serving the greater community, all of it underpinned by Christian observance.

Which is also the watchword for Medjugorje as a whole where your whole day is framed by Christian worship.

Mass in the morning followed by a talk in the hall (we heard the extraordinary story of a priest who was an ISIS captive).

A part of history: Franz Ferdinand and Sophia

Those walks in the hills with Stations of the Cross along the way, the 5.40pm pause, an International Mass and an Adoration of the Host.

Phew!

There are though respites from your religious observations around the village.

And a coach out of town to Sarajevo for just €16 return where you can visit the spot where Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and triggered the First World War.

Armie’s tale: He helped a Balkans survivor

And the Museum of Crimes against Humanity and Genocide which chronicles the 1,425-day Siege of Sarajevo in the 1980s.

At the heart of this beautiful city on the River Miljacka in the apron of the Dinaric Alps is the Old Town, the centrepiece of which is the Bey Mosque.

Middle Eastern delights

Turkish shops, cafes and restaurants fan out, showpiecing authentic Bosnian food (I’d recommend the Bey’s chicken and vegetable soup, in the dainty adorned pots).

Bey’s Mosque: Everything’s looking up

Back in Medge, The Irish Centre serves up more familiar fare.

From home at under a tenner and Herzegovina beer (at just 5 B&H Marks or €2.50, they take both).

And you’ll find an old new friend there, Columba, in with a fellow Fransiscan Brother to watch the Ireland v New Zealand rugby match with us.

As well as mending your soul he can fix the TV too when it freezes.

And a jaunt up to where they held the 1984 Winter Olympics

And it’s always good to have your own Franciscan monk on hand to say a prayer for Ireland to turn over ‘those New Zealanders’.

Our Lady is obviously busy though somewhere else with someone more deserving (really).

Up by the Blue Cross, Apparition Hill or Cross Mountain.

Asking us to pray more rosaries!

I’ll pray for you

Do: The bus to Sarajevo costs €16 return (remember to bring your passport for money exchange).

Bey’s Mosque in the centre of Sarajevo and the Museum of Sarajevo for everything on the Assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

Seven-night trips including flights from Dublin to Dubrovnik cost from approx. €585pp, departing May 15. For packages see www.marian.ie and www.medjugorje.org.

As published in the Irish Sun in 2020.