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.

Countries, Europe, Pilgrimage

Give us this Day – the best bar nun

Pope John Paul II only blessed my Uncle Danny and Auntie Nora.

For rearing six children in south Co. Donegal, all of whom became monks or nuns.

Which, without any signposting, other than maybe me watching Call the Midlife…

I’ve decided to shine a light on our Brothers and Sisters.

I more than fulfilled my holy obligations last year with visits to the holy sites of Lourdes…

See The Lourdes prayer, https://en.lourdes-infotourisme.com and Medjugorje The faces of 2019 – Pilgrimages.

Penguins’ march

And I hope to see Oberammergau in action this year after sampling the preparations last year https://www.passionsspiele-oberammergau.de/en/home.

I had always thought that there was a height requirement to be admitted into the Holy Orders… you needed to be under 5ft.

Slam dunk

Until I was told of a basketball-playing nun in Medjugorje https://www.medjugorje.org on my Marian Pilgrimages tour www.marian.ie.

and, no, she doesn’t run between the opposition’s legs.

Basketball, incidentally, plays a part in the Marian apparitions story…

Our Lady only interrupted the big game on TV that day with her message of world peace and rosaries.

I confess

Monks, of course are great fun too and I wish I’d appreciated the brown-robed, big-bearded ones who regularly came a-visiting.

Way of the world

So what if they’d never heard of Heavy Metal or Celtic and Rangers, they knew exactly what was going on in Africa and the Middle East.

And so to this little Italian Franciscan dude who would do hours and hours of confessionals in Balkan Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Or Sister Elvira whose hostel for drug dependents in the hills above the town.

It’s always good insurance to say a prayer with a monk or a nun.

An Our Father

And particularly when they are Maria dos Anjos, the niece of the Last Shepherd of Fatima.

And I’d love to share her secrets with you.

Only a bolt of lightning would strike me down.

See. www.visitportugal.com and Secret Portugal.

MEET YOU IN THE PEWS

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Give us this Day – The Wee Chapel

Living in area known for its orchards we were drawn to our house by its apple trees.

One of the other attractions was its outhouse which is a popular feature of houses in Ireland.

I duly named it the Wee Apple and turned into a bar.

I promptly set up a grotto too which I christened The Wee Chapel.

Me and Martin: At the Frauenkirche

All of which is my roundabout way of saying that prayer houses don’t have to be as grand as St Paul’s Basilica.

Any church you go into in Italy of course will beckon you in to pray.

This is what it’s all about… https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/2019/08/04/see-rome-on-e50/.

And https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/small-roads-lead-to-rome/.

And it’s not just us Catholics that have the best churches, as we’d like to think. Here’s the Frauenkirche in Dresden… https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/dresdens-renaissance-martin-luther/,

And the Muslims have their Blue Mosque in Istanbul https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/wham-bam-thank-you-hamam/.

Blue for you: The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

We really do find God in the smallest of things and the quietest of places, in nature and in us.

Catholic priests, who tried to say Mass during the days of Henry VIII and then again under Cromwell, would often find a hidden room in an estate.

While in Ireland it was a Mass rock.

For Muslims a makeshift prayer place can be set up anywhere.

Which way is Mecca? In Jordan

With a few stones placed in the right direction… towards Mecca.

As I found in Wabi Rum in Jordan this year https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/petra-jordan-jesus-and-the-sands-of-time/.

The Blue Cross

The reason why I’m talking about my Wee Chapel this week is because I have come back with more trinkets from my latest pilgrimage.

Of course I was falling over holy paraphernalia in Medjugorje https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/2019/10/20/give-us-this-day-confessions-and-medjugorje/.

Now Our Lady and the Blue Cross will be taking up residence in my Wee Chapel.

Which means that when I’m out picking up the apples I will say a wee prayer as I pass.

Me picking up apples?

Now The Scary One really will consider that a miracle!

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Holidos and don’ts – Passports

Why do we have to surrender our passports to hotels?

It’s not as if they’re national security and they can just as easily cover your expenses and the risk of flight with a credit card.

Because let me tell you you’re always safer when you’ve got your passport in your possession.

Preferably behind lock and key in the safe in your room.

Or if you need to take it out with you then you’ve only yourself to blame if you lose it.

Stamp it out

Yes, it can be pickpocketed but I always think that your front pocket is the best place to keep the passport and the wallet.

And just make sure that you never come close to brushing people in a busy market.

So, why am I hot under the collar over hotels or guest houses taking your passport.

Because there is always the danger that somebody may pick yours up by mistake.

Which is what happened in Tenerife last month when a fellow British traveller picked mine up by mistake and then went walkabout in town.

Tenerife for walkers

Nor did the girl at reception seem particularly bothered as she continued to try to sell hotel goodies to people as I slowly boiled with frustration.

You’ve got my passport

My fellow traveller was deeply apologetic when everything was resolved but I didn’t necessarily blame him as accidents happen.

The thing is that the situation should never exist in the first place.

Of course, every holiday has its hiccups and it in no way marred a wonderful visit to Tenerife which is officially my favourite Spanish island now…

Follow www.webtenerife.com, and read my thoughts on this magical island https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/tenerife-walk/

Our Lady’s town: Medjugorje

Yes magical, but La Gomera and its whistlers may run it close if someone would care to invite me out there.

The old passport tripped me up again on my recent trip, out to Medjugorje in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Daniella took everyone’s passport in the party for safe keeping I guess but also for her own security, but she did give me mine back when I went to Sarajevo for the day.

I would need it for currency exchange.

I miss Sarajevo

Where it went wrong though was because I have another passport too .

And when I got back, tired, I got in a muddle…. all of which I can explain here. https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/2019/10/23/on-the-road-to-dubrovnik/

Medjurgorje, Sarajevo and Bosnia & Herzegovina should be on your list and here are a few sites to help you out… https://www.medjugorje.org, https://sarajevo.travel/en and http://www.bhtourism.ba/eng/