By Father Kevin Divine
Christmas came. Not a card sent out. Easter. No different. However, as we recently celebrated the Anniversary of the “First Appearance of Mary” here, I found my Mind flooded with Images fashioned over my frequent Pilgrimages to this Village of Medjugorje. They found their way onto paper, and, here they are –as long overdue GREETINGS!
On the morning of the Anniversary this late June, I joined others to stand outside our Parish Church – to greet the thousands of young people who were completing their four hour trek on foot in their joyful “Peace March”. Leading their Procession was a life size statue of the GOSPA, Mary, the Queen of Peace. Waving the Flag of his own Nation, each youngster represented his corner of the world – as far south as Australia, as far north as Denmark – from every language, every ideology – Iraq, Mainland China, the Gipsy Nation, the Ukraine, Indonesia. My Joy was to salute the Stars and Stripes as the American Flag stood proudly among the others.
I remembered how on my first meeting with one of the Visionaries in June of ’86, I had introduced myself simply: “I am a Catholic Priest, a Chaplain in the United States Army. I have experienced the Horrors of War especially in my 18 months in the Jungles of Vietnam. Now I wish to live only for Peace, and, I understand, Mary is here with a Message of Peace!” Now as I knelt with all the Young People of the World before Her Eucharistic Son, I felt the Truth of a simple phrase: “When one man dreams a Dream, it remains a Dream. When we all Dream together, The DREAM IS REALITY”
On my first visit here in ’86, I quickly abandoned my plans to spend most of my time on the enchanting beaches an hour away. It was not only the tranquility of the village and the power of the religious ceremonies. It was principally the warmth of the People, especially the locals. Impressed by the adults, I was hypnotized by the little ones. How in the blistering heat of a jammed Church, the eighteen month old would curl up in her dad’s arms and drift off into sleep with the smile of an Angel. “Babies don’t cry here!” I would whisper in amazement. “You can spellbind the Adult with music and ceremony – but not the Infant!”
The Teenagers. Just as remarkable! Fifty thousand of them gathered here in early August for our annual Youth Festival. Every Tongue and Nation – the Flags of sixty nine independent countries flown – but no language barrier – for each communicates with the language of the heart. Sweltering in blazing temperatures of 100+, soaking in the pouring rain, they stood there in the open field – mesmerized by every speaker, belting out every song, caught up in each Liturgy, swinging and swaying to their style music while remaining silent and contemplative throughout the Sacred Celebration of the Mass. Their energy never faltered: On the final evening, after a four hour Solemn Liturgy, most of them clustered together in front of the Church, where they sang and danced till two in the morning. Then, instead of heading back to their Pensions , by the thousands they climbed the formidable peaks to the top of Krizevak Mountain – to greet the morning sun and enjoy a choice spot to participate in the closing Mass at 5 AM beneath the massive Cross of Stone! (Miracle of miracles, Not a single empty soda can nor plastic sandwich bag left behind anywhere in the village.)
The Adults! By the thousands, they flood in – to fast, to listen – to sing, to pray. They climb the mountains and pack the Church. (For the first time in my life, I often stand at the microphone and warn people: “It’s too crowded here. Wait outside! “ )From early morning till late at night, Prayers and Hymns reverberate in Praise of Jesus and His Mother. On a summer day, to meet a young woman whose feet are blistered from her pilgrimage on foot from a village twenty miles away, to follow twelve blind Pilgrims down the mountain, each one confidently holding the hand of a friend – each one unable to see with the eyes of their body, but with the eyes of their soul focused on a richer vision of reality. Observing a family, unable to get into the overcrowded Church, heads bowed in reverence, as the young mother cuddles her twelve month old daughter to keep her warm in the freezing Winter rain. Insane? Perhaps – but an Insanity springing from their Love of the Mass! Everywhere, a gentle smile, a warm greeting, a friendly touch. In the poetic words of one Irishman: “The PEACE here is so thick you can slice it with a Knife!”
Medjugorje, in the words of an eminent Marian Theologian, Rene Laurentan, is the “Confessional of the World.” In Advent, to see twenty local Franciscans sitting around the walls of the Church, each with forty five Penitents standing, even kneeling, on the wintery marble, for their “Time with the Priest.” In August, to find young people in massive lines, silently preparing to open their hearts to their new found Savior.
It is my greatest Privilege. – for hours each evening – to join Priests of every language –In welcoming the Penitent into the embrace of the Lord. I’m especially privileged, in the quiet of winter, to serve as the one Priest always available whose native tongue is English. Apparently there is no one in our world who doesn’t know how to communicate the basics in English. The Heart makes up for what the tongue can only stammer. What a Thrill for me, when on a lonely winter night a stranger begins: I’ve travelled thousands of miles. I don’t even know why I am here – but – I need to talk! I have no reason to live!” But there is a spark of Faith left in him. Its flicker grows into a flame of Hope. Then it miraculously bursts into the blazing Fire of Love. The Prodigal has returned Home to the warmth of the Heavenly Father’s Embrace.
Often after hours in the Box, I stumble out, amazed and in awe at the merciful touch of the Savior. I don’t know why I have come! the Penitent may begin, but as the story of his life unfolds, it becomes so clear: “ Through the Margins of the World I have fled, but always, with unhurrying chase and unperturbed pace, in strong pursuit, the Hound of Heaven! Is my gloom after all shade of His Hand outstretched caressingly?” … I am He whom Thou seekest! Rise, Clasp my Hand and Come!
The Almighty reveals Himself in Mercy and Compassion. To absolve is a more powerful act than creating a Universe. Not a Day goes by that I do not experience His explosive Power in the Sacrament of Reconciliation!
In the mountains of Vietnam, the soldiers walked single file through the Jungle thickness. Their Leader – the one in front- was known as the “Point Man.” He was the most experienced, the bravest. Obviously the most endangered – for he would be the First to draw the guerilla’s fire or to stumble onto a land mine. His courage strengthened those who followed. On many a soldiers’ helmet was emblazoned the words: “CHRIST is my POINT MAN.”
Christ truly is OUR POINT MAN. Leaping from Heaven, He came among us to lead. He has taken on all the Powers of Hell in fierce Combat. His mangled body on the Cross reveals the extent of His suffering. He spared no Pain, no Sacrifice, to lead us to Eternal Life. Years ago, Jesus Christ revealed Himself in the open field as the tired young soldiers tossed aside their rifles to celebrate Mass with me. Today, here in Medjugorje, Jesus Christ again reveals Himself. During evening Holy Hour, on the outdoor Altar before tens of thousands kneeling under the open sky He appears, from His golden perch in the Monstrance, as the Bread of Life. “The PEACE here is so thick, you can slice it with a Knife!”
Forgive me – but, as the Huge Host glimmers in its whiteness, illuminated in the darkness of night – I picture the Host as a Gigantic Pizza – to be sliced – for each Pilgrim to carry home. Is the Image not Reality? Christ is the Bread of Life. When we receive Him in the Host, it is not We who consume Him. Like fire, it is Jesus who consumes us. The Prince of Peace transforms us into Sons and Daughters of Peace. As we return Home – to every corner of the World – Our Human Family is enriched by our experience here. Our Dream of Peace is a Dream we have all Dreamed together – and – That DREAM IS REALITY! …For, We have encountered CHRIST and CHRIST is OUR PEACE!
On my final day in my Home Parish in Manhattan, after I had blessed thousands of American Flags erected in the Park a few blocks away, I offered Mass in our Good Shepherd Church overflowing with the Relatives and Friends of Our Fallen Heroes. Then a brief Prayer in our Memorial Garden – before I rushed to JFK Airport for a late night flight to Medjugorje – I arrived in time to offer the Memorial Mass in English on the Anniversary itself (September 11, 2006) – with Pilgrims gathered from all over the World. Ground Zero has always held a Sacred Place in my Heart as I Pray and Sacrifice for Peace!
My Emotions are crystallized in the words of a young Australian girl who lived here in the village. “The Sunday after the Terrorist Attack on the World Trade Center” Suzy describes her experience “ I gathered my Sunday School Class in my Home Parish in Melbourne. Though only four or five years old, each was well aware of the Terrorist Attack. As always, our youngsters began Class with a Prayer; then instead of a Gospel Reading, I reminded them of the tragic events they had witnessed on television. Each then went off alone for fifteen minutes of silent meditation. When we reassembled, one five year old immediately spoke out: ‘Suzy, when I shut my eyes, I found myself in the Village of Nazareth. I was standing at a window outside the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I could see into the Living Room. Mother Mary was sitting there all alone. She had a large cloth stretched over her lap. It was torn and burnt and falling apart. It was a Flag of the United States of America. Mary was patching it together again!’ “ My strongest Conviction is that here in Medjugorje, Mother Mary has a “Flag of the Whole World” stretched over Her lap – torn and burnt and falling apart. She, the Gospa, the Queen of Peace is patching it together again! She is not alone! In all parts of the World, WE ARE HELPING HER!