Last October I answered Our Ladyís call and joined the 30 million pilgrims who have trailed its hallowed ground since 1981. The excuses had dried up and I arrived, along with three of my best mates, on October 8th. It changed my life.
Disabled for as long as my 41 years recall, although I became officially ill at the age of ten, my faith life had been shaken by tragedy, and the usual Job lamentations had almost embittered my weary soul.
A regular to Lourdes, I had made many assumptions about this foreign hamlet. What if my vulnerability engulfed me? Padre Pio had melted my bitterness but there was a gap in my life where love was meant to touch everyone.
Rev. Michael had told me much of the ësignsí and on arrival, in my usual petulant manner, I quizzed him about what to expect. Rev. Michael smiled his patient smile and left the rest to Our Lady. Armed with petitions and taking my whole family, one parish and the worries of the universe, I quickly sussed that this was not like Lourdes.
Nothing mattered here. My body, still broken, became fire. Home life a normally conscious priority, was not foremost, and my normal analysing, cognitive powers were no longer necessary or relevant.
No stranger to the New Testament with a background of the usual Catholic catechism, I had lost my earth mother at the age of 23 and longed for the embrace and unconditional love that had died with her. Blessings and prayers had been answered many times but this place, this poor and rocky village, blanketed my soul with a consolation and certainty that only saints were deserving of. This is Heaven! Our Lady comforted my aching heart once I said the words she wanted to hear: ìI canít cope!î Without knowing, I had surrendered.
She blessed us with our first of many ësignsí as the heavy and solid Rosary beads on the statue of St James began to sway. I trembled with awe, gratitude ñ and knew that I was meeting Mary for the first time. Monica, Michael and I ësawí this and I stifled a scream in my throat and thanked her. Bowing my head in adoration, I am conscious of staring at the Cross as the beads move. What a beautiful gift for us to have been blessed as a trio.
They wheeled me out of the Church. I was consumed by a strange physical sensation. We could barely speak, but we knew. This was my first day.
Tears have never been easy for me. I asked Rev Michael to hit me on the head to induce some but he declined, although sorely tempted! Monica looked after me like a daughter; loving me like my mother as we shared our room. Michael kept disappearing and coming back with tales of joy and ëcoincidencesí and we enjoyed and loved together.
The intensity of the holiness of Medjugorje struck me immediately. Our Blessed Mother is present here. I had encountered her love at Lourdes and felt those Holy Spirit tingles at home or in holy places. But this was October 2003 and I knew that I was in the presence of the Mother of God.
I found it hard to reconcile this wonderful grace with the horrors of persecution and war. I consciously blocked that for it almost didnít hurt as much. Why? Because Our Lady makes everything all right. I am not a doubting Thomas but I lack trust. And without trust it is impossible to love in the way that is needed.
I saw things; I believed and I did not feel unworthy ñ a strange thing for one who is aware of her sinfulness. She kissed my cheek and invited me to join her Heavenly family. I accepted with gratitude and humility. Conversion was a mystery to me prior to this time. I didnít need converting ñ I believed. What does she mean, convert? Such pride ñ she desired my heart, and she wanted me to change. I needed to buck up my under-standing of peace and joy. She called me to surrender after my return, and I said the ìFiatî, for not to do so would be an insult to her graces.
I never understood grace until Medjugorje. I thought I did. I interceded for the sick and thought I was doing enough, but I was paying lip-service, reciting my Rosary and looking at my watch ñ genuine at the time but not good enough. Our Lady deserves more than that.
Confession became a necessity not a chore. Three hours and a weary but beautiful John later, I had made my first TRUE confession. I thanked him and I was cleansed ñ in a deeper and more holy place in my heart.
The ësignsí and beauty of the week left me with a permanent peaceful expression. The body was still in spasm and pain, but it did not matter. I hardly slept or ate much. I rang home to tell my practising sisters of what was happening and to tell Paul and Rebecca that I loved them. I left all my family in the care of our Mother at the Blue Cross on Apparition Hill. This is where, aided by the two Michaels, Monica and I saw the sun change colour for the first time. Please God, Iíll make Apparition Hill this year to thank Our Lady of Peace, but it was not meant to be this time. Monica climbed it and blessed my medals. I was so proud of her and grateful to Rev Michael for helping to fulfil her heartís desire.
People we met on the plane were now friends and we became one, in the presence of One so beautiful that words were not invented to describe the wonder of the experience of Medjugorje. There is no need for logic here; no need for it! I knew that I had to change, and pretty fast!
As a great reader of the spiritual giants, I understood about pride, envy, indignation and the awful consequence of the Fall. I can never be perfect like Jesus, her Son. All the excuses in the world for bad behaviour does not wash once you have given your heart to the Gospa. Once Satan finds out, thereís trouble at home! But he will never win because of the Rosary ñ because love is stronger than hate, forgiveness greater than bitterness. Medjugorje is about change. If you go there with a heart of stone you come back unchanged. And what a missed opportunity!
Father Jozo is the closest I have ever got to a saint (Iím a saintsí columnist) and I urged his interpreter to thank him for looking after the six visionaries. The trip to see him and hear his message was the highlight, as well as hearing the visionaries speak.
They spoke the Truth and it is inconceivable to me that anyone could doubt these children, now grown with families, that they saw the Queen of Peace that June 23, 1981. This is by no means a coincidence, the feast of John the Baptist, heralding the One who is to come.
I left Medjugorje feeling sad yet different. I heard the Gospel of Luke read out and it sounded different. Marie agreed. We were on the bus to Split airport and I was seeing and feeling with a heightened sense of something so wonderful I could not identify it, let alone give it a name.
Over the last few months since October and a cooling down period, weíve had trials and upsets. But I have changed. I feel things more deeply. I try and love in equal measure. When I fail ñ and I do ñ Iím called back immediately and try again the next day.
I want everyone to go to Medjugorje. Iíd love to live there but know that I must anoint and bless my fellow sick at home in North Wales. That is my ministry. I thank God, all the Angels and Saints, Jesus our Saviour, and our Blessed Mother for inviting me to Medjugorje. I must not, cannot let her down. Amen.