We all went to 10:00 a.m. Mass together, and I thought of the Irish people returning to their homes. I will miss them, and now have a new group to bond with. After Mass we were able to attend a talk given by Fr. Svetozar. What a gifted speaker he is! He spoke about being a pilgrim; about the real commitment we each made to come to Medjugorje and answer Our Lady's call. He said this was our commitment to God. His words struck each of us in our hearts.
After the talk, we split up and I went and bought fresh flowers for Nedjo. I returned to Mama's and got directions to the cemetery. I walked there and prayed silently in my heart. When I got to the cemetery I began looking at the graves, and the markers. Some so new, others so old. Stipe suddenly appeared and showed me which one was Nedjo's. Then just as quickly he left. I spent some quiet time in reflection and prayer at his grave. I carefully placed some flowers there, and took some photos too. My prayers were mixed with tears. Although I had never met Nedjo, it was at this moment I knew him, and he knew me.
I walked back home and had a lovely dinner with the rest of the group. We went to the 5:00 p.m. Mass, followed by Eucharistic Adoration. Such devotion in this village, such love of Our Lady. My heart was at such peace to be there. Later in the evening, my roommate arrived! A lovely young lady from Boston. She was exhausted from the travel, and we went to bed for a good sleep.
On Sunday morning I had made plans to climb Cross Mountain again, with Jolese, a lovely lady from Florida. The two of us left the house at 6:55 a.m. and wound through the fields to the base of the mountain. It was raining, but it did not stop us a bit. I had my Croation-English prayer book and we stopped at each station to pray and also said the rosary on our way up. It was a very spiritual time for the two of us. The climb proved a great task with the very slippery rocks. Climbing down was tricky, but we managed well. I only slipped a few times. When we got back to the house it was 11:05 a.m., just enough time to eat a bite of bread, and take a fast shower before the noon Mass.
After Mass we went to Tihalina to see the famous statue of Our Lady that is photographed so much. I really was excited to see the true image. When we got to the church, and I entered it, as soon as I saw the statue I was totally drawn to it. I sank to my knees directly in front of it. Her gaze melted my soul. I could not take my eyes off her. I could not stop drinking her in. Her eyes became real for me. She spoke to my deepest soul. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I did not want to move or take my eyes off her. Her eyes penetrated my soul. This was the reason I was here, to gaze at this image and have it gaze at me. This was a deep moment for my soul. Awesome. To leave the statue was hard for me to do. I took many photos, and also knew no photo would do it justice. I knew in my heart that one day I would be back to gaze upon it again. It was a profound experience.
We then went back to Mama's and had dinner, and later to St. James Church for the 5:00 p.m. Mass. At each 5:00 p.m. rosary it is a very blessed moment when silence is called for as the Gospa comes to earth. This is always a sacred moment.
After Mass they held Stations of the Cross and I was very moved. We walked home and had warm conversation. Mama told me that tomorrow I will meet Nedjo's wife, Mirjana, on my last day in Medjugorje. A certain sadness filled my heart, but there was so much joy that I had been blessed with!
Monday, March 5, 2001, This was my last day in Medjugorje, as I would be leaving at 3:30 am to catch the first leg of my journey home. There was a heaviness in my heart, knowing I would be leaving this wonderful place. I was filled with contrasts; feeling incredibly blessed and graced, and so sad to be leaving this holy place of peace. I had breakfast with the group, then set out on my own to go to church.
As I walked the now familiar path, a voice called out to me. It was Bjorn, one from the retreat with Padre Jozo! I was so happy to see him again! He works with Sr. Emmanuel and we spoke for a few minutes. I told him that perhaps if I ever get back to Medjugorje, maybe he will be wearing a Franciscan robe by then! There is a goodness in him one can easily see, and I pray for him. I told him it was my last day, and shared the story of my find of the chaplet on the path. I said I was sure someone had dropped it, and I just happened to find it. But it felt like a gift from Our Lady. He said to me, "Just as God knows every hair on your head, He meant for you to find it!" In my heart I know he is right. As we were speaking, Sr. Emmanuel came and we spoke for a few minutes. It was a blessing that I was able to see these good people before I left for home.
I went on to church and really absorbed it all. I sat in the front row for Mass and felt the nearness of Our Lady in my heart. After Mass I set out on my own. I walked to Fr. Slavko's grave to pay my respects and pray. Then I went to the Perpetual Adoration Chapel and prayed. I later went to be alone in St. James Church. No one else was inside. I knelt and gave thanksgiving to God and Our Lady for each tear and blessing on this journey. How intensly I prayed from the heart. I prayed for all my family and friends who I carried in my heart. It was a profound moment. God was so near to me.
After I left church, I stopped and bought some flowers for Mama. I took them to her and thanked her for everything. We even had a good picture together! I knew that through this journey I would not meet Vicka, but I had met and had shared from the heart with her beloved mother, which was wonderful for me! There was no loss felt in my heart, only joy!
After this, our small group, as there were a total of 12 of us now with the Pilgrims Peace Center, gathered and distributed food and some of the medicine I had brought to the families in need. This was very moving, as some of the families lived in bare shelters, with cardboard for a ceiling, no heat, and no running water. They were refugees from the war and appreciated the food and medicine so much, they were tearful. We visited six families, and though it was sad, it was also rewarding to help them. This humanitarian effort was very important to me, and it was so needed too. The children were so beautiful. I was touched by this experience deeply.
From there we returned to Mama's and had dinner. I wanted to go to confession so some of us left earlier and walked to the church. As luck would have it, Fr. Michael, the Irish priest came to hear confessions. I had gone to him on Ash Wednesday and again was so happy to see his familiar face. I was third in line, and did serious soul searching as I waited for my time. As I entered the confessional, I was tearful. The cleansing of my soul was so intense. The sorrow I felt was heavy. A surprise gift was given to me from Our Lady. Just as Father had finished absolving me, with his hand still on my head, I heard the loudspeaker say, "Silenceo", and knew that Our Lady was here! And here I was, before the priest on my knees, freshly absolved with a clean soul! Can you tell what happened? I WEPT! Such tears of joy and thankfulness! Such perfect timing! It was a holy moment in my soul. The mercy of Our God is unfathomable!
After confession, I went into the church for Mass with Fr. Svet. After Mass I lingered in the church, then slowly went outside to find some of the retreat people there! We said our goodbys and as I turned, there was Fr. Svet who gave me a warm hug goodbye. I drank in the surroundings and knew I would be gone soon, but I would always carry Medjugorje in my heart. I took a taxi back to the house and began to pack. The others in the group had gone out and I was alone. I took out my Bible and began to read. Then I packed knowing 3:00 a.m. would be here soon.
And it was. My driver arrived and took me to Dubrovnic and my return began.
In closing, I pray that the Holy Spirit will touch those who read these weak words of mine. That if one feels the slightest call to go to Medjugorje----GO!!! Our Lady says to respond, please do it if you can. You will not regret it, I know! Our Lady will protect you, and guide you. Pray, pray, pray, and have an open heart.
If there are some who can not make the journey, I pray that in this effort you may feel as if you had been there, through my eyes, and ears, and heart. May you feel the warmth of Padre Jozo's blessing in your soul.
I give all praise and glory and honor to God and Our Lady, for transforming this sinful heart, and guiding me to share this story of conversion that continues......
(End of Final Part)