|Columns and Blogs - Columns & Blogs|
London was a beautiful city in which to live while the war raged all over Bosnia. I remember feeling very safe and really blessed while I watched in horror the documentaries and the TV news that informed the audience about the magnitude of the violence of that cruel war. I am so glad that we are so far from the danger, I thought with relief while I watched my two twin little daughters playing safely in our London living room. As a Spaniard I have heard so many times from my parents about the criminal events that took place during the Civil war in my country. Both of them were young children when hate, blood and anger swept all over my country, but the painful memories remained with them through their lives. “I remember being starving for so many months,” my father used to tell me when he was in his fifties. “That is why I hate it when you, my child, leave a single piece of food on your plate. If you only knew what war is you would never do that! If you only knew what it is to starve you would never reject a crumb of bread…” I knew then that I have been really blessed in my life for not having had to go through that kind of hell, and when the war erupted in the former Yugoslavia I just knew that I had been blessed all over again.
Horrified by the news I watched on TV, I was dumb-struck when two of my best friends told me that they were embarking on a trip to a little, lost village called Medjugorje in the mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina. “Are you nuts?”, I asked them with a shocked expression in my face, while we ate a very expensive lunch in a very trendy restaurant in London. “That country is at war!” “Yes, I know,” said one of the two. “But precisely where we go, nothing really has happened…, yet.”
“How come?” I asked in disbelief. “Everything has been bombarded in that area. They have exploded the bridge in Mostar.” And then they told me all about Medjugorje: the apparitions that had been taking place for so long, the young and stubborn visionaries who over and over again affirmed that they saw Our Lady, the miracles, father Jozo, the military forces of Tito´s regime that tried desperately to stop them, the promises of Our Lady during the war, etc…
“We are definitely going there,” she insisted in spite of my demands to recover mental order. “What for!” I exclaimed in shock. “Are you now two silly, naïve ladies that want to play Mother Teresa or what?” “No, we just want to pray there,” they told me in a low and shy tone of voice. “But… but… you can pray here, in London, where there is no war and where you can find churches everywhere!”
I have to admit that at that time, even having been considered a Catholic all my life, my faith was tepid. I was a “Sunday Catholic”, always bored at the celebration of the Mass, not really understanding most of its parts, and always trying to make excuses to avoid going to the church. My parents have raised me Catholic, the schools I attended were Catholic, but no real feeling of God lived in our family or in our hearts. I like to describe my family as “social Catholics”: we attended Mass every Sunday, yes, but with no real feelings, only going through the motions, flowing with the Spanish catholic crowd. If all of our friends and family members were churchgoers in Madrid, we were going to do the same no matter what. I remember trying fiercely to convince my two friends during that trendy lunch that they were going to explore a senseless, ridiculous way to approach God. We were rich, we were young, we were happy healthy mothers of beautiful children, we had attractive husbands that adored us. In other words, we had the world in our hands. At least that was what it seemed. I was angry. how could two wonderful, intelligent ladies with young children under their care say such stupidities? Were they crazy? I tried really hard to make them understand that their idea to travel to Bosnia in such a tremendous moment of its history could be the worst decision of their lives. In my astonishment I just could not understand why they had decided to do such a crazy, ridiculous thing.
My two Anglican English friends looked at me with surprise. “Who has talked to me in…, in… Spanish?” I asked again, filled with awe, seeing that no one was at my back. The restaurant was packed with people, yes, but all of them looked English to me, and they were not even paying attention to us. “What are you talking about?” said one of my friends. “No one has said anything to you in Spanish. Actually, you were the only one talking, especially to us, and by the way: in a very harsh proper English way…” I started to shiver… Something or “someone” was there at the restaurant talking to me in Spanish, but I could not see anyone at all. The presence was getting deeper and deeper into my heart and into my intellect, and her voice was as clear as crystal, soft and tender. “Come, come to me, my child. Do not fear…,” she kept saying. And there and then I said some words that up to now I just don’t know why I said them. They were definitely going to change my life forever, my family, my profession and my faith. “Guys, “I said in a very shy, confused voice. “I just don’t know why on earth I am saying this, but…, but…, I am coming with you to Bosnia, to that hidden little place you are telling me about. Please take me with you.” One of my friends left her cutlery on the plate with a start, and the other looked at me raising both eyebrows. “What did you say?” she eventually said in disbelief. “I am coming with you, and I don´t know why…” “WOW!” they exclaimed in astonishment. “And why this sudden change of mind, may we ask?” “I just…, know I am coming with you. But I will go only on one condition…” “And what is that?”
Two and a half years after, I was boarding and airplane at Gatwick airport, heading to Split with a bunch of unknown people, my two friends, a priest and my best Spanish girlfriend, whom I convinced to come along. I was still scared to death. Deep in my heart I was convinced that the whole idea was a gruesome stupidity and that the whole story was just a big bag of lies. Even with those feelings in my heart, I just could not forget that strange experience I felt while I was in the restaurant in London two and a half years before. The reality of that memory had stayed every day since it happened, and I knew it had been real and important. I did not know very much about Medjugorje apart from what my two friends told me about it. Actually, they went to Medjugorje some weeks after that lunch, and they returned four or five times more after that. I always went to visit them in their London homes after every pilgrimage and the beautiful changes that I perceived in them astonished me to extreme limits. They were the same wonderful, lovely people, but now with hearts full of joy, hope and faith. They were really happy and with an unstoppable desire to tell the world how and why they had converted. I hid in my heart the fear and doubts that I was feeling all the way through. An impelling wish to go with them as soon the war got over was something I had not been prepared for. At last, the big day arrived and off we went to Split. My first day at Medjugorje was filled with disappointed. The little village was nothing but a little village. I got grumpy the minute we arrived and immediately thought that my trip was going to be a silly, immature ripoff. I tried to be polite to everyone, though. I made nice conversation with my new group of adventurers and tried to take advantage of having the company of a lovely, intelligent and very holy Irish priest with the group. He was extraordinarily kind to me, having enough patience to explain the most relevant information about Medjugorje and introducing me to wonderful Franciscan priests that were his friends in the village. We did that first day what every pilgrim does: we went to hear the English morning Mass in Saint James Church, we prayed the Rosary as we climbed Mount Podbrdo and we had lunch at Colombo’s. In the afternoon we just wandered around the shops and joined the huge groups of pilgrims in the Rosary of the parish. I have to admit that until then, I had never prayed the Rosary before. My family was not a devout Catholic family, as I have said before, and as far I could remember, to pray the Rosary was a very long and boring thing to do. Actually, when we climbed Podbrdo that morning I just though how bored I was and how eternal a Rosary could be for me. The next morning I just wanted to skip the morning Mass. “Didn’t we attend yesterday?” I asked my friend when she complained about my rejection to join them for morning Mass. “I will go next Sunday. Today is Monday and it is not compulsory.”But I went anyway when the rest of the group begged me to do so. Off we went then.
Just when the Mass was over, our Irish priest advised us to hurry because the young visionary Jakov was going to give testimony of his extraordinary experiences with Our Lady in the huge auditorium in the back of the church. That sounded interesting, so off I went with my friends, driven by curiosity more that by faith. I remember very well that we were walking in open air, just in front of that long line of confessionary boxes that are situated outside the big Saint James Church of Medjugorje. It was a sunny, beautiful day, with some sparse white cotton clouds in the sky. I was walking in haste between my Spanish best friend and a French lady that was in our group, when out of the blue I felt this urge to look up to that beautiful spring sky. I did not see anything out of order or anything supernatural, like many pilgrims have admitted to seeing in Medjugorje. I did not see, but felt an extraordinary experience of love. In my heart what happened to me lasted 10 minutes, but in reality, only three seconds passed. Believe me when I tell you that those three seconds changed my life forever. What I felt was that an immense, indescribable love poured all over me. It was not physical, but spiritual. I went completely rigid; I stopped my walk and stared at those beautiful clouds. Time seemed to have come to a halt. Nothing moved around me: the people, the birds, the noises… Everything went quiet, still… The love that surrounded me, that filled my skin, my eyes, my clothes, my head…, was something so, so powerful that I realized I wanted to follow it to till the end. My head was soaked with a huge understanding, an incredible light, that told me with no doubt that what was pouring over me was the eternal and perfect love of Jesus. I remember that I sensed a male voice in my heart that said to me: “My child, this is how I love you. This is how I love ALL AND EACH of you.” In my heart I just knew it was Jesus talking directly to me. I wanted to cry, I wanted to die! I remember that inside my brain I said to him: “Oh, my Lord…, my poor Lord Jesus! If this is the way you love us, I think it is an unfair love…” “And why do you say that, my child?” “Because it is humanly impossible to return this perfect, humongous, and eternal love. It is so unfair for you!” “My child, you cannot and you will not understand. Yes, no one realizes how much I love each and every one of you. But this Love is real, and I give it to every single human being.” “OH! Please, please, take me now with you!” I said, feeling my eyes welling up with joy and fear at the same time. “I don’t want to live anymore without this love!” But then everything went back to “reality.” The experience was gone and there I was, completely confused, wanting to explain to every person in the world what had happened to me, how much God loves us. I wanted to run to a little corner and call my husband, who was in London completely far from me, from my wonderful experience. I wanted to die of shame, I wanted to hide from the eyes of God. I felt the sadness and the shame of realizing how ungrateful I had been all my life with God. In Spain I had become a literally a little celebrity due to my first novel, which almost won the most important literary prize. It came out 5th among 400 novels, and it sold so well. But that novel had been very hard on the Church. Actually, I was cruel and coldhearted toward the priesthood in general. I had made fun of them and I had been cruel to them with my writings. I was so ashamed. I understood what a huge mistake my first novel had been. And to make matters worse, it had been very popular in my country, where many readers had bought the book and made a bestseller of it. I was so repentant that I wanted to scream with pain. But I did not say a word then. As only three seconds had really passed my friends did not notice anything, and I was scared to death to tell them. I remember walking to Jakov´s lecture in a daze of fear, shame, happiness and confusion. Jakov’s testimony was lovely, beautiful and touching, and it was then when I started to cry with long, sorrowful tears. Everyone in my group though that I was touched by Jakov´s words. If only they had known the truth! It took me six months to tell my dear Irish priest and my husband about this experience. I know very well that my conversion began that spring morning, the moment I felt in my heart for the first time and with the power of a snowstorm the immense love of God. I know it was in Medjugorje, while I walked by the confessionals outside the church. I know I will never be the same. There is a Maria before and a Maria after that moment. I came back to my London home filled with excitement, love and information about Catholicism. From that extraordinary moment in my life, I just felt this unknown need to know about God. I felt pushed by a tender force to attend Mass every day in London. The Mass started to be the most important thing in my life. Suddenly nothing mattered more to me than to Holy Communion. In fact, the day I had to skip Mass for any kind of a problem, I was uneasy, uncomfortable and sad. Information about my religion began to pour into my life with the force of the wind. I tried hard to find the right priest to confess to every month, the wisest priest to ask questions of and the right moment to pray at home with my sweet and wonderful family. My husband was very much impressed with my new faith. Our growth in faith has not always been an easy path. It has taken him five years and three pilgrimages to Medjugorje, (one of them was a retreat with father Jozo), to understand clearly what had happened to me. As a result of my conversion, my children pray with us from the heart. They are believers and we are very happy indeed as a Catholic, united little family. Our Lady lives with us in our home through prayers and fasting. They do not always accompany me to the daily Mass, but they don’t skip the Sunday and Feast day Masses. . We talk a lot about God at home, and finally I found the right time to bring them to Medjugorje. They all loved the experience of that pilgrimage. But there was another huge change in my life. My profession as a writer changed completely since that moment. God erased my guilt through confession, but He asked me also to repair, and most of all, to help Him with the talent He has entrusted to me: to write. Since then, I have written 5 more novels, all of them with the message of our God’s love. I have been very successful in my work, even though I have had to take many humiliations and criticisms by unbelievers, and especially by the atheistic press of my country. But my intentions are pure and my wish is to help my Lord. I will never forget the immense gift of love I received in Medjugorje. I just pray to the Lord that I will be able to be up to the standards of being a worker for Him, with Him and in Him.
by Maria Vallejo-Nagera (www.mariavallejonagera.com)
for www.medjugorje.net - February 12th 2007.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 07 December 2012 )|
|< Prev||Next >|
|The first days|
|Fr. Slavko Barbaric|
|The Prayer Program|
|The Apparition hill|
|School Sr. of St. Francis|
|Stations of the Cross|
|The 21th Int. Youth Prayer Festival|