On June 24, 1981, in a remote village in the former communist Yugoslavia, two teenage girls, Mirjana and Ivanka, went for a walk. As they exchanged the latest news in their lives, Ivanka suddenly noticed a light high up on Mount Podbrdo, the large hill behind the village. Looking up, she saw a woman, radiating with light, hovering above the ground on a cloud and holding a baby in her arms. Ivanka said to Mirjana, “I think that Our Lady is on the hill.” Mirjana, not bothering to glance up, responded glibly, “Yes, Our Lady has nothing better to do than to come to the two of us.”
Brushing off Ivanka’s strange behavior, she left and walked back toward the village, but she soon felt a great urge to return. When she did, she found Ivanka in the same spot, still staring at the hill, mesmerized. “Look at it now, please,” said Ivanka. Mirjana looked up and saw a beautiful woman with blue eyes and long, dark hair, dressed in a gray dress and a white veil, with a baby in her arms and a crown of twelve stars around her head. Mirjana says of that instant, “All the possible emotions that exist I felt in my heart at the same time. To put it simply, I was not aware if I was alive or dead.”
Just then, a friend of theirs named Vicka was passing by, looking for the two of them, and when she, too, saw the woman on the hill, she jumped out of her slippers and ran headlong back to the village. A few moments later, a teenage boy named Ivan walked by on his way home carrying apples in his arms, and upon seeing the woman, threw down the apples and ran away. Then Mirjana said to Ivanka, “Who knows what’s going on? It’s better for us to go home as well.”
The next day, all four children felt drawn back to the same spot (which is now called Apparition Hill). Vicka ran to get her friend, Marija, and ten-year-old Jakov, and all six children saw the beautiful woman. Then again the following day, July 26, they saw her — this time with nearly the entire village present. On that day, more than five thousand people saw the visionaries bathed in an immense light and believed.
As soon as the woman appeared, Vicka, at her grandmother’s urging, sprinkled holy water on her in the sign of the cross and said, “If you are Satan, go away from us.” The woman just smiled with an expression of immense love, and then she spoke:
Do not be afraid, dear angels.
I am the Mother of God.
I am the Queen of Peace.
I am the mother of all people.
Thus began Mary’s daily apparitions to the six children, the longest-occurring series of apparitions in Church history. They continue to this day. Why has she been appearing so long? She answers this question in her message of January 25, 2009:
. . . I am with you for this long because you are on the wrong path. Only with my help, little children, you will open your eyes. There are many of those who, by living my messages, comprehend that they are on the way of holiness towards eternity. . . .
On the second day of the Medjugorje apparitions, Marija saw Mary crying and carrying a wooden cross. “Peace, peace, peace!” were the words she spoke. “Be reconciled! Only peace!” Twenty-eight years later, in her message of April 25, 2009, she calls out to us again:
Dear children! Today I call you all to pray for peace and to witness it in your families so that peace may become the highest treasure on this peaceless earth. I am your Queen of Peace and your mother. I desire to lead you on the way of peace, which comes only from God. Therefore, pray, pray, pray. Thank you for having responded to my call.
Mary is appearing to a world intent on destroying itself in order to urge her children to return to the ways of God. To show to the world that her presence and words are true and real, Our Lady has promised that when she stops appearing, a visible and lasting sign, undeniably of God, will be left on the spot of her first apparition.
Mary has chosen to appear in Medjugorje and to give the world messages in order to continue the work she set out to do when she appeared to three young children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. Part of her message from August 25, 1991, states:
. . . I call all of you, dear children, to pray and fast still more firmly . . . so that, with your help, everything I desire to realize through the secrets I began in Fatima, may be fulfilled. I call you, dear children, to grasp the importance of my coming and the seriousness of the situation. . . .
In the Church-approved apparitions at Fatima, Mary gave the three young seers three secrets; in an earlier approved apparition in La Salette, France, in 1846, she gave two young seers two secrets. These have all since been revealed. The Blessed Mother is now in the process of giving ten secrets to each of the six visionaries in Medjugorje, some of whom have received all ten. The secrets will be revealed in the not-too-distant future, as the visionary Mirjana has been asked by Mary to help publicize them through a priest at the appointed time. Mary and the visionaries tell us, however, not to focus on the secrets; only to focus on our own personal conversion, here and now.
Strongly urging everyone to “pray, pray, pray,” Mary has given five specific means to holiness that she wishes of us, in order to truly live her messages: frequent attendance of the Holy Mass, monthly Confession, Bible reading, daily prayer (especially the rosary), and fasting on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays — all done with the heart. “I am not God,” she said in her message in December 1983, “I need your prayers and sacrifices to help me,” and “you have forgotten that with prayer and fasting you can ward off wars, suspend natural laws.”
In many of Mary’s messages, she encourages us to live in joy. On June 6, 1986, she said, “Dear children, these days the Lord is allowing me to intercede for more graces for you. Thus I urge you once more to pray, dear children. Pray without ceasing. That way I can give you the joy which the Lord has given me. With these graces, dear children, your sufferings can be turned to joy. I am your mother and I want to help you.”
Since the apparitions began, the visionaries, who humbly say that they are not important and no more holy than you or me, spend as many as six hours or more daily in prayer and fast on bread and water up to three times a week. Following their initial fright, the six young visionaries quickly lost their fear of the Virgin Mary. They say her love for them and all of humanity cannot be expressed in words, and that to be in her presence is like being in heaven. They speak of her as “beautiful beyond anything in this world.” In the early days of the apparitions, they once asked her, “Why are you so beautiful?” and she responded, “I am beautiful because I love. You, too, are beautiful when you love.”
Pope John Paul II made several personal statements giving his wholehearted support of the apparitions. “If I weren’t the Pope,” he said, “I’d be in Medjugorje already!” as reported April 29, 1989, by Bishop Paul Hnilica, S.J., Auxiliary Bishop of Rome, after having been admonished by the Holy Father for not stopping in Medjugorje on his return trip to Rome.
To monsignor Maurillo Kreiger, former bishop of Florianopolis in Brazil, the Pope said, “Medjugorje, Medjugorje, it’s the spiritual heart of the world.” When the visionary Mirjana traveled to Rome, Pope John Paull II learned that she was there and asked to see her in person in the nearby town of Castle Grandolfo at his summer residence. There he expressed similar sentiments to her. “I know everything about Medjugorje,” he said. “I’ve been following Medjugorje. Ask pilgrims to pray for my intentions, to keep, to take good care of Medjugorje, because Medjugorje is hope for the entire world. And if I were not Pope, I would have been in Medjugorje a long time ago.”
Since 1981, when the apparitions to the children began, more than 45 million pilgrims from all over the world have been to Medjugorje, including the 180 bishops, forty-two archbishops, nine cardinals, and many thousands of priests who have publicly visited Medjugorje. This does not include all of the clerics who have chosen to go privately for their own personal pilgrimage. Each day, villagers and pilgrims pray for hours in the local church, while others wait in the long lines for Confession. All day, and often into the night, pilgrims climb Apparition Hill, where Mary first appeared to the children, lending their prayers to the sacred atmosphere. Nearby, pilgrims also climb Cross Mountain, upon which the villagers erected by hand a fifteen-ton, thirty-six-foot-high cross in 1933 to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of the crucifixion. Mary told the children that she chose to appear in Medjugorje because of the strong faith she found in the village, and she continues to call people from across the globe to make a pilgrimage there to encounter her Son in a special way. Those who heed her call with an open spirit find themselves in a place of extraordinary peace, where rosaries turn gold, the sun dances and spins in the sky, and miracles, conversions, and healings abound — most importantly, the healing of the human heart.