This interview by Francesco Cavagna with Fr. Ljubo Kurtović was first published in Echo of Mary (Queen of Peace). Fr Ljubo recently left Medjugorje to take up a new appointment in Zagreb as master of the Seminarians.
I was a young priest, ordained four years previously. The parish priest then was Fr. Pervan, and when I was told I’d be coming here as a spiritual assistant it frightened me a little. Being newly ordained it came as a challenge. I’d thus far come to Medjugorje as a pilgrim, and it was here that I decided to become a monk; after that I came here a few times also to help with the confessions. It is totally different to come here every now and again, and to live here. To live here is like an immersion; you live Mary’s presence in your heart.
• And were you enthusiastic about it?
I didn’t feel enthusiasm, because it’s very difficult for me to get enthusiastic about anything. It took me some time to get used to. At first there was Fr Slavko, and it was only after he had died that we came to realize how much he did. We had to cover his responsibilities. I got the part of translating and interpreting the message of the 25th of the month, and the various seminars which he used to hold. Of course, I had to “throw myself in” and manage. We have a proverb that says that a donkey can’t swim, but if it is thrown into the water it will learn. So I had to learn how to swim.
• During these seven years have many things at Medjugorje changed? For better or for worse? Would you say the spiritual level of pilgrims has risen?
Everyone says that the first two or three years here was like being in Paradise. Then there was a lot of enthusiasm, but to remain enthusiastic for 26 years isn’t realistic. Even these phases of enthusiasm need filtering. However, there are many who have remained on the journey with Mary and try to live according to her indications. To speak of quality is a bit difficult. I think it is necessary to leave aside the enthusiasm and allow the roots to take hold so that he who has truly decided to follow the Lord may persevere and learn to suffer and remain faithful to Mary’s messages. We are all on a journey or quest, and it isn’t possible to see what the future holds for us. It is enough that we can see which is the next step to take and to proceed with trust, knowing that the Lord guides everything, and will turn all into good.
• What is Mary’s aim? Where is she leading us with these apparitions?
Mary herself said: “The most important message I have given you is the call to conversion” which is, after all, an evangelical call. So, her desire is to bring to our attention the truth of the Gospel. She surely wouldn’t have appeared if everything was proceeding well – in the Church and the world. Mary, who is Mother, comes, speaks, advises, and calls us, as mothers do.
• Twenty-six years, and that which has been announced has not been fulfilled…
There is man’s time and God’s time. For God a single day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a single day. Twenty six years are many, and yet they are few. Three years after the first apparition the visionaries asked why Our Lady had been with them for so long, and she asked if we were already tired. Weariness may come because her love and messages are demanding, but she does this for our own good; she came to make us happy, not unhappy. God and Our Lady have never promised us Paradise on the earth; here we are on a journey.
• After your experience here, do you think you’ve changed within? What have you received; what have you learned?
Being amongst pilgrims and their needs is for us priests (a way of) formation and learning, because in one way or another we also receive. Inevitably, we influence each other. I’ve understood there are still many steps for me to take. I have never experienced sudden conversions; neither have I fallen from my horse in the manner of St. Paul. In me everything has proceeded along gradually. I need only journey along.
• Apart from your experience with the pilgrims, what has influenced you?
Living here has made me ever more convinced of Our Lady’s presence. Humanly speaking, it would be easier not to live here, because this is a particular kind of parish. Besides the graces, there are also many crosses and much suffering; and these can help strengthen a person’s faith, because it is when we suffer that we learn to pray, and if you decide to suffer with God, then your faith is purified.
• What difficulties do you priests encounter here at Medjugorje?
Many people come here and with them they bring different problems and suffering, and also their “spirits” are different. It takes a good deal of discernment, and wisdom, love and patience, and strength, to be able to respond – as priests – to all these needs.
It is difficult and demanding, but also very beautiful, because the strength comes from grace. During the prayer of adoration I speak mostly to myself – as a way of introducing the people into a relationship with God. Having a relationship with Jesus myself helps me lead others to Him. Before I came here I had had some experience, only there weren’t as many people. As soon as I arrived I began to listen to how Fr. Slavko prayed. We always learn from others. I have learned much from various people.
• You are not particularly effusive; you often seek silence and avoid people. Yet it seems that pilgrims seek your company precisely for this. Do you have a word for them?
There’s a fundamental difference to understand. Do they seek me or Jesus? If it is me, then I am happy to keep on escaping, because I wouldn’t give anything if it were just me. Here there is a battle being fought; here is the true journey towards Christ. I can say that many are those who seek Jesus.
• Do you think the Youth Festival is an important event for Medjugorje?
Yes, certainly. It was all started by Fr. Slavko, a man of great courage and faith who grew at Mary’s school. He had the courage to begin everything with a small group of maybe not even 30 people, and from this seed grew a great tree. At present more than 30,000 people attend. Of course, this is no merit of mine.
• What would you like to say to all the young people that will read this interview?
The same that Mary says: “Dear Children, open your hearts; surrender to Jesus; consecrate yourselves to my Heart, and do not fear, for I am with you.” You too are with her. Persevere along this journey, even when it is difficult.
• Do you think your transfer to another convent far from Medjugorje will be a step forward in your journey?
In my heart I will never leave Medjugorje. I can go bodily, but my roots are here, even if the branches are elsewhere. Here at Medjugorje I have tasted the beauty of my priesthood and I’ve seen how much people need priests, or rather, they need Jesus through the priests.
• So do you read the will of God in this transfer? Do you think it will be beneficial for your soul?
I don’t know how it will be, but I think it will be beneficial. One needs to be at a certain distance from God to be able to see Him. Being too close can impede the vision.
• After these years here, which event has impressed you the most?
Not a specific event; it’s more a case of saying that each event has been very precious. It is in seeing how God works in souls that gives the most satisfaction: you know, seeing how people leave here full of happiness and hope. This gives you the enthusiasm and increased strength to persevere in doing God’s will. This image of the people who come here to seek God and leave here happy and interiorly renewed will accompany me. I think this is the most beautiful thing; in reality this is Medjugorje.
• You will have to leave this reality and go forth, but Our Lady works everywhere!
I will not be leaving Our Lady behind; I will take her with me! I always tell pilgrims not to leave Our Lady behind. We can take her in our heart by doing precisely what she has been asking us to do for the past 26 years. This is the best way to be always with her, and through her, with Jesus.