About four years ago I was blessed to attend a Medjugorje weekend retreat held at Stanbrook Abbey in Worcestershire, England. The Retreat director was Fr Tomislav Pervan OFM, who had been the pastor of the Medjugorje parish for six years until 1988, and an important first-hand witness to the events that happened in and around the village during that time. This is a transcript of a talk (in three parts) given by Fr Tomislav during his weekend at Stanbrook Abbey. It first appeared in my monthly newsletter, The Medjugorje Message, in March 2004, and was transcribed by Angela Callan.
Introduction to Medjugorje
• I was born on 2 August 1946, and went into the Franciscan Seminary at the age of 14, in 1960. I was in the novitiate in Humac Monastery at the age of 18 and finished my studies in 1970, a year after man landed on the moon. I then spent some time at Humac working with young people. Later I went to Germany and Austria to study for a doctorate in theology. In 1977 I returned to Humac and began teaching the novices. I was a faithful believer, but everything was in my head and not in my heart. I was teaching the young boys, but was not happy with the teachings.
In 1979 I met with German theologian Herbert Muller in Zagreb and he was speaking about Renewal. In August 1979 I had a spiritual experience and was touched by the Holy Spirit. I was out of myself for two to three days. This was a revolutionary experience. I started to pray, to read the bible with the eyes of my heart, and to preach vigorously. I started to pray with children and they changed their lives. They were touched by a real God, not the God in books. God is nowhere except in you. You can’t find God in books. St Francis didn’t write books. His writing is in his life, his bible.
(2 Corinthians 3: 2-3) “…because you are yourselves our letter, written in our hearts… not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on the tablets of your living hearts.” So I tried to write things in the hearts of the young people.
When Medjugorje began, I was with my novices visiting other novices on a five-day visit. On Saturday 27 June 1981, we returned to Humac and were told that Our Lady was appearing in Medjugorje, but not one of the friars from Humac had been there. We saw thousands of cars heading in that direction.
I went to Medjugorje on 29 June 1981, but I spoke about it before that. I advised people not to look for signs but to be a sign. If it is from God, it will remain.
At that time there were uprisings in Kosovo, Poland and a difficult situation in Iran. I told the people to be quiet and sober. Fr Jozo Zovko was away at the time, giving a retreat. He returned on 27 June and met the visionaries the next day. Those first five days were extremely important, because the visionaries were by themselves, with no outside influence by any priest.
On 29 June there were 3,000 cars in Medjugorje. Fr Jozo was thinking: “I have a huge church, and it is empty.” Priests were not allowed to preach or conduct Mass outside the church in those Communist times. If Fr Jozo went to the hill and preached, he would have been arrested.
I was a friend of Fr Jozo before all his happened, so he called and asked me to come over and help. He was very sceptical about the visionaries. He questioned them one by one while I was in another room with the rest of the visionaries. He said, “Don’t make a game out of our faith.” Vicka was very strong, saying, “I see what I see.” Jakov, in his young voice, said, “I see, I see!” Ivan was shy. I was convinced but thought, “We can wait and see how it develops.”
All these tape recordings were taken by the police when Fr Jozo was later arrested. Other tapes which were made at the time have since been translated into a book. The visionaries spoke with one voice.
All the communist media spoke about Medjugorje, but they tried to link it with nationalism. The more they spoke against it, the more the people believed and that made even more people come to Medjugorje.
Fr Jozo asked the visionaries to ask Our Lady if he should start an evening Mass in the church. She said “yes”, so this started 10 July 1981. Fr Jozo was speaking like a prophet. I remember the confessions, people coming back after 40 years. It was a sign of authenticity. I invited the visionaries to the monastery at Humac. We prayed together and I prayed over them, a prayer of protection against evil spirits. Maria told me she saw a bright light and I knew the visionaries were pure of heart and not lying, but the propaganda against them increased.
The bishop was interested and met Fr Jozo two or three times in July. He was favourable. He believed in Lourdes and Fatima and was very Marian. Fr Jozo advised him to be “sober and quiet”. On 25 July the bishop came to St James’ church for confirmations. He stated publicly that the visionaries were not lying.
I used to walk with the novices from Humac to Medjugorje. It took from 1.30pm until 5.00pm We always wore our habits and met many people along the way. They were encouraged when they saw that we believed. The police used dogs to prevent people from going to Apparition Hill, so it was ironic that it was the communists, the unbelievers, who eventually pushed the believers into the church!
Days after August 15, Fr Jozo and Fr Vlasic were arrested. Everything was taken and the tapes and books were never returned. The intention was to suppress the evening Mass. However, there was a visiting priest in the fields and he rang the bell and everyone came from the fields and the vineyards to the church. Little Jakov took the microphone and told the congregation that Fr Jozo would okay and come to no harm.
Fr Jozo was sentenced to three years imprisonment, although the prosecution had asked for a 10 year sentence. He was accused of being a counter-revolutionary – like Jesus – because he had preached the bible against the government.
I kept going to Medjugorje with my prayer group. About 24 of us would fast on bread and water. Then I was forbidden to go publicly and accused of seducing people – to God? So I walked 100 yards behind the group and prayed the Rosary for the intention of them becoming priests and nuns. Eventually, four became nuns and two became priests from that group.
The apparitions now took place in the small chapel at the side of the altar. One evening I was there and greeted Our Lady in Greek, as Gabriel would have greeted her. Afterwards I was told that Our Lady was looking in my corner and smiling. I knew why!
Exactly two months after this, I was instructed to move to Medjugorje to replace Fr Jozo. I said “no way” and I cried all night. I then asked Fr Vlasic to ask the visionaries to speak to Our Lady if this was to be so. The answer was “yes”. I still have the note in my breviary. I asked for a month to prepare and arrived just after the Feast of the Assumption in 1982.
I remained there until October 1988 – six full years. It was a most blessed time. There were no facilities, no restaurants, nothing except the rocks, the two hills and the church. The people were very poor, but like a diamond, when you have nothing but yourself and your God.
In 1984 the Thursday messages started, then once a month from 1987. In 1991, exactly 10 years after the first apparition, war broke out. I was in Austria and stayed in Slovenia, and escaped by chance. Could we have escaped the war? I believe “yes” if we had listened to Our Lady’s messages. In April 1992 I was in Mostar – everything was destroyed – there was such a mixed population and a chaotic situation. Vuckovar was the abortion capital of Eastern Europe and was the most destroyed city in the war.
From 1994 until July 2001, I was Provincial. Now I am free of any charge, going daily to Medjugorje to hear confessions, to pray, and with God’s power, help to heal the people.
Medjugorje, a place of healing and reconciliation
• I was there from the first. I tried to explain it in biblical terms. There was nothing new. Everything in the Church has its replica in past times. The Holy Spirit is always present. Medjugorje, for me, was like re-reading the Acts of the Apostles and Revelation. Everyone was opposing it, the chief priests etc, but the Apostles could not be silenced.
So it was with the visionaries – they were taken by the police – and even Fr Jozo and I were questioning them very strongly because of our faith and the communist regime. The visionaries were steadfast in their conviction – “We see Our Lady”. Even their parents didn’t believe them in the first days.
During an apparition, one person asked to touch our Lady, and Our Lady’s clothes became dark because of the person’s sinfulness! This can be compared to the Middle Ages when the people who were building churches were asked to go to Confession first. You can’t build God’s temple with impure hands and heart. This is a good lesson for us. Those beautiful churches took centuries to build. Faith is incarnated in the stones.
Today they are like museums – empty and for sale. Why? Because there is no faith. Our ancestors built churches; we build clinics. They bowed the knee; we exercise our knees. They wanted to save their souls; we want to save our bodies. We need a healthy mind, soul and heart, as well as a healthy body. Our churches are empty but the clinics are full.
When Jesus said to the paralytic, “your sins are forgiven,” no one sees anything, but if you say to the man, “get up and walk,” you see something. Today we look for psychiatrists and psychologists and drugs to make us well, but what we really need is Confession and the little experiences from Medjugorje to heal us.
In a Siberian camp a man, who was not a Catholic, wanted to confess his sins to a priest. When asked why he didn’t go to his own pastor, he replied: “I don’t need encouragement, I need absolution!” (In Medjugorje) people are in tears in the confessional. Jesus is healing people there and they don’t need psychiatrists, psychologists and clinics.
In Lourdes we had the spring of water; in Fatima the spinning sun. In Medjugorje we have confession.
On the third day of the apparitions, Our Lady appeared with Jesus in her arms and said, “Peace, Peace, Peace, between God and mankind.” Behind her was a huge dark cross. This is very serious and we are called to listen. “I am here to tell you that God exists.” This was in a country where God was banned.
In Germany, 40% of children aged six to twelve, don’t know the meaning of Christmas. We are scared about five million Muslims, but we are not scared about 20 million atheists! Who will heal the wounds that atheism brings?
Many people came to Medjugorje immediately, even though communications had been cut (lightning had damaged the small local telephone and postal office on the morning of the first apparition), the news spread like wildfire. America had the news the next day.
The physical healings in the early days encourage people to go to Medjugorje. There was a little girl in my Catechism class who had very bad sores. She took earth and herbs from Podbrodo (the hill of the apparition), washed her hands in the mixture, and the sores disappeared!
The reaction of the communist media was like a sign it was true. From the very beginning they were all against it. Satan recognises the truth – he knows that Our Lady is crushing his head. In 1984 the Pope consecrated Russia to Our Lady and the next year, communism fell.
Revolution is not to go out on to the street with guns in our hands, but to find the solution for our own life. Our Lady asked us to repent, convert, pray and have strong faith – and this gives peace. Conversion must come first. Peace and love… Princess Diana had everything except peace and love; Mother Teresa had only peace and love. She found the solution for her life, to serve those on the streets of Calcutta. She always had the Rosary in her hands; that’s the weapon.
The thousands who came to Medjugorje in the early days came against the will of the communists. It was risky to go to Medjugorje. It was forbidden to go on to Podbrodo or Krizevac until June 1983. There were police guards with dogs. They would not even allow the parish to go up Krizevac on Good Friday. The visionaries were taken by the police, but they could not make them change their story.
In July 1983, when the apparitions took place in the small chapel at the side of the altar, I was present. It was very crowded and hot, and the apparition lasted 40 minutes. The visionaries were outside of time and space, laughing sometimes, serious at other times. I asked myself: who can be forced to keep their eyes on one spot for 40 minutes?
In December 1983 I was in the apparition room with the visionaries, and I had given Vicka some questions on the New Testament to ask Our Lady. The visionaries were very serious and were crying. They said they could not ask my questions because Our Lady had revealed a new secret and they were very sad.
In 1984 there was an international retreat for priests, held in Rome, and afterwards 200 of those priests came to Medjugorje. It was a very beautiful time. Bishop Zanic had come to Medjugorje secretly in December 1981, and was convinced it was true. He later made a statement that Medjugorje had done more in three years than 30 years of pastoral work of priests. So many came to Medjugorje and went home renewed.
There is an American nun from Boston, Sr Margaret, who has been to Medjugorje 80 times, bringing groups since 1984! I asked her why she did it as it was such a difficult journey. She answered: “I see people are changing their lives, they become a new creation. If this doesn’t happen, then I will stop, but I always see this change.”
In all the places Our Lady appears, she has a mission from heaven. She has a mission for our day in Medjugorje.
Medjugorje has no new messages for mankind
• Our Lady in Medjugorje is only emphasising the Gospel – convert, begin a new life, remodel.
We talk of the re-making of Europe, but we have to re-make our lives and only through this can the world be renewed. This is done through prayer, fasting and conversion, which leads to peace. Yesterday’s message (25 January 2003) asks us to be “peace in this peaceless world”.
There were 500 priests in Medjugorje for the Retreat last July. If priests are touched by Our
Lady and her messages, they touch their parishes and the whole world. There are priests who say, “I don’t need Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje…” That’s okay if you are right with Jesus – but you cannot neglect His mother. She is the Mother of God. She is always there in the plan of salvation, as a pillar in the Church.
In 1997, the Pope was in Sarajevo and I was to meet him. I was Provincial at the time. We were all in a line and the Provincial of Bosnia went first. The Pope said just one word to him: Medjugorje! To me he talked about Medjugorje and he was smiling. At dinner I gave him a book about Medjugorje. Again, at the airport, when he was leaving, he mentioned Medjugorje and was smiling. I’m sure if he was not Pope he would have been to Medjugorje.
When Our Lady was asked to be the Mother of God, after her ‘fiat’ she didn’t go out into the market place. She was silent and humble. The first thing she did was to set out in haste to travel two days on a donkey and visit her cousin Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant in her womb leapt, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is only an embryo, but is having this great effect. This is an argument against abortion. Mary and Elizabeth had exchanged no messages, no emails; but Elizabeth confirmed what the angel had told her. Until this, Mary was silent. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Mary’s voice echoes to the Medjugorje visionaries, the village, to the whole world. Who forced you to ‘go to Medjugorje’, to spend money in a place where there are no facilities, where it’s hot in summer and cold in winter? People are refreshing their lives, returning home and spreading the messages. This for me is the indication of the great mission of lay people.
When I was in America, I heard of a doctor who was away from the Church. He saw the Kominski amateur video on Medjugorje and was converted by this. He was forever changed and goes regularly to a campus for young offenders teaching them to pray the Rosary.
Another person heard a priest giving his witness on tape, was converted, went to seminary, and is now a beautiful Marian priest. There are so many stories like this that make the beautiful mosaic of souls.
The voice of Our Lady echoes and resounds in all who are open.
How does it affect us on the border between East and West, with Muslims and Catholics and a Communist regime?
In 1531, in Guadalupe, Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, who has just been canonised. She came three or four times and told him this place was to be a shrine. He went to the bishop who said he was crazy. Then there was the miracle of the Andalucian roses blooming in December. Our Lady left her image on the tilma, which should have lasted 20 years at the most, but has lasted 500 years! The colours are heavenly colours, impressed not printed. In the reflection of the scene that appears in one eye of Our Lady, there are 14 people; in the other, three only.
In Lourdes, Our Lady came as the Immaculate Conception and left a sign, the spring water. In Fatima, she came on the eve of the First World War saying, repent and pray. In Kibleo, in 1981, Our Lady came and predicted everything that happened in the evil war that followed. All these apparitions have been approved by the bishop. So I am waiting for something to change in the minds of the bishops so that they will recognise Medjugorje.
At the time of Guadalupe, Europe was undergoing the Reformation and many became Protestant. She came there as a Mother of Mercy. The Aztec religion was merciless. After Guadalupe millions became Catholic and Mexico is now the most Catholic country in the world today.
In Fatima she asked the Pope to consecrate Russia to he Immaculate Heart. Portugal was saved from involvement in the Spanish Civil War and even the Second World War because they were consecrated to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. In 1942 the Pope consecrated the world to Our Lady and this changed the course of the Second World War. In 1984 there was another consecration and there followed the collapse of Communism, except in Yugoslavia. So history was changed by candles and prayers.
Perhaps if the bishops of Yugoslavia had tuned into Medjugorje and called people to prayer, maybe the (Balkan) war could have been avoided. The bishop of Banja Luka has lost his flock and is now thinking that Medjugorje is a blessing.
During the war thousands of people sent aid because of Medjugorje. We were saved through the Blessed Mother, through you and your help. Thanks be to her.“Blessed are you who believed that what the Lord said would be fulfiled.” Our Lady then proclaims the Magnificat. That’s the importance of your voice, because it is an expression of your heart, your thoughts and what is inside you. Thanks be to the Blessed Mother for her coming and her messages.