Bishop Seamus Hegarty of the Derry diocese in Ireland is one of many prelates who have made a private pilgrimage to Medjugorje. He travelled there in July 1987 (when he was bishop of Raphoe) and afterwards gave this testimony.
I had heard so much about the Medjugorje phenomenon and, as things turned out, managed to go there myself for five days in July 1987. I went, of course, as a private pilgrim, a private person.
I couldn’t help being enormously impressed by everyone, both local parishioners and those who visit Medjugorje from all over Europe and overseas. I also got a very clear impression that here in Medjugorje you are dealing with a centre of prayer, of penance, and of reconciliation.
“By their fruits you shall know them.” Here the fruits are so manifest, so clear and impressive, both in Medjugorje itself and among those who return home after a pilgrimage, that they simply cannot be ignored.
Among many people from my own diocese that had been to Medjugorje I noticed the ongoing, positive results in relation both to their personal and family life. Thus I felt simply obliged to go to the place and find out myself the source, the explanation, of this experience, this tremendous manifestation of faith, this high and exemplary Christian way of life.
I have read the messages the Mother of God is said to be giving to the visionaries. And what I have seen and heard tells me that there is a strong accord, a parallel, between these messages and what the gospels say about the teaching of Christ. The emphasis is very strongly on prayer, fasting, reconciliation and peace – themes that occur over and over again in Scripture. One thing is clear about the Medjugorje messages: they contain nothing that contradicts the Church’s official teaching, which is based on Scripture as on a foundation. Here the emphasis is on prayer and how to pray – that is, with more giving of ourselves and intensity, and new methods of prayer; prayer not only in words but also as something lived.
But what is likewise emphasised in the messages is fasting. It has a long Church tradition behind it. Of recent years, however, it has fallen into disuse on a wide scale. Now it has been revived as a challenge that young people, in particular, face up to in a dramatic way.
We recognise that in Medjugorje we are dealing with a genuine call to peace, and that peace is a divine gift for which we all must pray. On the basis of what I myself observed in Medjugorje, and which everyone that has been there likewise observes, I believe that we are going to experience a radiation of this atmosphere of peace which has it origin, its centre, in Medjugorje, thereupon extending itself over the entire world.
Many prayer groups have been formed as a direct result of a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, an outcome of the religious experience people gain there and which they thereupon keep up and apply to their own life circumstances among their families and communities. Beyond doubt, the Medjugorje phenomenon has had a particular success in everything to do with fostering prayer. Not only do people more than is normal in parishes, but the quality of their prayer is particularly impressive.
The rosary, as we would expect, is one of the most important forms of prayer practised by Medjugorje groups. What has strongly impressed me is that in its recitation the biblical dimension of the mysteries is brought out so prominently.
As regards the Church – the official Church – it cannot afford to ignore this development. Bishops and priests must encourage these prayer groups and, in my opinion, must also be present at them to give leadership and due advice and spiritual orientation. It must also be said that the laity who, with good intentions and devotion, come together to pray deserve every help and direction they can get from the clergy. While, it is true, the presence of a priest is not absolutely necessary at prayer meetings, it is nonetheless most desirable in order that exaggerations and unrealistic or mistaken ideas and expectations may be avoided.
It would be a great pity if Medjugorje’s central message (prayer, fasting, reconciliation and peace) became obscured in any way or if excessive emphasis came to be placed on signs and wonders. Accordingly, the presence at these prayer meetings of the Official Church in the person of the priest is very much to be desired.
My most outstanding experience in Medjugorje was the hearing of Confessions. One day I spent three hours doing so. And I am sure that during those three hours I heard more Confessions of the kind that are basic and come from the depth of the heart than during all the 21 years of my priesthood. I could not help but be moved by the workings of grace – the clear workings of grace; also, by the clear acceptance of the call to penance and reconciliation which expressed themselves so unmistakably in the quality of the Confessions I heard. So this experience will ever remain my most impressive and abiding Medjugorje memory.