Saturday, November 13, 2010

In Search of the Virgin Mary; The Medjugorje Chronicles

Medjugorje--Prayers Answered?

In my essay, “In Search of the Virgin Mary” written a few weeks ago, I invited you to partake in my journey to find the Blessed Virgin Mary, find God and simply discover what Medjugorje holds for those that pilgrimage there.

Reporting about my journey won’t be as simple as I first thought.  I’m still processing information and emotions that both my logical mind and my spiritual self have received during my Medjugorje experience.  I’m confident I’ll be doing this for a long time, as more is revealed to me.  So, I’ve decided to chronicle the trip in a few essays accompanied by photos to expose you to some of what we experienced.

An invitation was also extended to send me prayer petitions that I would bring to Medjugorje.  Thousands of people around the world received that essay…

…and the response was overwhelming!

This is where the journey begins…

Reading the e-mailed prayer petitions were actually uplifting and draining at the same time.  I felt emotionally spent...they were that moving!   

Why?—Because of the openness and purity with which they were written.  Entrusted to me were people’s inner private thoughts and feelings about the pain and suffering they or their loved ones were enduring.  Stories of physical pain, cancer, drug, alcohol and pornography addictions, family issues, depression, loss of jobs and homes, estranged family members and so much more.

In one petition, a woman wrote that her mom was in the hospital, suffering with cancer. She read my letter “In Search of the Virgin Mary” to her mom, and it made her smile.  She went on to say that before she was able to send her prayer petition to me, her mom passed away.  And although her mom no longer needed prayers, she was sure that mom was in heaven praying for us!  This was incredibly touching!

Many people also sent sealed petitions to me.  Regardless of how they came; I was honored and humbled by the trust that was placed in me to deliver them.  To be the messenger delivering to God—the hopes, dreams, needs, and desires of people is a task and responsibility not taken lightly, and I am thankful for that opportunity.

Still others weren’t requesting anything for themselves, but sent their blessings and prayers for a safe and rewarding journey for our group.  This, too, was gratifying and humbling to be in the hearts and minds of so many.

More prayer requests came via e-mail even while we were on our journey.  Rest assured, all those petitions were prayed for too!

Prayers, of course, are not bound by time, space or physical location.  The moment a prayer petition is thought, God knows the intention, and the heart that requests it.

When we gathered together and collectively prayed for everyone's petitions, I sensed a special power...a heightened energy that surrounded us.
It was quite exhilarating  being part of this group of people, who with a common purpose, throughout each day of our journey, joined in unity to pray for all our intentions and for peace and love to reign in our world.  This was intensified when we were in Medjugorje where the Blessed Virgin Mary has been said to appear and a veil of holiness seems to encapsulate the village.

Our prayers, once again, seemed to be intensified by commingling with an international legion of people,  who were praying and seeking God in the town, at the church and on the mountain...everywhere.

The energy was incredible!  I have no doubt that our prayers were and are, being answered.

So what did we do with the petitions?

Well, they were all placed in a special red bag that Paul, our group leader, had brought with him.

Each day, one person in our group volunteered to safeguard the bag carrying it with them for as long as they wished before handing it over to someone else.  This ensured the petitions were always in the forefront of our minds, for quiet reflection and prayer.

As others before us, both Mary (my wife), and I were fortunate bearers of this honorable responsibility—charged with dutifully carrying out our assignment with respect for the contents of those petitions.  Even when I wasn’t carrying the red bag but could see it with another person, I had a sobering sense of duty and allegiance to those petitions, as well as a feeling of reverence for them.  After all, they represented the lives of so many people.

After days of carrying the bag of petitions, a day was picked to deliver them to the top of Mount Krizevac (Cross Mountain) to be buried and prayed over.
Paul had also brought a small but simple wooden cross with him.  On it we were asked to write the names of additional people to be prayed for.  This cross was also lovingly carried up Cross Mountain.
It was a vigorous climb, therefore, some of our group opted out and rightfully so.  As we climbed, our modest cross was passed from one person to another symbolically re-enacting Jesus carrying his cross.  It, also, represented the burden of carrying peoples' names and petitions being offered to God. 

A few members of our group were inspired to climb the mountain barefoot.  Thus intensifying the harship of the climb while showing their willingness to sacrifice and endure suffering for Christ.
We encountered many barefooted people on the trail doing the same. I applaud their sacrifice and dedication. This was not an easy path, but a rock strewn swatch cut through brambles almost as though an earthquake had heaved jagged rocks up through the surface of the earth.

In the Catholic Church there is a tradition of prayer and meditation called the Stations of the Cross.  There are fourteen stations depicting the final hours leading to Jesus Christ’s death.  Positioned at various points along the rocky trails of Krizevac are beautiful large bronze reliefs of these stations of cross, by an Italian artist.  Some of the stations are:

•Jesus condemned to death
•Forced to carry his cross
•Falling the first time
•Simon forced to carry Jesus’ cross
•Jesus stripped of all his clothes
•Nailed to the cross
•Taken down from the cross
•Jesus is placed in the tomb

Trekking up the mountain, carrying our red bag of petitions and small cross, we stopped at the Stations of the Cross.  There we read from a booklet about Jesus, reflected on his suffering, prayed, and meditated about how each station relates to experiences we may have had in our lives.

Atop Mount Krizevac towers a formidable thirty foot tall concrete cross, erected in 1933 to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of the Passion of Jesus.  It is a beautiful spot with a spectacular view of Medjugorje and the surrounding area.  
This was the destination for the burial of our petitions; a befitting place, though not the site where the Virgin had first appeared to the six children.

A palpable sense of peace and tranquility could be felt there, and yet at the same time, one could sense the pain of people who overcame hardships to journey to Krizevac to place their troubles, fears, burdens and pain before God.  Again---a sobering experience.
There people prayed, while others placed petitions, and even photos at the base of the cross. Many picked up small rocks to take home and some simply dug up some dirt with their hands from the holy site. 

It has been reported by many people...pilgrims...towns’ people...priests and nuns that the Virgin Mary has been seen at the cross!  Mary has told the visionaries that she has allowed people to see her there praying before God.  These glimpses of her are rewards to strengthen the faith of people.
You may be wondering if I saw Mary there.  The answer is no… but something unique...definitely supernatural did occur... somewhere else.  I will share that story with you later. 

There was no absence of  time spent collectively or individually in prayer and worship.  Everyday there was mass at St. James church in the heart of Medjugorje and other churches throughout various communities and more opportunities to pray for our petitions. 

Next to the church was a very beautiful outdoor area designed for quiet reflection and prayer.  Stone walls and shrubbery surrounded it.  Central to this, a large crucifix stood atop a cascading fountain of water.  Here, hundreds of votive candles were lit for the intentions of the prayerful. 

I found myself drawn to this area on several occasions—mostly at night when it was the most quiet and peaceful.  The glow from the red votive candles was beautiful.  There, I lit candles and once again, placed everyone's petitions in God’s hands.

One night I even endured the rain.  But somehow the candles didn’t seem to mind as they continued to glow brightly.

Carrying the petitions for days…hiking the rugged terrain to the top of Krizevac…the willingness to endure some discomfort perhaps even a little hardship for others, even those you don’t know is strangely satisfying. 

Yet, at the same time I was always keenly aware that any troubles I’ve encountered in my life are minuscule by comparison to so many who suffer real and long lasting hardships.  It was heartening to witness the strength, character, courage and faith of so many of our pilgrimage group.
I knew of at least three of our companions who were suffering from a variety of cancers…brain, breast and metastatic.  One young woman with cancer has been living two years longer than the doctor’s prognosis! There was a myriad of other health problems in our group and even one with a pacemaker, yet no one ever complained.  They all displayed great strength and fortitude.

I was inspired by my mom, who was the oldest person on the journey just a few weeks from her 87th birthday.  She is challenged by glaucoma, but was willing to endure some hardships for her faith...out of love.
The solidarity of many, praying for the needs of others, is profoundly powerful.  Who’s to say what touched God’s heart?  And why, and for whom petitions will be granted? 
Since our return, I’ve learned that God was working on our petitions while we were away.  The day after, I was told of three people (not on our trip) whose petitions were granted while we were still in Medjugorje!  At least one of these with verifiable health complaints was supernaturally healed.

So the petitions were delivered!  They were, and continue to be... prayed for.  Some have been answered, and I’m confident many more will be answered still.  I hope and pray yours are granted...soon.  If they are, please let me know.  I hope you'll share your story with me.

Soon, I will be writing more that may challenge your beliefs, test your boundaries, push some buttons, or…at the very least...have you question my sanity.  For others, it may just reinforce your faith.

What I’ll reveal is something I’m still attempting to understand myself… but perhaps never will.  It is intriguing and, I believe, worth waiting for.  Hopefully, you will feel the same.

I know you're still wondering if I found the Virgin Mary...but you'll have to wait a little while longer for that answer.

By the end of The Medjugorje Chronicles, I certainly hope you deem the journey worthwhile.  Perhaps even taking away something of value for yourself.  Maybe you'll make the trip to Medjugorje or simply be encouraged to continue your path to God.

I’ll write more In Search of the Virgin Mary; The Medjugorje Chronicles soon.

Stay tuned!

Dr. Rick Barrett