En route I noticed that for the greater part of the journey there were little villages, one after the other and in each village was a mosque with no sign of a church of any kind. Then as you near the city of Mostar you start to see churches, usually Roman Catholic. I asked Tomo about that and said that 90% of the residents of those first villages are Muslim but when you get near Mostar and onto little villages like Medjugorje they become Christian (mainly Catholic) areas.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is 40% Muslim thus is a predominantly Muslim country. The next in line at 31% are the Eastern Orthodox Christians who are mainly Serbs and trailing along at the end at 15% are the Catholics who are usually Croats (as is Tomo).
The complexity of these groups living under the one roof, as it were, is too much to write about here but I have read books which describe the tensions that date back for many centuries and which every now and then come to the surface. And some. The Bosnian war was said to have been one of the worst the 20th century could throw up. Now there is an uneasy peace but that's better than nothing.
Which brings me to Medjugorje, this little fiercely Catholic enclave encased in a Muslim country and so close to a predominantly Muslim region.
It is true that there a far too many tacky shops selling religious items. Dozens and dozens of them. But you have to understand that these people are very poor. Indeed the whole country is hopelessly poor and the phenomenon of the apparitions and all that goes with it has at least brought a little prosperity to the place. And if you're here to try to understand what is going on, you rise above the commercialism and either accept or reject what they say has been happening. This is just one street with its souvenir shops but there are lots more and they all seem to be selling the same items.
I mentioned Vicka (pronounced Veetska) yesterday. I didn't actually get to see her. I took a taxi to where she was doing her talk and spent some two hours listening to hundreds of Italians praying and singing in their own language and eventually gave up, as by that time Vicka hadn't appeared. I had been informed by my hotel reception that there would be an English interpreter. Alas not.
I also mentioned a sixteen year old girl called Marjana (pronounced Mariana). She is now 51. She says she had daily apparitions from 24 June 1981 until 25 December 1982; after that on her birthday, 18 March each year and since 02 August 1987 on the second day of every month. These are held in public and I am looking forward to being among the throng of Italians and others who'll be there on Monday 02 May. I'm told that the crowd will be enormous and there's lots of pushing and shoving but hopefully I'll survive.
They certainly take their religion seriously here. Most of the large hotels even have their own chapel. This is the one in the basement of mine:
Speaking of taking their religion seriously St James church in the centre of the village, which was first dedicated on 19 January 1969 and was meant to serve the few hundred parishioners who lived in the village has been extended...and extended...and extended so that it still looks the same from the front but its outdoor area can seat hundreds if not thousands for Mass. And, wait for it, in the grounds is a row of 64 confessionals catering to just about every major language on earth. You look at a little sign on the front of the cubicle that says the language or languages the priest speaks and in you go. It's quite extraordinary. You see queues of people for each one. This, at a time, at least in Australia when Catholics hardly go at all.
The initial apparitions I have talked about took place on what is now called in English, Apparition Hill. I think it is misnamed and should have the appellation Apparition Mountain. And not just your run of the mill mountain. There are no pathways as such because the 'hill' is made up of a gazillion rocks. It is quite treacherous trying to walk on them and not fall over. Yet you see old people (i.e. people even older than me), people with canes, people using walking frames and even some in wheelchairs. Where the earlier apparitions took place is marked with crosses and statues. Here are some:
I tell you all this, dear reader, simply to emphasise just how fascinating this little village of just 2,000 permanent residents is.
It is absolutely extraordinary.