Sunday, May 8, 2016

DAY TWELVE

No photos today. Just a relaxing day, packing and preparing myself for two full days of travelling. So I'm just going to leave the blog with excerpts of what other people of said about Medjugore in the past, particularly at a time when the phenomena were quite new.

On the basis of studies made so far, it cannot be affirmed that these matters concern supernatural apparition or revelation.

Ratko Peric, Bishop of Mostar

(They are) collective hallucinations cleverly exploited by a group of unscrupulous Franciscans.

Bishop Peric's predecessor at Mostar, Bishop Pavao Zanic.

As one of our young technicians said, 'I don't know what the hell's going on here; but something certainly is'.  It was not the most thorough-going vote of confidence, but it probably summed up what most of the team felt.

Mary Craig, "Spark From Heaven".

There is no deception of the visionaries who are in fact experiencing some abnormal changes during the time of their apparitions.

Fr. Rene Laurentin, noted French theologian and Mariologist.

If I were not Pope, I would be in Medjugorje a long time ago. I know everything, I have been following everything. Ask pilgrims to pray for my intentions. And take good care of Medjugorje because Medjugorje is the hope for the entire world.

Pope John Paul II.

The reporting of these facts by a multitude of eye-witnesses representative of diverse nationalities, age groups, backgrounds and cultures adds up to evidence which is credit worthy for being so convergent and compelling.

British Jesuit Richard Foley SJ.

Clinical observation has also excluded hallucinatory phenomena, as well as habitual signs of epilepsy or of any other malfunction capable of producing altered states of consciousness. There are no symptoms which would suggest that the subjects are living out something previously suggested under hypnosis. The visionaries can recall with absolute lucidity what has happened to them...[They] retain perfect consciousness of heir own identity. 

Dr Enzo Gabrici, neuropsychiatrist.

...the phenomenon...is scientifically inexplicable...The visionaries of Medjugorje are not drop-outs or dreamers, nor are they tired or anxious; they are free and happy, at home in their country and in the modern world...The ecstasies are not pathological, nor is there any element of deceit. No scientific discipline seems able to describe these phenomena. We would be quite willing to define them as a state of active, intense prayer, partially disconnected from the outside world, a state of contemplation with a separate person whom they alone can see, hear and touch.

Professor Henri Joyeux, Professor of Cancerology, Faculty of Medicine at Montpellier and surgeon at Montpellier's Cancer Institute.

Ecstasy for these young people is invincible and spontaneous -- and authentic. Normally an emotional stimulus provokes an immediate, though possibly brief, reaction from an individual. But in the present case, neither normally painful stimuli, nor a nylon thread in the eye, nor any of the other experiments provoked any reaction at all. In every case, the (metaphorical) telephone rang for someone who wasn't there. We must therefore be dealing with an authentic ecstasy.

Professor Margnelli, neuro-psysiologist specialising in the study of ecstasy.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

DAY ELEVEN

I'm just doing a pictorial blog today.  This is a section of the main street at night. Just tacky shops mostly.


And of course the church all lit up. It is by far the most impressive building in Medjugorje. Note also that "night" doesn't fall until about 8:00 pm or so. Apparently sunset in Sarajevo was supposed to be at that time. We are a few hours' drive south of that. As you can see,  it is still quite light after that time.

This is so typical around here. Houses that have been started and never finished, just standing derelict. I guess the money ran out. You also see buildings obviously meant to be "pensions" or guest houses, quite large but never finished.

While there is a lot of poverty (not the kind of poverty you see in some African, Asian and South American countries but they are generally poorer than a typical Western/European country) there are some nice, middle class houses, like this one.


And, finally, here's one that has known better times. There are loads of them too.

Only one full day to go here then on Monday it's back to Dubai.

Friday, May 6, 2016

DAY TEN

Hey I'm into double figures. Not too long to go now. Yesterday I quoted from Mary Craig's book Spark From Heaven. Today on my lengthy walk I stumbled upon this sign:

So I had wandered from the village of Medjugorje, through the village of Bijakovici and into the village of Surmanci. Of course they're all pretty close. I didn't go further but I imagine I wasn't far from where that atrocity that Mary Craig wrote about took place. I understand from further reading that in the 1990s a group of Serbs came and disinterred the bodies and took them back to where they had been taken from. Sad, sad history in what appears to be such a peaceful place now.

During my walk I channelled my inner mountain goat and climbed again. I don't want to keep going on about the pathways but here's a close-up:

Back in the hotel now listening to music and doing some catching up on paperwork and such. But here's an interesting sign in my room:

I've been dutifully accompanying the door each time I leave. I hope I've been doing the right thing.

Oh yes, I knew that good fortune would come to me by coming here. I've won the lottery!

Now all I've got to do is work out how I'm going to spend it all.

$13.65.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

DAY NINE

I haven't done anything exceptional so far today, not that would interest anyone else, so I thought I'd transcribe a couple of paragraphs from Mary Craig's book Spark From Heaven.  In 1986 she was a journalist working for the BBC and accompanied the team that was to make an excellent documentary about the place. She was also commissioned to write a book and it is that book which piqued my interest, even though it was published in 1988, and I didn't get hold of my copy until 2014.

Her research, not only into the phenomenon of Medjugorje but the history of the region is outstanding, another reason why, as a writer of sorts myself, I became engrossed in it and wanted to know more.

These are just two paragraphs from that book which give some indication of the suffering that has gone on here.

"Our visit to Medjugorje was nearly at an end. Throughout it, one question had consistently nagged us. It seemed to us that there was an unhealed wound at the village's heart. Marija (one of the visionaries) had seen that weeping Madonna crying for peace; and if ever there was an area that needed peace it was this one; for throughout most of its history, it had been soaked in blood.  We had read a great deal about the war years (WWII), the Ustasa atrocities, the terrible fratricidal slaughter perpetrated by both Croats and Cetniks.  Roger (Stott, the film's researcher) and I had seen, in the Orthodox Monastery at Zitomislic a plaque that froze our blood. It commemorated the day, forty years earlier, 21st June 1941, when seven of the monks, from the Father Superior down to the youngest novice, were buried alive by the Ustase in the pit at Surmanci.  Three days after that plaque had gone up, the apparitions started a few miles away in Medjugorje. That weeping woman, could there be a connection? Was this why Medjugorje had been chosen? Had those six children absorbed the hopes, desires, fears -- and guilts -- of a suffering people?

"It was not easy to discover the truth of what had happened in the war years. A wall of silence was erected against our inquiries. The subject, it was clear, was taboo. No one was willing to talk about that dreadful pit in Surmanci. As the Communists won't admit to the crimes of the Partisans, seemed to run the objection, why should we talk about the excesses of the Ustase? On one occasion we obtained a quite horrifying admission by default. Was it really true, we had asked, that in a single day in 1941, more than 700 Serbian Orthodox women and children had been buried alive in Surmanci by the Ustase? No, came the reply, which stunned us, "I have it on good evidence that it was only half that number."

I hasten to add a note of caution myself. While it was the Serbs who suffered in the atrocity of which Mary Craig writes, the roles were somewhat reversed in the war that was to come, with the Serbs accused of an estimated 90% of war crimes committed during that period. In my view sides are not to be taken. The theme here is peace.

And I don't think I've ever felt as peaceful in my life. I ought to be dreadfully bored. There's little to do, no real activities for visitors outside of church related ones and yet I haven't been the slightest bit bored the whole time I've been here.

Go figure.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

DAY EIGHT

As promised yesterday I said I'd write something about my excursion to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Sometimes around Medjugorje you see people carrying a flag with all these other people dutifully following behind, somewhat like sheep. While there are many guided tours to Dubrovnik, I couldn't cope with something like that. So, I asked Tomo, the driver who's doing my airport runs, to quote and he was quite reasonable. It was just the two of us; no flags, no sheep. To go the "normal" way to Dubrovnik from Medjugorje, that is via proper roads and even a motorway for part of the trip, you have to cross the border three times, such is the way the two countries abut. A few days earlier Tomo had taken that route and was held up at one of the border patrols for two hours, so he decided to take me the alternative way. It was through very mountainous country on a very narrow road a bit like a goat track. But hey, just one border to cross.

Of course we were well under way before Tomo told me he had to do an airport run at 2am that morning and had only managed three hours' sleep. Oh yes and he likes to use his smart phone a lot while he's driving. Want to know something? "Nema problema, I just look up."

But I do actually like him. He's a giant of a man, built like the proverbial brick dunny and he was a soldier fighting the Serbs during the Bosnian War. He tells me that when war broke out he was living and working in Germany and as everyone was leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina he decided to do the opposite; he returned to fight the Serbs. Very interesting character.

Anyway, believe it or not we made it to Dubrovnik. This is yours truly, posing. Note the interesting bridge in the background and the cruise ships which come and go like taxis and disgorge their passengers straight into the Old City. Unfortunately the prices there reflect the nature of the clientele.



Dubrovnik is on the Adriatic Sea and is encircled by massive 16th century stone walls. This kind of thing:

Although designated a city the permanent population is less than 50,000 but it is a UNESCO world heritage site and regarded as being among the ten best preserved medieval cities in the world.


The main street to me felt very Italian (and here I was thinking I was escaping from them). Think Venice or Florence. Take away the throngs of tourists and it's all rather grand.


Anyway I won't bore you with too many photos but I did go rather crazy with the camera. It's one of those places.

Although demilitarised in the 1970s to protect it from war, after the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 Dubrovnik was besieged by Serb and Montenegrin soldiers of the JNA (Yugoslav People's Army) and for seven months suffered a significant amount of shelling.

Tomo decided to take us back on the good road and risk the number of border patrols. En route we were treated to this Croatian sunset:



It was indeed a beautiful trip home because the road follows the coast for much of the way and there are islands just off it. It helped too that the sea was dead calm.

And Tomo didn't fall asleep once.

So, on to today. I decided, by hook or by crook, that I was going to scale Krizevac (Cross Mountain). For someone uncomfortable at heights that's quite a challenge, especially as the "path" looks like this:


To most, a "mountain" of 520 metres wouldn't be too much bother but for me, it was 520,000 millimetres which was akin to climbing Mt Everest. Of course that is the height, not the length of the "path". According to my fitbit I walked a total of 18.2km today and a lot of that was up and down mountains.

I haven't made a study of it, but it seems to me that millions of years ago there must have been a lot of lava flowing down Krizevac which has resulted in all these rocks. You really do need to be a mountain goat to negotiate them. How these old ladies with walking sticks do it is beyond me. Actually one did fall on me before I'd barely got started but we both survived.

It is called Cross Mountain because the local parish priest decided in the 1930s to erect a giant cross at the top of the mountain to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of Christ's death. All very well but remember the rocks. So his parishioners carried the materials, cement, sand, water, tools and so on one unsteady rock at a time up to the top and built his cross for him. It was completed on 15 March 1934.

Anyway I made it, actually astounding myself and here's the proof:


Those guard rails you see in the foreground are just for the last ten metres or so. The rest is entirely rocky with nothing to hang on to except the occasional tree. Tomo tells me there are loads of snakes too, very poisonous but not to worry because if you get bitten "you just go to hospital and they give you anti-venom and you be okay in few days."

The view from the top of course is incredible. Not that I contemplated it for too long.

Not having enough mountain climbing under my belt, I walked all the way back to the hotel (a couple of kilometres) then a couple more kilometres in the other direction to Apparition Hill which I scaled for the second time since I've been here.

Relaxing now but bloody tired.







Tuesday, May 3, 2016

DAY SEVEN

Today's blog will be shorter than usual. Firstly because I spent most of yesterday indoors, secondly because I will soon be off to Dubrovnik in Croatia. Expect comments on that journey on Day Eight.

A video of yesterday's apparition by Marjana is now available on YouTube for anyone interested. I did in fact download it and tried to upload it to this blog but apparently I have a 100mb limit and it turns out it is 148mb so no joy there. However if you simply go to YouTube and enter "Marjana/Apparition/2nd May 2016" or something similar it will pop up. The title is in Italian but you should still recognise the right one. There are of course hundreds of them because even if you just limit yourself to Marjana's apparitions, they occur every month.

A couple of shots taken this morning:

This one is of the main street of Medjugorje with the church at the far end. The mountain behind is called Krizevac (or Cross Mountain). There is a cross erected at the top. You can't see it in this picture but it is on the higher of the two 'camel humps' you see beyond the church. I'll talk more about that in a later blog.

During Easter 1998 this bronze statue was erected. It is the creation of Slovenian sculptor Andrej Ajdic.  The reason for the queue you may ask? Sometimes it takes people at the end of the queue two hours to reach the statute. Just after it was first erected it starting weeping liquid from one knee, then some years later it started weeping from both legs. No-one seems to know why or what the liquid is. It may just be water; perhaps it was built over a spring. But it appears it has not been plumbed that way, it just happens. Just another mystery to add to the phenomena here.

By the way, I came across an article in the Daily Mail online which explains a bit more about Medjugorje. Here's the link:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2252122/Virgin-Mary-sightings-Are-Bosnians-hoaxers-living-saints.html


Monday, May 2, 2016

DAY SIX

As I mentioned yesterday I had the opportunity last night to see the visionary Jakov. The hall where Sunday Mass in English was conducted was the venue. It was absolutely chock full of people, with squashed standing room only but at least I got to see and hear Jakov. He was speaking in Italian (what else?) but his words were interpreted in English as he went along. As I said, it was just a fund raiser but it was interesting to see and hear someone I've only seen in videos, usually as a little boy.

This morning was Marjana's apparition. It was due to be held at 8:30am so I thought I'd be smart and go there at around 6:30am to try to get as close as I could to where she normally stands. Well, fool me. I think to get a good position you'd need to go at about 4am. There were thousands there already and thousands more to come. I ended up poised on slippery rocks about no more then ten metres from where she was but that ten metres was filled with raincoats, umbrellas, hats and bustling pilgrims, mostly (yes you guessed it) Italians.

I should explain the "mechanics" of how these public apparitions take place.  People gather there early and there is lots of singing and praying. This is led by various priests using a mic and loudspeaker. This goes on for a couple of hours before Marjana arrives. She is led there surrounded by security (because people try to touch her, grab her, take a piece of her as she walks by). She joins in the prayers. Everything is incredibly loud. Someone is playing a guitar, the entire crowd sings, then there are prayers in various languages. Then Marjana suddenly looks up, she has a look of sheer ecstasy on her face, she sometimes cries. If this is an act she has been putting on for thirty-five years she would put Meryl Streep to shame as an actress. A complete silence falls over the crowd, by now in the many thousands. It is all quite moving. The apparition takes a few minutes, maybe five or so this morning. She is given a message for the world in Croatian. A local tour guide, Miki Musa roughly translates it to English and probably other languages and it is read out. Later it is transcribed and translated carefully and posted on the Internet. This is all recorded on a quality video camera so you can see it on YouTube. The messages are also written on numerous websites.

As soon as today's video appears on YouTube I'll see if I can upload it to this blog in case anyone is interested.

Meanwhile I managed a photo but you have to study it with a microscope to see a portion of the blue cross and statue of Mary under which Marjana stands. This was taken very early on before my view was completely obliterated.



During most of this time, it was raining so the rocks were treacherous. It took me about half an hour to get back down in the throng of people all trying to do the same thing.

By the time I got back to my hotel I was absolutely drenched and covered in mud.

But it was worth it. It was, as I say, a quite moving experience, despite the circumstances.

The rest of the day will be spent indoors though. I've had enough of being drenched for one day.  Dubrovnik in Croatia tomorrow so hopefully I'll have more to report.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

DAY FIVE

Sunday. I went on a very, very long walk today around Medjugorje and stumbled upon the Cenacolo Community grounds.  This organisation was founded by an Italian nun, Sister Elvira Petrozzi to care for young people blighted by drugs, alcoholism and despair. Now these communities are found in various parts of the world.  This is the front entrance to that very peaceful place and beneath that a plaque nearby showing Sister Elvira.

There is an excellent documentary about Medjugorje on DVD called "The Triumph" which features an American, "Ben" who at 28 was out of control on drugs and alcohol.  He ended up here. I believe he is still here many years later because the makers of that documentary have made another one and I've seen him in the trailer. His is an incredible story.

Mass for English speakers today was held in a hall in the grounds of St James Church because of Masses in other languages being held in the main church building. Between the main building and the hall Masses are virtually back to back all day, an incredible sight. Not only that, each one seems to be packed to the rafters. This shot is from towards the front where I was. Note the number of priests celebrating the service. Thirteen! This, at a time of dwindling numbers of priests. This is where they all got to! And before ours could start we had to wait for the French entourage to finish theirs and move off. The service itself was quite moving. The music was beautiful, the sermon one of the best I've ever heard (by an Indian Englishman) with just the right amount of humour and certainly said with both feet planted firmly on the ground.  I turned around at one stage and couldn't believe the number of people there. I'd guess at least a thousand. What was equally incredible was the fact that there are that many English speakers here. All I hear apart from the local Croatian language is Italian. There are literally dozens of coach loads coming in. I have nothing against Italians and in fact like them a lot but when that is the only language you hear all the time it is a little overwhelming. And as you know they don't do whispering.

Oh and just in case it's a really special occasion here's how they accommodate them:


Rows of seats as far as the eye can see and right over in the background is where the priests would be. That is actually the rear of the church, the one with the twin towers a photo of which is in my earlier blog.

The priest saying Mass said that one of the visionaries, Jakov, is hosting a concert in this same hall tonight at 9:00pm to raise money for a charity. I'm not sure what sort of concert it will be (unlikely to be a Rolling Stones gig I'd say) but I'll probably go along and at least see him. When the apparitions started Jakov was only 10. His father abandoned him and when he was 12 his mother died, leaving him to live with his uncle. Now he is 45. I am promised yet again that there'll be an interpreter. This is nothing to do with apparitions; he's just there to raise money for the charity.

Marjana's apparition is at 8:30am in the morning. The priest said to be prepared to be kicked and shoved because there'll be thousands there (and you know what Italians are like when they're trying to form an orderly queue). In yesterday's blog I talked about Apparition Hill and there are some photos.  The one showing the blue cross is where this takes place.

And if you're really, REALLY keen, another visionary, Ivan, has his at the white statue of Mary (see photo in yesterday's blog) which is quite a way further up Apparition Hill. And this is at ten o'clock tomorrow night. So, remember what I said about the rocks. There is no pathway. It's all rocks. It's slippery. It's been raining all day today. There is no lighting. I reckon it would take about an hour in those circumstances to get there and again there will be thousands of people falling over each other. I doubt I'll be chancing that one.

Just another interesting fact about all of this. Medjugorje is in the diocese of Mostar. Neither the current bishop of Mostar, Ratko Peric nor his predecessor Pavao Zanic, accept the visionaries or the apparitions and the Vatican is yet to rule one way or the other. People just make up their own minds and come anyway and that includes thousands of priests. There are shops here that just cater to them, selling vestments and the like. And, of course, they're everywhere. Tomo told me that the current bishop is not well liked, that during the Communist era he was a collaborator. I don't know if that's true; I just pass on what he told me. But I do know from what I've read that he is no friend of Medjugorje.

In the very slight chance you're getting bored with reading about the religious side of this journey, I'll mention something extremely exciting: what I've been eating and drinking. There are no really fantastic restaurants here and of course no night clubs, pole dancers, strippers, dodgy massage parlours...Funny that. (And I still haven't succumbed to boredom). But there are some good basic places to eat. I've been eating at my hotel because they do pretty good food at a reasonable cost. And of course it saves wandering aimlessly around the streets. I do enough of that on my long walks. I've mainly been drinking the local beer which has an unpronounceable name but is excellent and local wine. The wine is really local, i.e. from Medjugorje itself; you see vines all around the place. No large wineries such as Alan and I visited in Uruguay but the white I've been drinking is exceptionally good. Or at least it seems like that to me, admittedly a Philistine when it comes to wine. And last night I had the best pizza I've ever had. This hotel caters mainly to Italians so they'd want to do decent Italian food or they wouldn't keep their clientele very long.

Stay tuned.