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As we have repeated so many times, we will adhere to whatever the Church eventually directs concerning the famous apparition site of Medjugorje in Hercegovina, where we are concluding an extremely successful pilgrimage with a truly wonderful group.

We can say this: the fruits remain astonishing. To say that it deepens and refreshes faith -- and often sparks it in those who have gone cold -- is a gross understatement.

It is also an understatement to say that Medjugorje has changed.

It is ten times as large in the way of pilgrim accommodations as it was in 1990, when we first ventured here (the first day, skeptically).

Building after building has gone up. The construction remains non-stop. New four-story hotels/bed-and-breakfasts rise on virtually every block, and often more than one. No longer is the church visible from many parts of the area. There is a constant stream of traffic, particularly buses and taxis. Last weekend (6/2/13), there were at least a hundred in the village, the majority from Italy. One estimate is that there are now 24,000 pilgrim beds in town. Last weekend, most were in use -- meaning that about twenty thousand people went to the Blue Cross on Apparition Hill for the seer Mirjana Soldo's monthly apparition. (One old-time guide put the figure at closer to 40,000 beds.) The largest hotel has a hundred rooms. Photographs of the city [below] were taken from the church.

More than half the pilgrims are now Italian, though there are still many Irish, Polish, Germans, French, and Americans, as well as pilgrims from elsewhere in the world. There are Masses in various languages through the morning. On a slow weekday, a dozen priests con-celebrate the English Mass, while at night more than twenty tend to the evening liturgy. (On weekends, the number of priests about doubles.) There are now a total of fifty-nine outdoors confessionals. Crowds are down slightly from last year, as recession plagues Europe.

It all seems hectic and peculiar until one comes here; the peace of Heaven (in my discernment) remains as strong as ever (though at times one has to pray a bit deeper for it, or wander, Rosary in hand, into the old part of Medjugorje, which remains still and beautiful and quiet, as in the old days).

At the church, the doors literally have to be barricaded shut during certain Masses due to overcrowding inside. Not a single other person can fit. It is the opposite of the problem in the West (where too many churches are empty -- barricaded because they are closed).

It is nearly impossible to get inside the church during Mass on the weekends. There is now the outdoor extension of the church, an amphitheatre arrangement of altar and chairs that seats an additional seven thousand. When visionary Ivan Dragicević spoke on Sunday, there was not a single available seat; people stood in the aisles. We sat (knelt would be more accurate) for a private apparition he allowed our group, in three installments, to attend. Our pilgrims were overwhelmed by the sense of grace. The seer Vicka Ivanković remains out of sight due to a back injury caused when an overly enthusiastic pilgrim grabbed her and caused her to fall a while back -- the second time she has been so injured.

But Medjugorje is Medjugorje and stands alone, in need of no one human. The Church stance? There is that Vatican commission that reportedly has finished a report, one that will be reviewed or has already been reviewed by Pope Francis. No one can know what he will do with it. Again, we will strictly obey what he says, whatever our personal feelings (and experiences). When he was cardinal in Buenos Aires Pope Francis reportedly allowed both Ivan and the well-known priest Father Jozo Zovko to appear in his jurisdiction, and a guide who knows Father Jozo said the priest, who ended up close to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio during that visit, is optimistic on Church judgment (the prediction is a statement within three years, if positive: direction on establishment of a formal shrine).

What of the "secrets"? The seers say that some of them pertain to Medjugorje itself, and this is curious, because one wonders if one of them has to do with an event or even natural disruption such as an earthquake in the village itself. The original church here was heavily damaged by a tremor and led to construction of the famous twin-towered one. One seer told a priest two decades ago that her first secret had to do with a local event somewhere in the world and when she was asked if people would rush to see it, she said no more than people would rush to see, say, a dam "that collapses in Italy." Mirjana will inform a priest of her choice beforehand (probably a friend of hers, Father Petar Ljubicic). What of a permanent sign? One wonders if it might have to do with rays of spiritual light, as suggested by a well-known author. On one occasion such rays were seen both across the Cross atop Mount Križevac and on the church far below at the same time.  The towering Cross has been frequently seen to turn into a column of luminosity. The Blessed Mother once commented that a fire seen on Apparition Hill (and tended to by Communist firemen) was a forerunner of the great sign. (When those firemen reached the "fire," nothing was there and not a weed had burned, though there have been real brushfires since.)

Bottom line: Medjugorje remains as powerful and fascinating as ever, and we are fortunate to be working with the highly expert 206 Tours of New York and an amazing guide named Slavenka. It has rained much of the week, as it has across Central Europe, where floods have plagued France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. Usually, this is the most beautiful and sedate time of year. But such are the signs of our topsy-turvy times. What about those who disbelieve in the apparitions? We respect their opinion, though it is very consistent that those who declaim it most loudly have not been here. Meanwhile, the Blessed Mother has literally put Medjugorje on the map: where before it was not even on detailed ones of Bosnia-Hercegovina, it now appears on maps of the whole region brought up on the Weather Channel.

--Michael H. Brown

Our thanks for all your prayers

[resources: A Life of Blessings

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