In 1988, I was 32. I came because I heard that She was appearing here. I was not convinced. The Church wasn’t saying a whole lot about it. I thought, “I’m going to find out if it’s real.”

When we got here, I came with a priest that was from the Des Moines area and a group of about 30 people.

There were no hotels or anything so we stayed in villagers’ houses. In the house we stayed at, the kitchen had side bedrooms and one main bathroom. In that place we probably had eight pilgrims. We had to spilt up our group between several houses. There were no restaurants, no stores, nothing. They fed you every day breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

One night we decided to go up Križevac [Cross Mountain]. They were like, “You’re going to spend the night? You’re crazy, but here you go.” They gave us all these blankets and a sack dinner. 

At that time, they didn’t have the mysteries on Apparition Hill, but they already had the stations on Križevac. We prayed the stations all the way up. We get up there, and it was around 11 o’clock. It was dark. We went to pray a Rosary at the cross, then we’d take a break, then do it again. It just kept going back and forth. We were basically going to pray all night. I don’t think we were going to sleep at all. We brought the blankets, but there’s really not a place to sleep there. 

We took a break from praying, I walked off—this is hard to talk about—I walk off to the side and I’m looking up at the sky and all of a sudden I turn transparent and God is now looking right through me. I’m transparent. He knows everything about me. I don’t know how long it was. I’m frozen, transparent, and the best way I can describe it is my soul is in agony, completely. It’s not pain like you cut yourself, but your soul is twisted and in agony and you cannot bear having hurt God with your sin. 

I wasn’t good. I was in a destructive relationship, but there was more than that. It’s all the sins because you’re up against pure love that doesn’t understand any of it, whether it’s small or large, none of it. 

The soul pain, I can’t describe. You can’t stand the sight of God. You can’t face that because you’ve hurt Him so bad that your soul is just going, “I don’t want to be here.” I would never wish that on anyone. 

At that point, if it wasn’t for the incredible feeling of God’s love, I would never have lived through it. It was that amount of pain. You can’t stand it without being completely surrounded with God’s love. I would call it purgatory. 

You may want to go look for that. Bad idea. That’s not easy to live with. I didn’t want it. I wouldn’t want it again. I got the love part, but that agony…ay, ay, ay.

Then it goes away. I would say it was probably seconds. I think it was less than a minute. 

I could hardly stand, but a pilgrim that I got to know, she was close by and I grabbed her and I cried for hours. I couldn’t stand at that point. I gave up and just laid on the ground. I couldn’t tell her. She just held me. I was sobbing like I never had in my life. I was letting it out. 

Here’s the thing, back then, I had never heard of this. I had to process it. I was like, “What is this? I don’t know what just happened.” 

I would say now, it was illumination. 

When they talk about the apparition in Medjugorje where they let people touch Mary, that’s exactly what I saw my sin doing to God. The response from God is, “I don’t understand. I’m innocent. I’m all love. Do you understand how this hurts Me? No matter what you do, it hurts.” Every time I sin, I think of that. I just hurt God. It’s hard to understand how much He’s hurt. 

I see all this pain that I’m causing. I was in terrible pain that night. It did hurt me, but it’s the fact that I saw Him hurt, I was like, “You don’t understand sin. You can’t comprehend what I just did because you don’t have it. That’s why it hurt You because You don’t understand it.” That was the sense I had. Who knows?

I wasn’t looking for anything. I had no idea this was even a thing so I wasn’t looking for it. I was just blindsided, totally blindsided. I’m convinced that if you sit here and you try to look for something, it’s never going to happen. You can look for it and you think you have something and it ain’t gonna happen. When you get blasted away, you don’t have to look for anything. Boom. It’s happening on its own.

What it did was it took a ship that was going in one direction and it started turning it. Those kinds of things aren’t going to be like, “I’m a different person, and my whole life just changed.” It started changing. Now you’ve got the momentum to start moving around that corner. 

The thing that comes out of it for me is, why me? You always have to ask the question, “Why?” I look at it now as a miracle, but why me? I’m sure Mirjana and the visionaries ask on a larger scale, “Why me?” I still don’t have that answer. I don’t know how you’re ever picked. Someday maybe I will. 

My wife Kathy would tell you, “Well it’s because the ship got turned, and then you met me. There’s why.” I’m like, “Okay, there’s something to that.”

I go to confession more. Now I know the implications. I know what that meant to God. You could always say, “Well, I sinned, and maybe I hurt you because I lied to you,” but God is in this picture so now I hurt someone else that doesn’t understand what I just did. There’s more than just me and you. Now, I’ve got the bigger picture. I hurt God really bad. 

The darkest place you will ever go in your life is inside yourself. I don’t think people know that what you’ve got inside is really not good without God in it. It’s terrible. It’s dark. That’s the scary part. If you truly interrogated yourself, dove deep into yourself, that’s scary. I didn’t do it, but I do it more now.

I know God loves me. I got that picture. I’m 100% dependent on His mercy. If I don’t have it, that dark part of me isn’t going to have a chance. The mercy is the thing that lifts you up. I know it’s there, and I know God is all-merciful and all-forgiving, and I’m depending on that because it’s nothing I’m doing.

For me to tell you this after all these years, I don’t tell anybody. I told my kids not that long ago. Just before I took my son here I said, “I’m going to tell you this.” I’m getting better at it, but I think it’s time. 

We all had to share in the group. This is my fourth time in Medjugorje, and I’ve never shared that with anybody because it’s a personal thing. I never felt compelled to. This time I thought, “Maybe it’s time to just say it then maybe some fruit will come.” 

I just don’t want people to look for this. 

I was nervous going up Cross Mountain after that. The next time, I was like, “This doesn’t happen again, right? This isn’t a regular thing, right? Because I really don’t want to go up there.” I had to get some courage to walk to that spot and go, “Okay, we’re good, right? Don’t hit me again. I got it the first time. I’m good.”

Right before I was coming here, I went to confession. I try to go once a month. I was thinking about 1988 again, and I told this priest, “I’ve got all these sins. I’ve been confessing since then, but I keep thinking about it. I had that whole panoramic view of all my sins. I know I didn’t confess all of them. I had my whole life. I didn’t get them all. What do I do with this? They keep coming up.”

The priest goes, “Bill, they’re forgiven 100%. It’s your psychological problem now. It’s a problem that you have to deal with. They’re forgiven so you just need to understand that. If you want to talk about that, that’s fine, but they’re already forgiven. They’re gone.”

I try to believe that.

I’m all in. That’s where I’ve been since then, since 1988. 

Every single Sunday, I think of this. I go back to this all the time. It’s a gift He gave me. I go, “I thank You. What do I do now?” I’m trying to do better things in my life as a result. It affects every move I make now. It’s more clear now than it was right after.

This trip, I know what to expect here. I don’t look for anything. It’s a retreat. It’s very prayerful. I love that part of it, immersion in the prayer life, between Masses and confession. 

The first thing that I do, because of that event, is go to confession and open myself up. At the beginning of the week, that’s a must because then I know I’m open to anything that’s going to happen in the week. Confession lifts it all out so now I’m all ears. That’s my attitude going into the week.