I was born and raised Catholic. I was confirmed, but when I think about what it was like to be Catholic in my home, Jesus was not a relationship. It was more, this is what you do, here are the rules, follow them so eventually you can get to Heaven. It wasn’t a kind, loving, soft, merciful Jesus, certainly not the one that Faustina talks to us about.
I was catechized but not in a way that there was a relationship and a friendship that existed.
I first heard about Medjugorje when I was about 23 years old. The girl I was dating at that time, Brenda, I had a conversation with her mother and somehow Medjugorje and Yugoslavia came up. Her mom told me this was a place where the Blessed Mother was appearing to six children. I thought it was kind of interesting but dismissed it and didn’t give it much more thought.
Brenda and I got married May 13th 1989, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. A couple months after we were married, a very good friend of ours came and had dinner with us. She had just come back from a Eucharistic pilgrimage, and one of the components of their trip was Medjugorje.
She talked about a peace she felt that was unlike any other peace that she ever experienced. That trip galvanized her relationship with the Blessed Mother and truly solidified that she had a Heavenly Mother, that she could fall into Her arms and be safe.
After that, I could not shake this feeling that I had afterwards. It was as if the Blessed Mother spoken through my friend and said, “Carl, it’s time for you to step up. I want you to come to Yugoslavia.”
At first, I dismissed it. I’m a newly married guy, my wife and I were thinking about needing to buy a house, but the Blessed Mother was relentless when I would pray. I would continue to feel and hear Her call.
So I present the idea to my wife, Brenda. She says, “Why don’t you go take a nap because you’re obviously not thinking right.”
I said, “I can’t describe the feeling I have every time I think about this, but I just know we’re supposed to go, but I also want to honor you as my wife. Why don’t we make a deal with the Blessed Mother? If we’re supposed to go, the entire cost will fall from the sky. If She does that, would you be willing to go?”
She said, “If the money falls from the sky, I’ll pack my bags.”
Two days after that, my wife gets a letter from the IRS explaining to her that they made a mistake on her last income tax. They underpaid her income tax return. It was the exact amount she needed to pay for everything on her ticket.
She looked at me and said, “There’s still $1,400 that She’s not accounting for.”
A couple weeks later, we decided to sell my truck. I put an ad in the paper and I asked for $500. The first guy who shows up says, “I know that you only want $500, but I need to be honest with you. This vehicle is worth more than that. I want to pay you $1,400 so I can feel good about this transaction.”
Brenda almost fell over. He handed us $1,400. She said, “Okay. We’re going to Medjugorje.”
It was 1989, just about six months after we were married.
I cannot even begin to explain how mystical that trip was; where my prayer life went; how I felt, inside and out, a relationship with Mary unlike I had ever felt before.
It profoundly changed me as a man and as a Catholic. It formed the kind of father I would be. It changed my whole understanding of my wedding vows to my bride. It certainly made me feel a whole lot closer to the Church. It was no longer just words in a book or doctrine. It was a relationship, and it was something I couldn’t survive without. It was a part of me.
It wasn’t just an incredible 17 days of experiencing Mary’s love in a motherly way for the first time, it was also like going back in time and filling in all the gaps that I didn’t have as a young person in the church. It was very healing.
When I was in Medjugorje, there was initially a feeling of not even believing I was worth it, that there would have been so many other Catholics worthy of the gifts. It was like Christmas every single day I was there. It was a gift every single day.
In 1989, Medjugorje was a very different place than it is today. There were no paved roads. The building I’m in didn’t even exist. There were a few homes, a restaurant or two, and the rest was vineyards. There was a lot of innocence there. It was very basic.
In the years prior, Medjugorje didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas. The year I came in 1989 was the first year they were able to outwardly experience Christmas.
In the United States, Christmas trees are, for the most part, in the home. Here, they were all outside. To walk the streets in the wintertime and be able to experience and celebrate that with my fellow Croatian Catholics, was perfect.
It was Christmas Eve, and our guide shared with us that Father Jozo, who was the priest in 1981, was no longer in Medjugorje. He had been moved to Tihaljina and was a priest there. At that time, he was giving talks. Our guide ordered a bus, and we all went to see Fr. Jozo.
I will never forget entering that church. On the left-hand side was the most beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother I had ever seen. I’d seen statues made of marble, made of wood, but I’d never seen one where She looked so human.
It’s Our Lady of Grace. Her hands are extended. It looked like She was ready to step right off the podium and join us.
When I came back to the United States, the experience of being in that church and seeing that statue was profound to me. I couldn’t get that image and the associated feelings with 17 days in Medjugorje out of my system.
Then I had this interior calling. I knew that Mary wasn’t done with me. The more I tried to dismiss this conversation inside of me with Her, the more relentless She became.
Here’s the truth, I thought I could go to Medjugorje, have an incredible experience, come home, and then assimilate back into life without having to do anything else. It became very obvious that going to Medjugorje was just the beginning. I could not get out the seeds that She had planted.
iMedj note: Our new iMedjugorje book is open for pre-sale with delivery in March/April If you have enjoyed reading the stories we share from pilgrims we meet please consider supporting this work. The sales from these books help us to continue sharing Medjugorje with the world. https://medjugorje.us/…/pre-sale-imedjugorje-book-volume-2