Medjugorje - From the First Day (Part 9 of 9)
REPORTS BY PASTOR W. SCHUR
(KARTISCH / TIROL, AUSTRIA)
I would like to report the overall impression of Medjugorje as overpowering. Why? Because the faith, piety, and warm heartedness of the population comes to us sophisticated mid-Europeans as a severe shock. I have celebrated Holy Mass four times and distributed communion as well. I have seen the faces of the celebrants close up and all are so deeply lost in prayer one is left speechless.
Above all one is surprised by the number of young people, boys and girls, and men who take part. At home the life of the church is most often supported only by the women and the elderly, but here every strata of the population is represented. I have been overwhelmed by the crowds of pious men in their 30's and 40's, by the pretty young girls in western dress, and the dashing young men. Those who in our towns "live" in the discotheque are here happy to spend three hours daily in the church without any sign of boredom. They listen to the padres preach daily for about half an hour, and all this in a Communist country where every youth knows going to church could cost him his job.
When the crowds arrive late in the afternoon, and the church has filled up, the padre talks about conversion and the practical aspects of confession. He asks each person to search his or her conscience and to recognize their sins. The people are then sent outside where other priests are waiting to hear confession.
When I saw this I could hardly believe my eyes. There sitting on ten chairs- under trees, in the field, in the meadow, and along the wall of the church, were ten priests. In front of each priest was a small queue of people. Each person in the queue was just far enough from the one in front so nobody could understand what the others were saying. One after another they went forward, knelt down before the priest, whispered, the priest spoke with them, gave absolution, made the sign of the cross, and then went on to the next.
On Sunday up to 300 people may have been to confession, on working days the number was less, but there were fewer priests also. We two Austrian priests were also appointed, but those speaking German who arrived by bus avoided us. They were not Croatian and did not go to confession.
Herzegovina has always been a deeply religious region, and it has only been in recent years the so called "new morality" has made any impact in Medjugorje. Men drinking in the pub, young people in the discotheque, television, materialism, antisocial tensions, hate, envy, adultery and so on.. Four days before the apparitions started the discotheque was burned down after a lightning strike. The debris was still smoking when the first apparition occurred. The young people saw this as a sign from heaven and transferred their nightly meetings to the church. Today alcoholism, adultery, and antisocial hostility are no longer problems in Medjugorje. The people have found God and are content.
To me as a mid-European, it is obvious that this startling and unbelievable mass conversion has to be attributed in no small part to the outstanding pastoral ministry exercised by the Franciscans who put themselves totally at the disposal of the people as they channeled the movement through the offices of the Church. As one priest said "We must believe what the Mother of God says". Said one priest, "There is no other way".
Certainly this mass movement of the conversion of souls could not have been achieved by the Church without the intervention of some higher authority. My feeling is that this speaks for the authenticity of the apparitions.
We could not talk with the seers because of language difficulties. Nevertheless they helped me daily to change into and out of my vestments. Perhaps my eyes spoke. Marija who helped me every day, seemed to recognize my helplessness and my desire to communicate. Her concern was conveyed through looks and gestures. I believe she was showing me in a loving way she was sorry for me. But one thing is certain about this child, she has a charisma which I have never before seen in my life in anyone of the same age.
Such a charismatic calling imposes burdens upon the young, which outsiders cannot imagine. Apart from their daily work in the fields and the house, and their school work, they are also involved in the three hour long divine service every evening. They spend several minutes in communion with the apparition and this is followed by a tremendous rush of people into the church. In my parish at home such a crowd occurs only two or three times a year at the most, and when compared with here it makes me irritated and disillusioned.
For these youths, all of whom are kind, friendly and normal, these services have been continuing evening after evening for the past two years. After 13 years of school teaching and doing youth work. How quickly young people tend to imitate the behavior of media celebrities! These youth stayed normal, or disappointingly normal as one padre put it. They demonstrated not a trace of pride.
Many people including some priests, come to amuse themselves at the expense of the apparition, while others attend out of great skepticism or for sheer sensationalism. The seers very quickly recognize the motives of each individual and respond accordingly. To the pilgrims who are on a genuine religious search they minister with love and patience, from the others they withdraw.
For me the second proof of the authenticity of these events lies in the seers themselves. Their purity of soul, their simplicity, and the glow they radiate is something which I find difficult to put into words. It seems the hand of God is visible, not so much in the apparitions themselves as in their effects. One could argue from the Holy Scripture "By their fruits you shall know them".
The fruits of Medjugorje are good for we have witnessed the successful conversion of many thousands of people. To think of this happening in Austria represents wishful thinking and is probably unrealistic, at least up to now. We know this religious awakening has spread to all the provinces of ex Yugoslavia, and this includes Slovenia which is on the Austrian border. I pray to God it does not stop there.
I came here out of curiosity, and if I am honest with myself, secretly hoping to come into contact with the supernatural. But I saw something different.
Back home the continuing decline of the number of young people at Divine Service seems to be creating a church which caters only to women, children and older people. Although it's not entirely that way in my own parish just yet, I can see it heading in that direction and this makes me ponder the situation very deeply.
There have always been those who are strong in the faith, and have remained so, but I have believed many others to be virtually incapable of conversion. When I considered the possibility of religious reawakening it seemed that belief was necessarily limited to sacrifice groups such as the Fockolarini, or to the Charismatic movement.
Here my faith has been reaffirmed. When I saw the church filled with such a crush of people most of whom were between 20 and 50 years of age, I could hardly believe it. I have seen this happen now for eight evenings in a row and for three hours on each occasion, and my belief in mankind has been restored.
That has been my gift from Medjugorje. Even if I do not know how to transpose this phenomenon from Herzegovina to Austria, I believe again that people, indeed all people, are capable of deep religious experience. Presumably the recipe for success belongs solely to the Mother of God in union with Divine Grace.
Pastor Werner Schur, Kartisch
(END OF PART 9)