Mugged by Medjugorje: Fr Andrew Grace tells of his conversion via the site of alleged apparitions

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Pilgrims pray at Medjugorje, the site of alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary. PHOTO: CNS

Pope Francis’ special envoy for Medjugorje, Archbishop Henryk Hoser, was interviewed last week by the trustworthy Catholic media outlet, Aleteia, he clarified major misconceptions about this place once described by St John Paul II as “the heart of the Church”.

The Papal Envoy, when asked about the local Bishop’s negative statement after his appointment simply replied, “we should by no means worry. The Church has not yet spoken on the authenticity of the apparitions.” He then mentioned the testimonies of so many pilgrims and that the Holy Father is aware of this. May I share with you one such testimony?

The first message I heard from Medjugorje was: “I have come to tell the world that God exists.” Unaware of being in a spiritual coma, I shrugged it off as a nice story.

I would love to say that my childhood devotion to Our Lady continued through my adolescence. The only remnant of devotion was a rusty pair of rosary beads strung over my bed post collecting dust.

Ironically, it was my superficiality that allowed the message of Medjugorje to catch my attention. Hearing the visionaries describe the extraordinary beauty of the Madonna turned scepticism into curiosity. As a Civil Engineering student, I became fascinated with the testimonies of world renowned scientists, who thoroughly investigated the six visionaries and concluded that “science could not afford a satisfactory explanation of this phenomenon”.

Wisely, they suggested a theological investigation. The message was beginning to prick my conscience, especially hearing the sobering words: “I have come to call the world to conversion for the last time.”

Fr Andrew Grace. PHOTO: Supplied

I did not realise that by living a party-hard-uni-student lifestyle (i.e. self-indulgent binge-drinker, drug user and pleasure-seeker), I had been desensitised to the splendour of truth. With the almost constant beat of rebellious music pounding my ear drums, the bombardment of immoral images through television, movies and magazines, I was numb and unaware that Satan had me in his web of perpetual mortal sin.

The battle for my soul continued. Even though I was expelled from university, it took the tragedy of losing two good friends to bring me to my knees.

They had stolen a small plane for a joy flight. Things went horribly wrong, it crashed and they both died (RIP). One of them saved my life only a few months earlier, when eight of us, illegally scaled the highest point of the Sydney Opera House.

On the way down I panicked. Dave brought me to my senses and helped me down. At their funerals mortality and eternity seemed so real. Of the eight, only four of us are alive. In a sad touch of irony, one of their fathers, a doctor, called us “the death squad”.

In a short time, I would lose 11 Catholic friends I used to “party” with; tragic deaths through suicides, drugs, alcohol and AIDS.

After Dave’s funeral, my quest to discover the meaning of life led me to search for answers from the Woman, to whom we sinners pray for help, “at the hour of our death”.

Our Lady’s, persistent yet gentle, motherly call was profoundly affecting me. Her messages brought me to the crossroads: the first secret of Fatima – the reality of Hell.

As much as I wanted to deny this truth, Medjugorje reinforced it. The party was over. I had to make a choice: either God or Satan. I sensed, having narrowly escaped death a number of times, that I was at the point of no return: life or death, heaven or hell. While eating breakfast one morning, my concerned father, a convert who went to Medjugorje and became an avid reader of Marian literature, said to me, “I have discovered that you are the Antichrist.”

Marija Pavlovic, left, prays in St James Church in Medjugorje, in what was then Yugoslavia, in this 15 August 1987, file photo. Pavlovic is one of six young people who had reported visions of Mary at Medjugorje as early as 1981. PHOTO: CNS

“What?” I exclaimed. He apologised for the insult and explained: “To receive Holy Communion without being in a state of grace is a sacrilege and to habitually do this is akin to belonging to the church of the Antichrist.”

It was shock treatment needed for a shocking life. Finally, I made the big move and went to Confession.

The priest encouraged me, saying, “The greatest sin of the modern era is that of pride – people no longer think they need this beautiful sacrament of healing.” I can’t begin to describe the immense peace I felt after being reconciled with God and His Church – a feeling better than anything this world has to offer.

This was the turning point of my life. Now with the scales of de-sensitivity lifted from my eyes, in what seemed like a new state of being, I could see things for what they were. Reading the Bible was a whole new experience. I began a Rosary Cenacle prayer group which included the Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I fell in love with the Holy Mass. I frequented Confession and began fasting. I was living the messages of Medjugorje – and loving it!

About a year later “the call” began, but the glamour of the world still held me.

I was now enjoying a successful career in the construction industry with some prosperous investments. The lure of money was blocking me from seeking God’s will. The more money I made, the more Our Lord’s words echoed in my heart: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but loses his soul?”

With Eternal Life now my goal, I would make sure I was in a state of grace, and my concern for the salvation of souls was growing.

Friends thought “Gracie’s lost the plot.” So I began evangelising with novel methods. On one occasion, I offered my brother, Tim, 50 dollars to read a book on Medjugorje. Tim was a Gold Coast beach-bum. He once made Mum, who invited him home for Christmas promise her that she would not mention “God or religion” if he came.

He read the book and went to Confession for the first time in 15 years – it was 13 October, the anniversary of the great miracle of the sun at Fatima in 1917.
Tim asked me for another book, – but this time I didn’t have to give him another 50 dollars.

He went on to complete a degree in philosophy and theology, now holds a Masters Degree in Counselling and is enthusiastic to talk about God and religion.

With a natural love of women and children I was hoping I had a call to marriage.

God had other plans.

One night a cabbie ran a red light and crashed into me at full speed, causing my ute to roll several times. I held onto the steering wheel as I was rolling and exclaimed, “God I’m too young to die.”

As I climbed through the shattered windscreen I saw my Medjugorje Rosary beads lying in the gutter. The witnesses including the tow-truck driver couldn’t believe I was alive.

My girlfriend looked at the destroyed vehicle and said, “You’ll see this as a sign from God.” She was right. The only injury I sustained from this horrific accident was a cut on the crown of my head requiring three stitches, not – as I joked the mark of 666.

But it was as though God was stamping me, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I began questioning why I was still alive and what God wanted of me. I began seeking the advice of holy priests. Open but somewhat afraid, I decided to go to Medjugorje to see if I had a vocation to the labour of supernatural love.

Never have I experienced a more peaceful place despite being there during the Civil War (1992-95). Incidentally, Our Lady’s promised protection of Medjugorje came true without the loss of life during this savage war; even the enemy’s bombs failed to detonate.

While there I witnessed the fruits of this prayerful parish in abundance. I met many young people, from all parts of the world, who experienced similar life-changing conversions. Together we were discovering a spirit of unity in the authentic Church.

Here, the most blessed of all women, the real Madonna, is forming hearts, to help gather in her Son’s harvest for the eternal wedding feast.

At Medjugorje, one witnesses the supernatural life almost as a reality. Pilgrims see amazing miracles, like the visionaries receiving their apparitions, rosary beads turning gold, the sun spinning and beautifully dancing (similar to Fatima) or a very large weeping statue of the Risen Christ.

However, the greatest miracles happen in Confession (at last count, there were 61 confessionals) and culminate in the Eucharist becoming “the source and summit” of the pilgrim’s life.

Having witnessed this model parish of St James, I heard Our Lady’s call and a few months later I entered the seminary.

By the grace of God, I said my first Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, in 2001, and have been a priest for over 15 years.

I have met many priests, seminarians, religious and even some bishops, here and abroad, who also attribute their conversion and calling to Our Lady of Medjugorje.

Cardinal Christopher Schonborn has frequently and forthrightly said, “If it were not for Medjugorje our seminaries would be empty.”

As a young priest I was delighted to read a letter from the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) clarifying a Bishop’s enquiry if it was permissible to travel to Medjugorje.

In an official directive dated 26 May, 1998 (Pr. No. 54/81-06419), the CDF said “regarding pilgrimages to Medjugorje, which are conducted privately, this Congregation points out that they are permitted on condition that they are not regarded as an authentification of events still taking place and which still call for an examination by the Church.”

I must confess it breaks my heart when people unjustly and falsely criticise Medjugorje and the good people from this amazing parish.

Pope Francis is aware that Our Lady wants to change the world. She will do this in a very gentle and persistent way, let us not be an obstacle for her.

In an interview with the Polish Catholic Agency, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, who served on the latest Vatican commission to study the Medjugorje phenomenon, said: “it must be recognised that a large number of believers come to Medjugorje and that is why the place represents a prayer site in a certain way and is a great confessional of Europe.”

Pope St John Paul II said “Medjugorje is the spiritual centre of the world!” Then on 25 March 1984 he said, “Medjugorje is the fulfilment and continuation of Fatima!”

My story is but one of millions, yet millions upon millions of Catholics who await a conversion of the heart. Medjugorje is Heaven’s urgent call for our difficult times.

May Mother Mary’s words, echoing the Gospel, continue to ignite hearts with a renewed love for her Son, Jesus Christ.

I am confident the Papal envoy will confirm these inspiring fruits for the Church and usher in a new springtime of Christianity.