April 12, 2019

Priest who ministers at Medjugorje shares Mary’s message of love

Dominican Father Leon Pereira, chaplain to the English-speaking pilgrims at Medjugorje poses on March 7 with Father Rick Nagel, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo by Jennifer Lindberg)

Dominican Father Leon Pereira, chaplain to the English-speaking pilgrims at Medjugorje poses on March 7 with Father Rick Nagel, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo by Jennifer Lindberg)

By Jennifer Lindberg (Special to The Criterion)

He asked the Blessed Mother to never allow him to lapse from his Catholic faith again. She took him at his word, leading him to change his white coat of an emergency room doctor for the white habit of a Dominican priest.

Dominican Father Leon Pereira spoke at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis on March 7 about the love the Virgin Mary has for all her children, and about how the “Five Stones and Five Messages of Our Lady” helps one in their spiritual life.

Father Leon was only a 20-year‑old army private when he heard the Virgin Mary speak to him. Growing up in Singapore with his Indian parents, he was required to do a mandatory stint in the army in Singapore, which led to a spinal injury. While recuperating, he traveled to Medjugorje.

“ ‘I am your mother, the Mother of God,’ ” Father Leon said he heard while in Medjugorje. “ ‘Tell everyone you meet that I am their mother, and that I love them.’

“When she said this,” Father Leon said, “you felt immediately how she loved you. Watching her was to be loved by her. She made me feel how she loves everyone like you are her only child.”

Father Leon, the official chaplain for all English-speaking pilgrims in Medjugorje, says he owes his priesthood to Medjugorje, a village in Bosnia where many believe that the Virgin Mary has been appearing for the past 38 years. While the Church has not declared the apparitions to be of supernatural origin, a Vatican commission voted in 2017 in favor of recognizing the first seven apparitions that occurred in 1981.

That same year, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Poland as a papal envoy to Medjugorje. In December 2017, Archbishop Hoser declared that parishes and diocese were permitted to lead official pilgrimages to the site.

Father Rick Nagel, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, said Father Leon’s talk was to “provide hope and light, especially in our time for our Church.”

Father Leon was traveling on a six‑state tour with the message that he said the Virgin Mary asked him to convey. Sharing his experience, he described seeing the Virgin Mary on Cross Mountain in Medjugorje.

“She looks very young,” he said. “Small, petite. She wore a veil on her head that hung straight down. It did not droop over her shoulders. It was a very simple dress; her hand had the palms facing upward like the Immaculate Conception pose.”

The priest said everything about her was “golden and gleaming.” It wasn’t until he was in St. James Church in Medjugorje that he said he heard the Virgin Mary speak to him and give him instructions to tell everyone of her love.

While he tells this story as Our Lady asked, Father Leon wants to deflect attention from himself.

“What I really want to talk about is the context of the Five Stones,” he said, referring to five means of conversion. “There is nothing special about me.”

It took many years for Father Leon to fulfill this mission or tell anyone of his experience. It was so overwhelming, he said, that he hesitated to even mention it. In England, while studying to be a doctor, people would make fun of Medjugorje and he would laugh with them, he said. But that encounter in Medjugorje never left him, making everything else he wanted to do with his life seem insignificant in comparison.

Leaving the medical world, he was ordained as a Dominican friar of the order’s English province. He served as prior and parish priest of Holy Cross Priory in Leicester, England, and as subprior of St. Dominic’s Priory in London. He also taught moral theology in England to seminarians at Blackfriars at Oxford University and at Oscott College in Birmingham. In 2015, Father Leon was appointed the chaplain for English‑speaking pilgrims in Medjugorje.

In Medjugorje, he has lived the five stones way that he preaches about. The five stones are named after the ones David picked up to slay Goliath in the Old Testament. These stones are “weapons Our Lady gives us to aid in our conversion,” said Father Leon.

Those stones are: praying with the heart, holy Mass, reading the holy Bible, fasting and confession.

Father Leon said we often pray for what we think we should—such as for world peace—but we often don’t tell God what is in our hearts and what we really need. He said praying from the heart also involves praying the rosary every day, noting that in Medjugorje, Our Lady asked for the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries to be prayed every day.

“This is only 45 minutes out of your day,” he said.

“The rosary is a time machine,” Father Leon said. “When you pray the third mystery of the joyful mystery, you are getting the power of that first Christmas that comes to you now as you pray the third joyful mystery. Exorcists will tell you that the demons hate the rosary. It weakens the demon’s power on this Earth.”

As for Mass, he told the story of a priest friend martyred in Iraq whose cause for canonization is before Pope Francis. His friend was told not to celebrate Mass or he would be killed.

“He told them, ‘Without the Mass, we cannot live,’ and they shot and killed him,” Father Leon said. “We need to understand the importance of the Mass.”

The Bible is to be in a place where you will read it, said Father Leon.

“We need to know the Bible better because it is our book,” he said. “If you read it every morning, you are stronger.”

Father Leon also encouraged his listeners to follow the ancient Christian practice of fasting on Wednesday and Friday, which he said Mary likely would have done.

Lastly, he said our Lady asked for more frequent confession, at least once a month.

“She said whole regions would be converted if we went to confession once a month,” he said.

“Do you just wash your clothes on Easter and Christmas?” he asked. “So why not go to confession more regularly?”

Father Leon’s role as chaplain requires him to look after every English-speaking pilgrim to make sure they have Mass and confession properly. He reports to the Franciscans who oversee the parish church of St. James and to Archbishop Hoser, who now serves as apostolic visitor to St. James Parish in Medjugorje.

Father Leon said that living in Medjugorje and ministering to the pilgrim’s needs has taught him a deep truth: “To trust in divine Providence and in Our Lady and her care of me.”

(Jennifer Lindberg is a freelance writer and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville.)

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