June 16, 2006

As 25th anniversary of apparitions nears, fruits of Medjugorje continue

By Jennifer Lindberg
Special to The Criterion

She boarded the plane for a religious pilgrimage the same day she was finalizing plans to divorce her husband.

For Denise Bell of Denver, Colo., there didn’t seem to be a contradiction. She was going far away to Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzogovina, where she heard the Blessed Mother was appearing and that people were finding peace.

“I was livid, I hated the man,” said Bell, who had married when she was 19 and later had four children.

Ironically, it was a married couple in Indianapolis who once had their own problems that paid for her trip. The husband had received a bonus at work, but it was $2,000 more than expected.

“They both felt it was to pay for my trip to Medjugorje,” Bell said.

Jeanne Perry of St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis boarded a plane for Medjugorje as a fallen-away Catholic and mother of four daughters. Surprisingly, Perry’s father suddenly offered to pay for her trip.

“I thought, ‘Great, free vacation,’ ” Perry said.

Both women were in for a big surprise that would change their lives and bring them closer to the Church.

So were two men who would find in Medjugorje renewed strength and devotion. Father Joseph Villa, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Clinton, credits it with inspiring his vocation to the priesthood. Msgr. Lawrence Moran was astounded by the devotion he found there to the sacrament of reconciliation, giving him new strength in the golden years of his priesthood.

The terrain of Bosnia is rugged, full of jagged rocks, high mountains and breathtaking scenery around the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Ocean.

It’s a country that has been torn apart by war, but it was a decade before the conflict that the Blessed Virgin Mother allegedly appeared to six children—the youngest age 10, the oldest 17—on the feast of John the Baptist on June 25, 1981. She told the children that she was the Queen of Peace, and has appeared to three of them every day for the past 25 years.

The main thrust of her messages is calling people back to a fervent practice of the Catholic faith with prayer, fasting, confession and penance—along with a message to live peace by coming closer to Christ.

Though the apparitions at Medjugorje have not been officially recognized by the Church, millions have flocked to the Marian shrine and come away with a renewed sense of faith. Catholics can go. Priests can also visit, but cannot officially lead a pilgrimage there.

When Bell arrived in Medjugorje, she found a place of deep prayer. People stood in line for confession and daily Mass.

“I say that I had a spiritual heart transplant there,” Bell said. “My resentment, bitterness and anger that I felt in court that day in Denver—and when I was catching that plane to Medjugorje—it just softened. My heart finally softened to love again,” she said.

Away from the sacrament of reconciliation since she was 17, Bell was brought back to the sacrament in Medjugorje.

“I just couldn’t stop going,” Bell said. “Past sins kept coming back to me, and I kept going.”

The transformation was so astounding that the first thing she did when she returned to Colorado was call her husband, Rex, to say they couldn’t go through with the divorce.

“He told me that I’d just come off a great trip and to wait a couple of weeks,” Bell said. “He knew me and that I talked myself in and out of things. But I knew this wasn’t going to be the same. My heart was different.”

Recently, the couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary to the joy of their children, and Bell has never forgotten Medjugorje or what she learned there.

“When I first told my daughter we were getting a divorce, she said, ‘Thanks for the legacy,’ ” Bell said.

Medjugorje helped Bell give her daughter a different legacy, one that believes in the grace of marriage and keeps going despite the trials, she said.

For Perry, Medjugorje gave her new zeal for the Church and its teachings.

“I went not knowing what to expect,” Perry said. But she began to pray and to go to Mass and confession in Medjugorje.

“I felt so comforted there, like a child again,” Perry said. “There was a time there when I went to Holy Communion, and I knew in an instant that all the things I learned as a little child about the faith was in fact truth. That it really was Jesus in the Eucharist. I had the truth in my heart.”

Arriving in Indianapolis, the first thing she did was hurry to her father’s home.

“I told him how sorry I was that I had left the Church, but he said he knew I’d come back because as a baby they laid me on the Blessed Mother’s altar and gave me to her,” she said.

The next thing Perry did was tell her husband they weren’t going to use

contraception anymore.

At the time, Perry was 41 and her husband didn’t think it was a big deal since she was probably done having children.

Perry got pregnant twice more, and their sons Joseph and Thomas Eli were born.

“The boys helped bring my husband back to the faith and be obedient to the Church,” Perry said.

Another fruit of Medjugorje was seen in the life of Father Villa. A successful businessman, he first heard about Medjugorje from his mother. They visited, and it was there that he witnessed the many people standing in line for confession—so many that priests had to hear confessions on the street corners around St. James, a parish church.

“So many people wanted to set their lives right,” he said.

Back in the states, everything fell into place, including meeting Msgr. Moran and others who helped him on the road to the priesthood.

Later, he returned to Medjugorje as a priest to hear many people’s confessions.

“Going to Medjugorje brought me comfort,” said Father Villa.

Msgr. Moran was hesitant and a bit skeptical about going to Medjugorje. But when he arrived, the peace and the devotion for confession astounded him.

“I think it’s the confession capital of the world,” he said.

The Blessed Mother asked for frequent confession in Medjugorje, as did the late Pope John Paul II, Msgr. Moran said.

“The fact is that this is a place of great prayer,” he said. “I always tend to be skeptical of places like this that the Church hasn’t officially approved, but the number of people and the devotion of the people at Mass, well, it is all so Catholic.

“By their fruits, you shall know them.”

(In honor of Medjugorje’s 25th anniversary, there will be a special Mass on June 25 at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church, 520 Stevens St., in Indian-apolis. Confession will begin at 4 p.m. with Mass celebrated at 5 p.m. Catholic musician Annie Karto will sing at the Mass. Afterward, there will be a reception.) †


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