For those of you that don’t know, I lost my wife to cancer in 2005 and we had 9 children together. I’ve been raising them since then, with the help of family and friends. When Joanne first got sick we received a picture from my sister’s friend’s mom in Florida, it was a very special picture she said and to put it on Joanne’s liver which we did and kept it there for 9 months. It was a picture of the Blessed Mother found in Europe and was supposed to have healing powers. When she died I sent the picture back.
While Joanne was still sick I got invited to see one of the visionaries from Medjugorje speak at a nearby church in Roswell, GA where we were living. His name was Ivan Dragicevic. After Mass we prayed the Rosary and then he had an apparition with the Blessed Mother right on the altar. She comes to him wherever he is in the world at 7 p.m. local time every night. We got to meet him and I told him about Joanne, that it didn’t look good, and that we had 9 children. So he said that he would recommend Joanne to the Blessed Mother during his next apparition. He also told us that the day JPII died, the Pontiff was standing next to Mary during his apparition that night and he looked vibrant and healthy, about 50 years of age.
Wanting to learn more I purchased a book by Wayne Weible called “Medjugorje: The Message.” The book really intrigued me. I was especially intrigued that kids who were my age in my lifetime were seeing the Virgin Mary! But when I received the book I was shocked to open it and find that the picture on the cover was the same “special” photo that we received from Florida to put on Joanne’s abdomen. I knew there was something more here for me. It’s amazing how God works!
It was then I made a decision to make it a goal to get to Medjugorje someday. I didn’t know how or when but I knew I wanted to go.
I’ve always had an attraction to Mary. When I was in 7th or 8th grade my mother was reading the Imitation of Mary which was a book modeled after the Imitation of Christ. So I asked my mother to get it for me which she did. It was too difficult for me to read at the time but I held onto it. Another time when I was a teenager my mom and I were walking and it was a beautiful day out and I asked her why the sky was blue. She said that probably because Mary’s dress was blue and she’s Queen of Heaven and Earth. Imagine what was going on in my head? Mary covered the whole earth!
Joanne and I prayed the Rosary together every night when she was sick. She would lay on the bed and hold our infant James and we’d pray. Sometimes I held James and bottle fed him if Joanne wasn’t feeling well.
Many years before, my oldest daughter Nicole had a dream that Mary was floating outside her bedroom window. I knew from then that she was watching over us. Since then I have put all my kids and myself under her mantle as their spiritual mother and she has not disappointed. I also have a copy of the 15 Promises of the Rosary that you can google if you want to see it. They are amazing.
When I joined the choir at Holy Eucharist, my second year here, Linda asked me if I would sing a solo song with my guitar. I was amazed, but not surprised, that she asked me to do a song called “Ave Maria, The Medjugorje Song.” It was just another sign that something was going on “behind the scenes.” I continued to follow Medjugorje and the visionaries, reading the messages and any article I could find.
Then in late 2014 my good friend from high school, her name was Joanne too, contacted me about a contest that a film company she knew about was doing. They wanted to take 7 people to Medjugorje, all expenses paid, and chronicle them before, during and after the trip to see how it would affect us. She said all I had to do was make a short video, submit it, get 100 likes on Facebook and then I’d be entered.
Because I never win anything I waited til the last day to make the video. I just wanted to be able to tell my friend that I submitted it and I was going to forget it. But Mother Mary had other plans.
On April 15th 2015, tax day, my oldest daughter Nicole texted me to say that she loved me. I thought that was so sweet so we started a texting conversation like we always do. I’ve learned that in this day and age if you don’t text you won’t have a relationship with your kids.
So she asked me if I had heard about the contest. I told her I didn’t and thought that I probably hadn’t won which is what I expected. I also told her I would check the website. Upon checking the site I realized that they were announcing the winners that night at 7 pm! How strange I thought!
So at 7 pm I checked the website on my phone as we sat down for dinner and I was rushing because the kids had to be at church for youth group. I got frustrated because I could see they announced the winners but couldn’t view it on my phone. So before I left for church I checked the website from my computer in my upstairs office and that’s when I found out that I was one of 7 people out of 200 hundred entries who had won.
I started screaming that I had won and ran out of my office where all the kids were standing there laughing and filming me. They had found out earlier in the day that I won because the producer found my mother on Facebook and called her that morning to tell her I won and that they wanted someone to film me finding out. So my son Richie was following me around all day and I couldn’t figure out why. Then he called Nicole which prompted her to text me and ask about the contest. When I ran upstairs to look on my computer before leaving for church, Richie told all the other kids I won and said “We have to run upstairs so I can film dad finding out.” That scene of me screaming “I won! I won!” is how the film called Apparition Hill opens.
The night I found out, I had a phone conversation with the producer Sean Bloomfield. He explained to me how the voting process went and explained how he found my mother online and that they wanted me to be filmed. It was a great conversation. He told me that when they narrowed down the group they were picking the 7 people from everyone took the video entries home and watched them and prayed. They weren’t allowed to talk with each other. They were to watch, pray, decide and come back with the 7 they picked. He said everyone came back and said, “The guy with the 9 kids is definitely going.” As time went on I learned that meant “I was chosen.” Chosen by Mother Mary herself to be one of the 7. It’s been an amazing and humbling experience to say the least.
On our first night there, we were sitting in a circle behind the church and we were asked questions while being filmed. When it was my turn, I realized that this day would have been my and Joanne’s 25th wedding anniversary. We wanted to go back to Hawaii for our 25th but this was much better. Seeing all the signs that she had her hands in this trip with our Blessed Mother was unbelievable. We also went to adoration with over 3,000 people. Amazing. I’ve never been together with so many people in such deep prayer. It was absolutely beautiful.
I also went to confession which was amazing. The confessionals are long, one story buildings with what looks like a front door and you go into a small room and the priest is sitting at a desk like table and you talk. My confessor was Fr. Charles who was from India and is now serving in Germany. Priests come from all over the world and they give confession when they are there. Medjugorje has been called many things but the one in resonated with on this first night was “The Confession Capital of the World” because more people go to confession here than anywhere else in the world. So many people go after years of being away from the sacrament. ‘
At one point during the first few days there was a situation going on at home that I was absorbed in. I must have been talking about it because that night when me and my roommate Pete were getting ready for bed he said to me in his English accent, “I don’t mean to pry, and if I am please tell me. But you’re so wrapped up in this situation at home and if you don’t let it go you’re going to miss the whole point of this trip.” Wow…so I dropped it immediately.
The first time I reached the top of Apparition Hill, which is where the Blessed Mother first appeared in 1981, I broke down. I felt like all my sins and struggles were presented to me and I wept for them. Then something amazing happened when I looked to the sky. There in the clouds was the shape of a beautiful heart. Joanne was born on Valentine’s Day and every time I see a heart I think of her. I knew she had her hand in this trip as well.
We also had our first apparition later that night with Ivan at the top of Apparition Hill. I got all the prayers and articles everyone gave me blessed by Mary. At the end of the apparitions she blesses whoever is present as well as any articles they bring to be blessed.
On our first climb up Apparition Hill at one of the Rosary plaques on the way up the hill a group of Korean pilgrims came up and stood with us . When we started on our next decade of the Rosary they started praying with us in their own language. It was an incredible moment of unity. Its one of the many reasons that Medjugorje is called Heaven on Earth.
One of the happiest days for me was my being able to celebrate my 50th birthday there. We had a great day with a big breakfast, then walked to Mass at St. James and then took a tour of several local museums in towns around Medjugorje. Then we went to this beautiful barbecue place by a river and they had canoes and tables along the river and a home made float with an engine that held up to 10 people. We had a great barbecue dinner, local beers, several boat rides, home made schnapps, presents for me and singing on the bus ride back. The when we got back to the hotel we had an awesome cake with more singing and ice cream.
At one of the museums we went to on my birthday I had a phenomenal experience at the statue that the visionaries say looks just like Mary during the apparitions. I knelt down on the floor in front of the statue and looked up into Mary’s eyes. It was like my own apparition. It was very emotional and a beautiful gift for my birthday. Mass was very emotional as well – healing is available at every Mass if we are ready and believe. It brought me to tears.
The next morning I had some great reflection time at the blue cross before Mass. The blue cross is another place on the foot of the mountain where many apparitions took place in the early days. Then I went to Mass and the celebrant was a priest from Long Island now serving in Galveston, Texas. He was talking about having faith in the Eucharist because it truly is Jesus and we can be healed by him! The gospel was about the hemorrhaging woman and the raising of Jairus’. He compared that to the power of the Eucharist! That’s how we should approach him at Mass! In my own life it’s also true. I didn’t have to come to Medjugorje to have this. I get it at Holy Eucharist or wherever a priest celebrates Mass!
After Mass as I was finishing morning prayer I was walking to the restaurant to meet everyone from the film and I asked the Lord what he wanted me to do with all of this and the answer was in the morning prayer verse before the Canticle: 2 Timothy 4:2 – “Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” Absolutely amazing.
The following day, our second to last day, we met with Mirjana Soldo, one of the visionaries , at her house. This is where I stayed this past June, my second trip there. It was phenomenal. I got to sit next to her on the couch. She talked about Mary as Mother. When I asked her about my issues with worldly vs. heavenly things she said, “Of course, we are all human. Mary knows we are going to fall and sin. Talk to her as your mother. Tell her all your worries, fears and concerns. And pray. Prayer is the answer. Through prayer you will begin to understand. She wants us to be happy. She wants us to come to Jesus.” So on my way into town I prayed and talked to Mary a lot about some things I’m going through and I got a great sense of peace about them.
On my way to Mass I stopped at a new friend’s store to pick up a statue that I had bought. On the way out there was a priest walking alone so I waited for him. And we walked and talked on our way to church. His name was Fr. Joey. He asked me where I was born and I said NJ and he said “What Exit? I was born off Exit 7!” We both laughed. He was born at Ft. Dix. As we walked I told him that I felt the call to priesthood when I was younger. He said, “And 9 kids later!” Then he told me a story about a new priest that was 70 and his wife died and after raising 8 kids he became a priest. Wow! Then he said, “There’s always a reason why people meet.” Then he said he had to go and entered the church through a side door. During Mass I realized he was one of the celebrants of Mass. It was amazing and a message for me that I struggle with often. Where is God calling me? Several people on our trip ran into Fr. Joey at different points of the trip as well. He was also at Ivan’s house for a private apparition some of our group attended. And why did I have to go half way around the world to meet a priest who was born 30 minutes from where I live? There are no coincidences. The small miracles are the most powerful. And they are all around us.
That night, we camped out on the bottom of Apparition Hill right near the Blue Cross where Mirjana has her monthly Apparition on the 2nd of every month. Mary gives her a message for the world. We got there around 6 p.m. and we were fasting so the plan was to break the fast at midnight, try and get some rest so we could be right in front of her at 8:30 a.m. when she had the apparition. It was a great night and we broke the fast just like we planned at midnight with some incredible local pizza. I had my guitar and I sang and played for a good portion of the night. We slept on the rocky ground although not for long. There were people gathering, singing and dancing in the streets all night long. As the sun came up the crowds really came. We estimated about 5000-7000 people were there. There were even people climbing trees to get a glimpse. It was amazing to be a part of.
When Mirjana arrived with body guards people were trying to grab her. I saw one of the guards toss a man into the crowd. It’s get crazy. They want to touch her and grab her. One time she even had her shoulder dislocated during her approach. She tells us that she’s nothing. There’s nothing special about her according to her. She’s just one who has been chosen to receive the messages. She says that Mary has never addressed her by name. She’s one of her children as we all are.
The apparition was amazing. If I wasn’t a believer before then it would have made me a believer. Such a heavenly experience I can’t even describe. I invite you to search at www.medjogorje.hr where you can find all the apparitions recorded. Mirjana says that she’s in heaven with Mary during the apparitions. Then she needs several hours in quiet prayer to “come back to this wretched world.” She’s such a beautiful woman with a heart full of compassion. When we stayed with her this past trip she was cooking and serving us and cleaning up after us. A true servant.
I’m not sure I can tell you completely what I got out of both of my trips. I’m still processing it all. I feel like I’ve been called to have a bigger part in what’s going on over there. And the movie is amazing. I know several people from the parish came to the premier in Voorhees and it was an amazing night. In October they are releasing the movie to general theaters but it will have to be requested. I think together we can get a lot of showings in South Jersey and beyond.
As for me personally, I’m much closer to Mother (as we call her) than ever. I continue to trust my life and my kid’s lives to her as well as give her all my problems. But I know that her role is to lead us to Jesus. I saw a quote recently that describes it perfectly: “Being Marian is like getting to heaven and Jesus saying, ‘My Mother has told me all about you.'”
My prayer life is stronger, my relationships are stronger, my purpose is stronger (albeit still a little fuzzy-but I know time will help it get clearer) and I’m beginning to really let go of worldly things and focus on heavenly things. That’s all I want. My life is more about reaching heaven than ever before. And anything that distracts me from that has to be let go. And the more I get in line with this the clearer I believe my purpose and mission will become. And it may be to be the best father I can be. Or it may be bigger, although there’s really not anything much bigger than that. I don’t really know and I don’t really care. There’s no ego in it whatsoever. I will accept whatever she and her son want from me. And I hope through that I can be the best example to all those around me and lead my family and others to her and her son Jesus. Because that’s all that really matters.
You can also search You Tube for Mirjana’s apparitions but can also see them and all kinds of info at www.medjugorje.hr , www.MaryTV.tv and information on the film and trailers can be found at www.apparitionHill.tv. I am also available for speaking engagements at churches, prayer groups, KOC meetings and other places.
Below are some great videos about the film:
Also visit my Facebook Medjugorje page here for frequent updates on my upcoming trip as well as posts from my last trip!
Check out this short commentary on the Transfiguration gospel reading (Luke 9:28-36) as it compares to my pilgrimage to Medjugorje. The Medjugorje Transfiguration