When Personal Conversion Goes Public
By Author Elizabeth Ficocelli

The first time I heard about the apparitions of Medjugorje was in the summer of 1984 from my future mother-in-law.  She was relating how her friends' son, a seminarian, had traveled to Yugoslavia and was privileged to be in the same room as the young visionaries as they went into ecstasy and saw the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I can remember that moment quite clearly and, equally as clear, I can remember how I had no problem whatsoever believing this information.  As a recent Catholic convert, I had been reading all about Fatima and Lourdes and other mystical events in Church history, and it seemed perfectly logical to me that God would continue to grant these special favors in our time. 

It would be five years later, after my in-laws made a side excursion to Medjugorje during a trip to Italy, that my husband and I would make the decision to venture to Medjugorje ourselves.  It assuredly must have been the prompting of God, because as I look back, I cannot imagine how we calmly took $2,000 out of our modest savings to go to a Communist country overseas when we had never traveled outside the country before.  We were savers and planners.  We were logical.  This was anything but logical.  Our determination to go inspired all of my husband's family to join us, and we went in December 1989 for eight days that would change our lives forever. 

Our pilgrimage was filled with the mystical elements one would expect from a place like Medjugorje, such as the sun spinning and Rosaries turning gold, a physical healing, and encounters with several charismatic individuals who were apparently experiencing even greater supernatural phenomena than we were.  But what really struck me was the intensity of worship, the penitence, the peacefulness, and the sheer joy of people from all over the world.  Although this remote village was completely different from anything I had ever experienced, Medjugorje was, at the same time in a strange way, like home to me.

When I returned home, I knew our family had been given a great gift and a great responsibility.  I fully believed that Mary, the Mother of God, had come to call the world back to her Son.  I also believed that everyone should know about this information.  I began to tell a few close friends about it at my office, but most of them just seemed to listen politely.  I realized this was going to be tougher than I had imagined.  I typed up the journal I had kept during my pilgrimage and handed out numerous copies over the next few years, but I knew in my heart that this wasn't enough.

While I struggled with the confidence to proclaim the messages, I at least tried to live them.  This was a process that took many years.  I first signed up for a few newsletters that kept me up to date on the messages and events happening in Medjugorje.  Next, I began to go to Mass a few days a week during my lunch hour at work.  My husband and I started taking our first steps in couple spirituality, including praying the Rosary.  Fasting was a bit more difficult, as we were starting a family and it seemed I was constantly pregnant or nursing a child.  But eventually, we fell into a rhythm of weekly bread and water fasts that deepened our spirituality and united us more as a couple.  We formed a Scripture group in our home and started learning Catholic apologetics.  We made better use of the sacrament of Confession until it became a monthly celebration. 

For ten years following my trip to Medjugorje, I earnestly prayed to be an instrument to bring people to God, and it finally became clear that my prayer was being answered.  God was ready to use my writing skills for his own purposes, through Catholic books and magazine articles for children and adults.  One of the first articles I wrote was about Medjugorje, but I was unsuccessful in placing it with Catholic magazines.  All of them were hesitant to write about a phenomenon still awaiting Church approval.  But I understood that Our Lady said we were to live and spread the messages now, so I continued to submit the article until I finally found it a home on an e-magazine, Catholic Planet, where it still floats in cyber space today.

More recently, I felt inspired to create a book that would look at some of the fruits of Medjugorje twenty-five years after the apparitions were first reported.  I was convinced that my family could not be the only ones out there who had become alive in their Catholic faith because of Medjugorje.  I also recognized the skepticism that existed about these apparitions because of misunderstandings or fanaticism.  Since a part of my writing apostolate is to educate as well as excite Catholics about their faith, I realized my charge regarding Medjugorje was to set the record straight to an audience of believers and non-believers alike. I also needed to find convincing stories that would speak for themselves about the conversion power of Medjugorje.  Early in the process, I realized Our Lady had a greater vision for the project than I did.  She brought to me stories of individuals who not only experienced lasting conversion in their own lives that would lead them to become solid Catholics, but whose conversions ended up affecting a great many other lives as well.

For example, some of the stories presented in the book are about men and women who have discovered a calling to the priesthood or religious life because of Medjugorje -- or who have rediscovered their vocation because of the messages.  There are stories about people who have felt called to open homeless shelters; establish magazines, newsletters, and web sites; produce videos and music; initiate humanitarian efforts; open schools and form lay communities, all in an effort to live the messages and share them with others.

The process of locating these individuals and interviewing them for their stories was a relatively easy one because Our Lady opened door after door for me.  Most of the story writing itself was a joy and a blessing.  The Holy Spirit was constantly present.  I anticipated a great deal of adversity with this project since I was sure the evil one would not be happy about it.  But any anxiety about the quality of the work and its completion in time for the anniversary was brought about through my own human weakness and not by any outside sources.  Juggling this book project, some other writing assignments, and the preparation for a national talk in addition to my responsibilities as a wife and mother of four at times made those several months difficult to bear.  That was my cross and a teaching moment as well for me.  But in the end, it was worth it.  Writing this book has engraved in my heart the importance of Medjugorje and its messages for the world.

As I await the publication of this book, The Fruits of Medjugorje: Stories of True and Lasting Conversion, in May 2006, I recognize the possibility for some negative reaction.  I realize I may be jeopardizing my writing career in some ways to take on such a controversial subject, but I also know that in the end I am accountable for what I have been given.  This book will be something I can hand out to believers and skeptics alike, because it presents inarguable fruits that have spawned from these apparitions.  My hope is that it will open the hearts and minds of doubters; that it will rejuvenate the faith and discipline of believers; and that it will fulfill Our Lady's instruction to live and spread the messages.

No one knows how long the apparitions of Medjugorje will continue.  We only know what the apparitions have revealed to us for the past quarter of a century.  That is, we are being invited to take part in a great plan of God's, a plan that involves an intense spiritual battle that can only be won with the weapons of prayer, fasting, Eucharist, Holy Scripture, and Confession.  In the unpredictable and turbulent world we live in, I pray that each of us in our own way will have the courage to share this message with the world.

Elizabeth Ficocelli is the author of The Fruits of Medjugorje: Stories of True and Lasting Conversion, Paulist Press (May 2006).  For more information about her books and magazine articles for adults and children, visit www.elizabethficocelli.com.

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