This coming Tuesday we celebrate the Feast Day of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an encounter with her cousin Elizabeth that took place after Mary had received the news that she was to conceive and bear Jesus, Son of the Most High.

I made my own visitation to Mary recently, spending nine very hot days in Medjugorje. This was my fourth visit to the Marian shrine in Bosnia Herzegovina, the first being in early December 1984 when I was the coldest I’ve ever been. However, you will be delighted to know this front page will not be about seasonal weather in that part of the world but something far more important.

On this visit I learnt about the Five Stones of Medjugorje as weapons of protection and as a means to help us grow closer to God. The Five Stones was coined by Fr Joso Zovko, a Franciscan, and it sum-arises what Mary has been saying in her messages. Just as God gave David five stones to defeat Goliath, we have been given the following:

PRAYER: Fr Leon Pereira, chaplain to the English-speaking pilgrims in Medjugorje stresses we need to pray heartily, like it really matters, from the centre of our being. He gives special mention to the rosary which he describes as reflecting our own experiences which as we know can be joyful, sorrowful, glorious and even on occasions luminous! It’s interesting to note that in the early days of the apparitions the visionaries were encouraged by Mary to pray the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be seven times. As time went on Mary requested that all the mysteries, the complete rosary, be prayed every day. Perhaps this is an indication that some of us need to start small and work our way up, instead of taking on too much and giving up.

FASTING: The Medjugorje fast is on Wednesdays and Fridays. The best type of fast is on bread and water. Fr Slavko Barbaric said that if you pray without fasting it’s as if you are flying with only one wing. Prayer and fasting can stop wars. (Obviously, wisdom and discernment are needed when it comes to fasting: the sick do not have to fast).

THE MASS: Come to Mass in a state of grace and as often as you can. Arriving early for Mass is important so that silent preparation can be observed. Equally, there should be a time of thanksgiving after Mass. On one occasion a protestant friend of Fr Leon asked him, ‘Do you believe the consecrated host at Mass is Jesus?’. ‘Yes, I do’ he said. His friend replied, ‘In that case if I were you, I would run to the church, fall on my knees, crawl to the sanctuary, worship him and never leave’.

THE BIBLE: Read it every day and display it prominently in the family home. Encourage your children to read it. Remember St Jerome’s words: Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

CONFESSION: Many Catholics consider yearly Confession more than adequate. Why settle for the bare minimum? Monthly Confession is recommended which can actually bring about the conversion of whole regions. Mary described Confession as “A remedy for the West”. It’s vital that the penitent actually confesses his or her sins. Fr Leon remarked that when people say “maybe” I did this or that, he feels like responding, “Maybe I will give you absolution”. As all sacraments do, Confession gives us the grace which is the strength to change for the better.

What I saw at Medjugorje was truly inspiring: a church full to capacity for the celebration of Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the open space behind the church in the early evening with hundreds of people in attendance and lengthy queues of people awaiting confession in Slovakian, English, French, Italian and a number of other languages. If you are a priest visiting Medjugorje you will always be busy. Throughout the week I had a recurring thought: if only I could bring some of Medjugorje back to St Edmund’s. Those who are staying away from the Mass, Confession, Adoration please think again.

If you are interested in Medjugorje there is plenty of information on the internet. If you google Mary TV you will find most of what you are looking for. There is also a film, Gospa starring Martin Sheen and Michael York that will give you an idea of what happened at Medjugorje in the 1980’ and 90’s.

[Fr Slavko Barbaric, was a Franciscan priest who became the spiritual director of the seers from 1984 until his death in 2000 on Cross Mountain which over-looks Medjugorje. Throughout his life as a priest he achieved great things with young people.

Fr Joso Zovko became the parish priest of St James, Medjugorje in November 1980. He was summoned to the Communist headquarters in Mostar with two assistant priests and warned to stop celebrating evening Mass, to close the parish church and cease the events that were happening on Apparition Hill. He refused, saying that as long as people came, he would continue to celebrate. For this he was accused of conspiracy to overthrow the Communist constitution. He was convicted of sedition and sentenced to three and a half years hard labour in October 1981 when he was brutally tortured but released in February 1983. He is still alive today.]

Fr Steve