Before June 24, 1981 Medjugorje (which in Croatian means “between the mountains” and is pronounced “Medg-yu-gor-ye“) is just a tiny farming village lost in a harsh and desolate corner of the former Yugoslavia. From that date everything has changed and that village has become one of the most important centers of popular religiosity of Christianity.
What happened on June 24, 1981? For the first time (the first of a long series still in progress), Our Lady appeared to a group of local kids to deliver to the world a message of peace and conversion through prayer and fasting.
It is the late afternoon of Wednesday, June 24, 1981, the feast of St. John the Baptist, when six kids between 12 and 20 years are walking on Mount Crnica (today called the Apparition Hill) and in a stony area called Podbrdo they see in the sky a evanescent figure of a beautiful and luminous young woman with a child in her arms. The six young people are Ivanka Ivanković (15), Mirjana Dragićević (16), Vicka Ivanković (16), Ivan Dragićević (16), 4 of the 6 current visionaries, plus Ivan Ivanković (20) and Milka Pavlović (12 years). They immediately understand that the figure is the Virgin Mary, even if the apparition does not speak and only makes the sign to approach her, but they are very scared and run away. At home they tell what happened but the adults, frightened by the possible consequences (don’t forget that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was officially atheist) told them to shut up.
The news, however, is so resounding that it spreads quickly in the village and the following day, June 25 ’81, a group of curious gather in the same place and at the same time in the hope of a new Apparition, which is not slow to come. Among them are the kids of the previous day, except Ivan Ivanković and Milka, who will no longer see the Madonna despite being present at the subsequent Apparitions. Instead, Marija Pavlović (16), Milka’s eldest sister, and the young 10-year-old Jakov Čolo are there to see with the other 4 the “Gospa”, the Madonna: this time She appears on a cloud and without a child, always beautiful and bright . The group of six visionaries chosen by the Blessed Virgin is so firmly formed, and this is why the anniversary of the Apparitions is celebrated on June 25 of each year, as expressly decided by the Virgin herself.
This time, at the sign of the Gospa all 6 young visionaries run fast among rocks, brambles and weeds towards the top of the mountain. Even though the trail was not marked, they did not even get a scratch and lately tell that they felt “transported” by a mysterious force. Our Lady appears smiling, dressed in a shiny silver-gray dress with a white veil covering her black hair; She has loving blue eyes and is crowned by 12 stars. Her voice is sweet “like music”. She has few words with the youngsters, pray with them and promise to come back.
On Friday, June 26, 1981, more than 1,000 people gathered, attracted by a bright glow. Vicka, on the advice of some elders, throws a bottle of holy water on the Apparition to verify if the figure is a celestial or demonic entity. “If you are the Madonna stay with us, if you are not, go away!” she exclaims strongly. Our Lady smiles and at the direct question of Mirjana, “What’s your name?”, for the first time She says “I am the Blessed Virgin Mary”. She repeats the word “Peace” several times and, when the apparition is over and the visionaries leave the hill, She appears again but only to Marija, crying and with the Cross behind Her. Her words are sadly premonitory: “The world can only be saved through Peace, but the whole world will have peace only if it finds God… Reconcile yourselves, be brothers …”. Ten years later, on June 26, 1991, the Balkan War broke out, a fierce and inhuman war right in the heart of Europe that completely redesigned Yugoslavia.
On Saturday, June 27, 81 the 6 visionaries are summoned to the police office and undergo a first long interrogation that also includes medical-psychiatric examinations, after which they are declared perfectly sane. Once freed, they run to the hill not to miss the fourth Apparition. Our Lady answers various questions about the role of priests (“They must be firm in the Faith and help you, they must protect the people’s Faith”) and the need to believe even without the apparitions.
On Sunday, June 28, 1981 a large crowd of people from all the neighboring areas began to gather from the early hours, so that at noon there are more than 15,000 people waiting for the Apparition: an impressive spontaneous gathering that is unprecedented in a country led by a communist government. The Blessed Virgin looks happy, prays with the visionaries and answers their questions.
Sunday is also the day when the parish priest of Medjugorje, Father Jozo Zovko, come back home from a trip and is amazed by what he is told, so he speaks to the visionaries to evaluate their good faith. In the beginning he is skeptical and fears that what is happening is just a mount of the communist regime to discredit the Church, but the words of the 6 young people, so spontaneous and with no contradictions, slowly win its reserves. At this moment, however, he decides to be prudent and not blindly support the six kids.
Monday, June 29, 1981 is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, very much felt by the Croatian population. The six young visionaries are picked up again by the police and taken to the psychiatric ward of the Mostar hospital, where 12 doctors are waiting for them to undergo another psychiatric examination. The authorities hope that their mental illness will be established but the doctor who leads this medical team, a Muslim herself, declares that it is not the kids who are crazy but rather those who led them there. In her report to the secret police she writes that she was particularly impressed by the little Jacov and his courage: the more he was accused of telling falsehoods, the more he showed himself firm and unshakeable in his statements, without betraying any fear but rather showing unshakable trust in the Madonna, for whom he is willing to give his life. “If there is manipulation in those guys, I could not unmask it.”
That evening, during the Apparition, among the crowd there is also a 3-year-old boy, Danijel Šetka, seriously ill with septicemia, now unable to speak and walk. Desperate parents ask for the intercession of Our Lady to heal the little boy and She consents but asks that the whole community and in particular the two parents pray, fast and live an authentic Faith. Danijel’s conditions progressively improve and by the end of the summer the child is able to walk and talk. This is the first of a long series of miraculous healings which are now several hundred.
Tuesday, June 30, the six young visionaries do not show up at the usual hour at the foot of the hill. What happened? In the afternoon, two girls sent by the government of Sarajevo (worried by the facts of Medjugorje which are recalling so many people, and convinced that this is a clerical and nationalist mount of the Croats) offer the visionaries a ride by car in the surrounding area, with the secret intent of keeping them away from the place of the Apparitions. Exhausted by all the facts and unaware of the plot, the young visionaries accept this opportunity for some leisure time, except for Ivan who stays at home. At the “usual time” they are still around, far from the Podbrdo, but they feel like an inner urgency, they stop and get out of the car. A light can be seen on the horizon and the Madonna appears there, on a cloud, goes towards them and prays with them. Returning to the village they go to the rectory where Father Jozo interrogates them again. There are also the two “conspiratorial” girls, upset by those luminous phenomena in the sky. They will no longer work with law enforcement.
Since that day the police don’t allow the access to the Podbrdo, the place of the Apparitions. But this earthly prohibition does not stop the divine phenomena and the Virgin continues to appear in different places.
July 1, 1981 is a convulsive day: the parents of the visionaries are summoned to the police offices and are subjected to threats to their children called “impostors, delusionals, troublemakers and rebels”. In the afternoon, two people in charge of the town go with a van at Vicka’s house and pick up her, Ivanka and Marija on the pretext of accompanying them to the rectory, but they lie and when they reach the church they continue their journey. The girls protest and beat their fists against the windows but suddenly they extrude themselves and have a fleeting appearance in which Our Lady encourages them not to be afraid. The two municipal officials realize that something strange has happened and they report the three girls to the rectory.
That day Jacov, Mirjana and Ivan have an Appearance at home.
This is the brief summary of the first Apparitions in Medjugorje, still ongoing.
In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI set up a committee on Medjugorje presided over by Cardinal Camillo Ruini and composed of bishops, cardinals, theologians, experts in Mariology, anthropologists and psychologists. The commission’s work ended on 17 January 2014 with a favorable opinion on the recognition of the supernatural nature of the first Apparitions, which took place between 24 June and 3 July 1981.