God also walks among us at youth pilgrimages, writes Siomha Magee
I have recently returned from Medjugorje, where I attended the five-day Youth Festival with my mum, and a wonderful group of 38 other people. It was a fantastic experience!
We stayed in a lovely family-run B’n’B, which was about 10 minutes walk from St James’ Church.
The morning after we arrived, we climbed Apparition Hill and our guide told us what had happened in Medjugorje – the apparitions, the visionaries and the village’s reaction. It was especially good because she was Vicka’s (one of the six visionaries) cousin, and she grew up there, so we got the story first-hand.
We went to evening Mass in Croatian (we had radio translators) every day and English Mass some mornings. Eucharistic Adoration was on for an hour after evening Mass some days, and we always stayed for that. Eucharistic Adoration was my favourite part of the trip because it was so peaceful and quiet and you could feel the Holy Spirit’s presence.
The Masses themselves were beautiful, with singing, dancing and music!
We went to English Confession at the start of the week as well.
We climbed Cross Mountain very early one morning, and I decided to go barefoot. We prayed the Rosary on the way up, and prayed in silence at the huge cross at the top. The mountain overlooks Medjugorje, so the view was spectacular! The way down the mountain was pretty sore on my feet, but it was worth it at the end. Luckily I didn’t get any blisters either!
One of the days, we went to Cenacolo and heard the testimony of a recovered American drug addict. Cenacolo is a special place for recovering addicts where people are helped to recovery through prayer, Eucharistic adoration and community work. It was very interesting and insightful. The young man described his journey from a young age to when, as a teenager, he became addicted to drugs. He told us that he was in and out of rehab on several occasions in the US and how he finally managed to get successful treatment with the help of the community in Cenacolo, Medjugorje. It was eye-opening to me. I found out that there is a Cenacolo community in Knock, Co. Mayo too, which was set up by Sr Elvira. It’s a wonderful resource for people with addictions to get the assistance they need through prayer – without the need for any medications or other drugs. What amazed me the most, however, was seeing two men from the Cenacolo community carrying a lady on a stretcher up Cross mountain. I don’t know how they did it. It was incredible to watch!
The kids went to the pool a few times, which was great fun, and on the last day my mum and I went to the Kravice Waterfalls about 20 minutes away, which were absolutely, jaw-droppingly stunning! I swam in the refreshing crystal clear green water, which was teeming with little fish in the shallows, but once you swam out further there were fewer.
Some of the group went to Mostar, which is a city that was bombed during the war in the 1990’s after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia.
Our group leaders did ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminars every day after lunch and afterwards we would split into groups and discuss the daily theme. On the last day we were baptised with the Holy Spirit. The two priests that travelled with our group were good fun and very musical too, which was great! Both of them sang very well and one of the priests played the guitar superbly – he could play all the songs we wanted to sing at Mass which was a real bonus! I wish I could play the guitar like that!
There were thousands of people in Medjugorje for the festival, and although most of them were young, there were people from all age categories, ranging from 5 months old to 95-years-old. The crowd was from over 80 countries, including Ireland, the US, Brazil, South Korea, Ivory Coast, China, Poland – everywhere! On the first day there was a procession across the stage with people representing their country carrying their flag. It truly was a sight to behold, all those young people strong in their faith, it really uplifted and encouraged me, because it’s quite hard to not just show but also be confident in your faith at school or with your peers without people judging you and assuming that you’re a conservative, stereotypical Catholic with ideas stuck in the Middle Ages.
Every evening at 6.00pm we would sit in a circle praying the Rosary together and at 6.40pm we would all kneel in silent prayer, as that’s the time when Our Lady appears to Vicka every day.
Overall, I had a wonderful time and I’m looking forward to going again next year. My faith was renewed and strengthened enormously, and I made a deeper and more intimate connection with God.
I highly recommend anyone who’s thinking about it to go, either during the Youth Festival or not – trust me, you won’t regret it.