Tens of thousands of young faithful descended on Bosnia and Herzegovina last week to celebrate Medjugorje’s Youth Festival which is now in its 30th year.
It comes after a ban on pilgrimages organised by Catholic dioceses and parishes was lifted under a papal decree on May 12.
Earlier this year Pope Francis gave the Vatican green light to allow priests to lead formal parish pilgrimages to the holy site, where Mary has allegedly been appearing since 1981.
Over 300 Irish pilgrims travelled with Marian Pilgrimages to join in the festivities which saw approximately 60,000 people in attendance. A spokesperson for the pilgrimage group said: “Joe Malone, one of our long-time group leaders, takes a group of 100 youth each year from Kilkenny. To be a witness of all these youth is something incredible, they come back renewed with a great peace and joy in their hearts and each year many returning as leaders.”
Fourteen archbishops and bishops and about 700 Catholic priests took part in the celebrations, and Radio Medjugorje reported that parts of the festival had been watched via the internet by more than 2.8 million people worldwide.
Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for Institutions of Consecrated Life, said in an address that the young pilgrims were “in deep unity” with the Pope and grateful to him for “opening up the possibility of coming to pray here”.
Describing the festival as a “special event” which she has attended for the past nine years, Irish pilgrim Ellen Moynihan said that it has contributed greatly to her faith.
“The fellowship, unity and reverence of so many young people from all six continents will never cease to amaze me. Attending the festival each year is a sure reminder that I am not alone in my faith. From the outdoor Mass each evening to the rich symphony of the music provided at the festival during the day, the youth festival has a way of lifting my soul like nothing else,” she told The Irish Catholic.
“On average, 60,000 people from all corners of the world attend the festival each year to celebrate their Catholic faith. On the final night of the festival there is a great procession around the village, in which two to three representatives of each country participate. It meant a lot to me when I got the opportunity to participate in the procession to represent Ireland in 2014.”
More than 40,000 apparitions have been claimed over 38 years at Medjugorje, where six teenagers reported first seeing an apparition of Mary on June 24, 1981.
“The feeling of standing up there to represent Catholic Ireland was life changing. In the evening, an outdoor Mass takes place in Croatian. It lasts for two hours followed by adoration of the most Blessed Sacrament.
“Initially the thoughts of staying outside in intense prayer for three hours was daunting to me, but by the time it had ended on the first night, I did not want to leave!” Ellen said.
“My heart felt so close to God and it was all finished off very fittingly with some lively, upbeat Croatian music! I am so grateful for the way that the Medjugorje youth festival has enhanced my faith and brought me closer to the Lord.”