It’s apparition time: 5:40 p.m. In a small Roman Catholic chapel in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the village of Medjugorje, Ivan Dragicevic walks down the aisle, kneels in front of the altar, bows his head for a moment, and then, smiling, lifts his gaze heavenward. He begins to whisper, listens intently, whispers again, and doesn’t blink for ten minutes. His daily conversation with the Virgin Mary has begun.
Dragicevic was one of six poor shepherd children who first reported visions of the Virgin Mary in 1981. She identified herself to the four girls and two boys as the “Queen of Peace” and handed down the first of thousands of messages admonishing the faithful to pray more often and asking sinners to repent. Dragicevic was 16 years old, and Medjugorje, then in communist-controlled Yugoslavia, had yet to emerge as a hub of miracle cures and spiritual conversions, attracting 30 million pilgrims during the past three decades.
I’m in Medjugorje with a group of Americans, mostly hockey dads from the Boston area, plus two men and two women with stage 4 cancer. We’re led by 59-year-old Arthur Boyle, a father of 13, who first came here on Labor Day weekend in 2000, riddled with cancer and given months to live. He felt broken and dejected and wouldn’t have made the trip had not two friends forced him into it. But that first night, after he went to confession at St. James the Apostle church, psychological relief came rapidly.