Kicking and screaming all the way to Medjugorje

Mary Lou and John Sagsveen

As we were driving on a bus from Sarajevo to Medjugorje, I kept wondering how I had gotten in this predicament. I really didn’t want to be in Yugoslavia, especially on a religious pilgrimage, and I was skeptical of many of the things I heard about the place.

I was a lukewarm Lutheran who had married a devout Catholic. My wife, Mary Lou, had told me about Medjugorje and how wonderful it was. She had visited in the spring of 1990 and said that I should also go there. We were farming then, strapped for cash, and we didn’t have any place for our young son Patrick to stay, while we traveled, and I didn’t want to go.

Lou asked again, in the summer of that same year, if I would go to Medjugorje in the fall, and I said “No, I will be too busy with harvest.” Then she asked if I would go in the spring, and I said, “Well, maybe.” That was all she needed. She told her mother that I thought I could go in the spring, and her mother said she would pay for the trip and take care of Patrick while we were gone. I was trapped.

That didn’t mean I had to enjoy the trip, however, and I really thought I’d just tough it out. I had no idea how wrong that thought would be.

The first thing that happened when we drove into the village, and I saw St. James was that I broke down sobbing. Now that shouldn’t have been happening.  I come from strong Northern European, Norwegian stock, and any show of emotion in my culture is a sign of weakness, which opens you up to all kinds of ridicule. Yet there I was, with a gush of tears running down my face. And not only that, I remember feeling a beautiful inner peace, which I cannot explain to this day. The next day, as we attended daily Mass, I had the same emotional breakdown. I have been back to Medjugorje four times since then, with the same result.

I said that I was a skeptic before arriving in Medjugorje. But I am not a skeptic now. I have not witnessed and miracles per se; however, I consider what happens to me there a miracle. Yet I did see things that I cannot explain. The first oddity was what happened to the pigeons that inhabit the bell tower of St. James, during a scheduled apparition at precisely 6:40 p.m. in the church. At that time, my wife and I were standing outside because the church was full, and at exactly 6:40, not a sound was heard, and all the pigeons in the church flew out and started flying in circles around the bell tower and church courtyard. Coincidence?

The second thing I witnessed was on top of Cross Mountain at midnight on Good Friday, when a huge crown gathered for an apparition. There is no electricity on the mountain, yet during the apparition, the tall cement cross at the summit of the mountain was covered with light. It wasn’t a light like the flash from a camera; it was a steady light that remained on. Several of the group discussed this later in great detail, but none of us could come up with an explanation.

Other visitors there have witnessed much more than I have, but I really wasn’t looking for miracles. What I did receive is a spiritual awakening in Medjugorje. I became a Catholic soon after returning home. Remembering the spirituality of the people of the village, going to Mass there, and witnessing the reactions of the pilgrims who visit makes we want to return again now. Medjugorje is truly a “Holy Place,” and this is because of the Virgin Mary’s appearances there.

After my third trip to Medjugorje, I realized that daily Mass was something that I needed all the time, not just there, and since then I have been a daily communicant. What a wonderful way to start the day.

I would like to thank my wife, Mary Lou, for dragging me kicking and screaming halfway across the earth. The trip was well worth the effort. If you ever have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage, Medjugorje is the place to go.

John Sagsveen

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