In the July 15, 2001 Report, Bishop Denis Croteau, of Canada shared with us the experience he had on his first trip to Medjugorje, in April. He said then that he would accompany a group of pilgrims from his diocese in the Fall to Medjugorje. His trip became a reality in November and he shared a little about it with us. Here are his comments:
When I came to Medjugorje the first time, I came incognito. I came as a "foot soldier", so to speak. As I said in my article, I wanted to get the feel of it, to see what it contained. This time I came as a clergy person, a bishop, an ordained minister, and it is a completely different impression. As a priest and a bishop, I felt really enriched by this experience for my ministry. It is something very touching. The highlight for me has been hearing confessions. For a priest it might be the best place to really know and discover what Medjugorje is all about. I can't conceive of a priest coming here and hearing confessions for an hour without being convinced absolutely convinced that heaven is at work in Medjugorje. We can touch with our fingers the work of Mary and the work of God in listening to people and how they are transformed. Some people come here and they are just good people, but when they leave they are much better Christians. Some come here and they are sinners, and they know it (and sometimes they don't!), but by the time they leave they know that they were sinners and they know they are saved, their sins are forgiven. The priest experiences this first hand. And if someone would tell me it is Satan who is at work in Medjugorje, I would say, "Well, that's a very poor devil! I don't think he belongs to hell, I think he should be promoted to heaven! He would be doing the work of heaven, that's for sure!"
That is what struck me the most, this time around, the depth of the experience that the priest has. Also, I had the good fortune, (providential I would say!) to be called upon to celebrate Mass and to preach on Sunday, November 4, to the English group. I was tremendously impressed by the response. I was very happy to give the message and to try to make Mary happy by preaching that message, sharing how good she is! And the readings were just perfect for the type of message I wanted to give. I wanted to show the people that religion doesn't have to be flat and dull. It can be a lot of fun and enthusiastic. It can be very alive and challenging, and it's a pleasure to really belong to the Church and to have Mary as a Mother. So those two things (Confession and Mass) from the point of view of being a minister of Christ, a priest and bishop, have been the highlights of my presence here for the last 8 days.
Now, for the people! I came with a group of people from the North, 28 all together. Some are Indian people; some are members of my staff. My staff had asked me for a retreat last year, and after I had the experience in April, I told them there was no better place than Medjugorje for a retreat. So I developed exercises to go along with the pilgrimage here. We completed them with morning meditation, evening meditation, meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, and the Way of the Cross that we did on our own. We joined for the rest of the program with the pilgrims. It was a very intense time. We also visited orphanages, and listened to testimonies. We leave tonight at 2:00 AM, and I haven't heard one negative comment on the experience of Medjugorje. People are just transformed and transported! And they say they will go home and do a little commercial! It's likely we'll be back many times with different groups.
I think what has struck my people is the piety and devotion of the people here, the faith, the testimonies we have received. We have seen people at prayer, people that believe, people that live their Christian experience of faith and love. They are on fire. It's beautiful. I couldn't ask for anything more. I've tried all kinds of things in my diocese to transform the people- because we live in a dysfunctional society and I've spent thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars with sessions and workshops, and I haven't accomplished, spending all that kind of money, 10% of what has been accomplished here with one pilgrimage! So you've got someone here who will really push, not officially, but push!
Because of the transformations we have experienced here, I hope that we pilgrims will bring back the grace of Medjugorje to our homes. The people who go back are going to bring their own experience, each one. They will share with their people what it has meant to them. They will say: "The experience we have lived, you can live also." The first practical conclusion of this is that many more people will want to go to Medjugorje. The second is, I hope, that the people returning will live with intensity their devotion to Mary and others will see their change of life. Seeing is believing! It is not just a question of speaking, but living. The pilgrims say their only fear is that they will not hold on to what they have experienced. They have prayed a lot as a special intention, that Mary and Jesus will help them to hold on to their experience here, and live it every day, the Christian life, lived to the fullest as Mary has asked in her messages. So that is what will be the big difference.
Whenever I have a meeting with bishops I will talk about my experiences and make them aware of the beauty of this place. I want to witness to what I have experienced and seen. So many of my people have been transformed! I may really stir their fire! They might flock here! I will also keep you and all the Medjugorje people all over the world in my prayers.
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