At the beginning of November 1997 Msgr Joao Evangelist Martins Terra, the auxiliary bishop of Brasilia, capital city of the South American country of Brazil, visited the Shrine of the Queen of Peace in Medjugorje. At the time of his visit he gladly accepted to tell us something about his impressions and experiences. We here present his whole conversation:
Press Bulletin: We want to start by saying to you, "Welcome to Medjugorje." Tell us something about your country, your city Brasilia, the culture of your people, religion, standard of living...
Bishop Martins: First of all I greet all your readers. I am the auxiliary bishop of Brasilia and my name is John Evangelist Martins Terra. Brasilia is a new city and the capital city of Brazil. It is only thirty years old but it already has three million inhabitants. Brasilia is a city with a great influx of settlers. Even though the number of sects is growing in Brazil, Brasilia is still the diocese with the greatest number of Catholics. We have a diocesan seminary with 206 seminarians. We also have a seminary of the Franciscan Order with thirty seminarians. In addition we also have a movement that is spreading more and more in the world, and that is the neo-catechumenate movement. The seminary of the neo-catechumenate movement is also large with 76 seminarians. Next year twenty priests from this movement will be ordained. Brasilia in the beginning had priests from every order that came along with the people. Brazil with its huge area is more like a continent. It is just as big as all of United States and Europe together. It is composed of various peoples and races, the majority being Portuguese, Italian and other European nations. We also have a black population which originated from the slaves introduced in the sixteenth century and finally the indigenous population or native Indians. Now all of these make up one mixture of nations, 80% of which belong to the Catholic faith. In recent times various sects have begun to appear. These sects are non-
defined, with a highly pronounced discrimination. There is no difference between the sects, they just have different leaders. I think this phenomenon is insignificant and transient. In opposition to the appearance of these sects we have an outstanding charismatic movement that is called 'Renewal in the Spirit.'
I came here with a group of 45 members of that movement. First we visited the Holy Land. We were in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem. We prayed a lot in these holy places. After each pilgrimage to the Holy Land at the end we come back to Medjugorje. Here in Medjugorje one senses a special devotion to Our Lady. Brazilians are greatly devoted to the Most Holy Virgin, Our Lady the Mother of Christ. In Brazil there is the shrine of Abresida where Our Lady appeared and there are many shrines dedicated to Our Lady.
Press Bulletin: When did you first hear about Medjugorje and from whom did you learn about this place?
Bishop Martin: I heard about Medjugorje the first time fifteen years ago. At that time I was in Europe. In Brazil we have a military cathedral dedicated to the Queen of Peace. In 1991 Marija Pavlovic and Fr. Leonard Orec visited Brazil. On that occasion they were present for the blessing of the corner stone of the same cathedral. The Catholic radio of Brasilia bears the name Queen of Peace and gets most of the credit for so many knowing about the events in Medjugorje.
Press Bulletin: Are you in Medjugorje for the first time?
Bishop Martin: Yes, I am here for the first time and unexpectedly. For me it is like a small miracle to find myself here. You know I am a professor of the Bible and I should now be in Brazil for lectures, but some unexplainable circumstances have led me here. For me and for the whole group this has been in some way a miraculous pilgrimage for us to be able to pray so long and without tiring.
Press Bulletin: What are your impressions, as a believer, as a bishop, a pastor of the Church?
Bishop Martin: I have visited Lourdes and Fatima several times. I saw that over there it is already practically finished, while here with the visionaries still always present one senses a great presence of Our Lady. I feel the whole place and surroundings alive for Our Lady, isn't it ? The whole place is alive for Our Lady. I am surprised at a place that is not as big as Fatima which has become a big city. Here it is not that way. One still always senses simplicity around the church. Yesterday I was at dinner with the Medjugorje Friars and their simplicity amazed me as also afterwards at prayer and at the time for confessions. I had a feeling like I were among the first churches in Jerusalem. I lived and worked in Jerusalem for two years as an archeologist and professor of Scripture. I worked in the Syrian desert as a chaplain to a Levitic tribe. I think all that work prepared me to be able now to feel great grace and Our Lady's blessing.
Press Bulletin: As a bishop, pastor of the Church you know that our local bishop is not favorable to these events. Does that bother you?
Bishop Martin: No, because there are also other bishops who think otherwise. I would like to recall the archbishop of Pescara who is my great friend and every year we go to the spiritual exercises in San Marino together with Fr. Gobbi. Every year spiritual exercises are organized for priests and bishops and that way also the archbishop of Pescara often comes. One time he told me that he asked the Holy Father about these events. "Holy Father what should I do when the faithful from my diocese of Pescara want often to go on pilgrimage to Medjugorje?" "What are they doing?" asked the Holy Father. "They pray and go to holy confession." "Well, isn't that good?" answered the Holy Father. I worked for ten years with the Holy Father and with Cardinal Ratzinger. Cardinal Ratzinger is a wonderful man, full of spirituality and very pleasant. Sometimes I hear it said about him that he is very strict and serious, but I think he is a man with a big heart. Once I asked him what he thinks about this movement. He answered me that the tree is recognized by the fruits, because good fruits are a sign of God's presence.
Press Bulletin: Cardinal Ratzinger told you that?
Bishop Martin: Yes.
Press Bulletin: About Medjugorje?
Bishop Martin: Yes, about Medjugorje and about Fr. Gobbi. For both movements.
Press Bulletin: When you return to Brazil what will you tell your faithful as a bishop, pastor of the Church?
Bishop Martin: In Brazil we have organized pilgrimages to Medjugorje and moreover we have pilgrimages to other shrines. The most numerous are the pilgrimages to Medjugorje which was for me very interesting and therefore I have come now to thank Our Lady for this beautiful gift. I think that by this visit I have made a large number of faithful in our diocese happy.
Press Bulletin: Will you support their going to Medjugorje?
Bishop Martin: Naturally. Beside that in Brazil we have a weekly publication with the latest news from Medjugorje. The publication is free and thereby a greater number of people read it.
Press Bulletin: And finally, what would you say to us who live here and work every day with the pilgrims? Your message to all the parishioners of Medjugorje?
Bishop Martin: Ordinarily it is said that nobody is a prophet in his own place. Many people come here to pray, but I wonder if the towns people of this place live in the same way? Again I wonder if the youth of Medjugorje realize how much grace there is here? Are they able to undertake the whole responsibility and give witness to the strong faith that God has given them? The responsibility is not just on the priests, but on all the parishioners who are dedicated to Our Lady. All the inhabitants of Medjugorje have to always keep this in mind.
Press Bulletin: To close, we are very grateful to you and take the opportunity of recommending ourselves to your prayers. In the name of all our readers we promise to pray for you and for all the pilgrims who come here.
Bishop Martin: And I am very glad to have been together with all of you, and, sad to say, we are already going back to Brazil this afternoon.
We have already met many pilgrims from the African country of Gabon in Medjugorje in these past years. In September this year, the pilgrimage group from the capital city of Liberville, was accompanied by Mons. Andre Fernand Anguile. He remained the entire week in Medjugorje. Speaking about his own country and his home he had this to say about Medjugorje.
" People from my diocese have often come to me after having been in Medjugorje. They related to me their experiences, and they brought books and newspaper articles. Last year, some pilgrims invited me to accompany them. However, I didn't really want to go because I knew that Medjugorje has not received full recognition. This year I have come with this group, but I was completely aware that I was coming as a private individual. I wanted to see for myself what is happening here. I know of the many good fruits of Medjugorje. Those who had been here, after returning home become testimonies of faith on all levels. And that's what's most needed at this moment.
The first thing that deeply impresses me is the spirit of prayer here in Medjugorje. I see pilgrims from the whole world here The evening program alone is enough to show how much and how deeply people pray here. Those inside the church and those who cannot enter (because there is no more space) still pray ardently and devotedly. I see all the priests here confessing for hours and who pray more devotedly than they would normally. But the thing that really delighted me was the sight of so many young people praying and confessing. Here it's not difficult to feel the presence of God and the workings of grace in action, that's why it's so easy to believe in the presence of Mary. I listened to the testimony of the visionaries and I prayed with Ivan at the time of apparition. They radiate peace and joy. They speak very simply and their ideas on prayer really impressed me. We recommended ourselves to their prayer and asked them to ask Our Lady to intercede for Gabon, for all peoples and for the Church. The overall impression which I have at the moment is really good. People come here and really pray. You can feel the spirit and presence of Our Lady.
To the question; "what would you now recommend to the faithful, bishops and priests?" Mons. Anguile replied, "Our Lady's apparitions are a good sign for our times. She wants to prepare us for the third millennium through Medjugorje and we must do as she says. If we're obedient, all will be well and the world will have hope. It's good that Our Lady has appeared here and that the priests, the visionaries and the parish community have managed to remain faithful to her. You have become an example to many. Here great good is being done. Please remember me in your prayers and I promise to remember all of you also. When I return home I will tell people that I have been to Medjugorje and I will call all the laity to pray and fast more, and to allow Mary to lead us all into this new time."
At the invitation of Cardinal Dr. Franjo Kuharic the President of the Bishops' Conference of Japan, Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao, visited the Republic of Croatia. In the course of his visit to Croatia on August 16 he also visited Medjugorje in the company of Mr. Andjelko Simic, the Croatian ambassador to Japan. After walking around the shrine the Japanese archbishop also visited and conversed about the Medjugorje events with the Medjugorje pastor and the other Franciscans who are currently working in Medjugorje. Archbishop Hamao was particularly interested in the arrival of pilgrims from Japan and other regions of southern Asia to this world renowned shrine. The Medjugorje pastor, Fr. Ivan Landeka, presented the honored guest with a gift copy of the Photomonograph of Medjugorje and of a rosary, and Fr. Miljenko Stojic, the director of the Information Center, presented the Japanese archbishop with data on the Medjugorje events during these 16 years.
At the beginning of August 1997 Indian Bishop Dr. P. Arokiaswamy visited Medjugorje and stayed for a week. He presided at one evening celebration and gave the sermon for the assembled faithful. We here present the sermon of Bishop Arokiaswamy in full.
"I am a bishop from India. I became a bishop 21 years ago and a priest 51 years ago. It is my desire to visit all the Marian shrines, all the places where our most holy Mother has appeared. Four or five times I have visited Lourdes, which is the best known of these shrines. I have also visited the chapel of the Miraculous Medal. Last year I also visited Montichiari in northern Italy where Our Lady appeared as Rosa Mystica. The year before I visited Fatima in Portugal and Garabandal in Spain.
This year I have the honor of visiting this shrine of the Queen of Peace in Medjugorje, thanks to my friend from Germany, Mr. Benedict Meier whom I met last November in Montichiari. I am happy that I could spend some days here in prayer. Here one feels the atmosphere of faith, of prayer and of profound devotion to the most holy Mother, Gospa, as you call her here.
The Medjugorje message is the same as in other places: prayer, penance and conversion. The large number of people who are confessing and returning to God is a great sign of hope for the future of the Church.
In the past and in previous centuries rationalism flooded the world. People began to say that such things donot exist that belong to the field of the supernatural or the miraculous and that what is thought to be a miracle can be explained by natural causes and science. In one such context Our Lady appeared in Lourdes and worked many miracles. When scientists began to explain some of them by natural causes, Our Lady still worked miracles and still greater miracles, as if she were inviting them: "Now, what do you say to this. . . and to this???" In the end scientists had to acknowledge that they could not explain those amazing events by natural causes and had to acknowledge them as being supernatural and of a supernatural origin. God wanted man to come back from his total self-sufficiency to Him alone.
The same thing is happening also today. Progress in technology has taken man to the moon and to Mars. Man is proud of his technology and thinks he has no need of God. He tries to find satisfaction in dissolute pleasure. But he finds emptiness in himself. Material goods and longing for pleasure do not fulfill him. He finds out that only God can fill this emptiness and give him true happiness and spiritual peace.
God sends His own Mother at different times in different places for her to lead men to Him alone. Everywhere the message is the same: prayer, coming back to Him in trust, penance and conversion. These are the gospel values. We cannot find others. That is why all the basic messages in all the Marian apparitions are the same.
In Medjugorje numerous miracles are ascribed to the intercession of the most holy Mother, Our Lady: physical healings, conversions from a sinful life to a profound Christian life. The fact that pilgrims are constantly coming here and in ever greater numbers is a proof that miraculous gifts are being distributed here. Were that otherwise, the influx of pilgrims would have stopped long ago.
I think Chesterton was the one who said: "Some people you can deceive all the time, all the people you can deceive some time, but you cannot deceive all the people all the time."
People are constantly coming here in ever greater numbers and returning with peace in their hearts.
Personally I am convinced that the events here are of a miraculous origin. But, we must wait for the "official" judgment of the Church, which could last for years. For the official judgment of the Church in the case of Lourdes they waited a very long time - nearly 50 years. The Medjugorje events are only 16 years old. The Church is slow, but has not forbidden pilgrimages.
What saddens me the most is the negative position of the local bishop, both of the current bishop as well as his predecessor. Let us pray that this negative position changes. The Pope privately proposes pilgrimage to Medjugorje. Privately he approves them. That is enough for us for now.
We take fervent recourse to the Most Holy Mother of God that she form us according to the image of her own Son Jesus so that we might live according to the gospel values of love, forgiveness, and solidarity and be Jesus' witnesses among the people with whom we live.
Today is the feast of St. Lawrence, the renowned deacon and martyr of the early Church. Since today is Sunday his feast is not celebrated. I assisted at the Eucharist of Pope Sixtus II (whose feast we celebrated three days ago). The material goods of the Church and care for the poor were also entrusted to him.
It was conveyed to the emperor of Rome that the Church had great wealth. The emperor wanted to confiscate the church's goods. He sent one of his servants to tell him: "Lawrence, I heard that the Church possesses great wealth and goods. Can you show them to me?" Lawrence said to him that he would show them to him after three days. The servant was very happy. The fourth day Lawrence gathered all the poor of Rome, the crippled, the maimed, the blind and people like them in the district of Rome and showed them to the Roman servant saying: "This is the treasury of the Church." The servant was furious that Lawrence had made a fool of him and he ordered him to be tortured on an iron grate with fire below. The story goes that at one moment Lawrence said to his tormentors: "One side is officially baked, turn over the other side and eat." He died as a renowned martyr.
Let us look out for the poor, let us see Christ in them and help them, as though we were helping Christ. Jesus said: "Whatever you did to one of these least ones, you have done unto me." That is what Mother Theresa is doing to the slums of Calcutta. Let us recognize Jesus in the poor who are suffering and help them as much as we can.
The Church prays in its own official prayers that we be protected from passion and corruption, just as Lawrence was protected from fire. Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may the Lord free us from the fire of passion and help us to lead good Christian lives."
For the 16th anniversary of the apparitions in Medjugorje a Columbian archbishop also visited. Here is what he said on that occasion:
"I am Fabio Betancourt Tirado, Archbishop of Manizales in Columbia. I have come with a group of pilgrims in which there are 4 priests and 52 of the faithful. After a pilgrimage to the Holy Land we decided to visit this region, and especially this shrine. We are on the way to Rome where I have to receive the archbishop's crosier on June 29th. This is the first time that I am coming to this place. Here I feel the presence of God. It is the same presence that I felt also in other Marian shrines, like those from my homeland Columbia, as also in those from other holy places like in Fatima, Lourdes and Loretto. I feel the grace that God is granting to his faithful through the intercession of His Holy Mother, the Virgin Mary. I an awful lot of children, young people, adults and the elderly that are coming to pray to the Virgin Mary. They surrender to her their needs and their problems with the certainty that with her intercession they can come to the Lord.
I have not gotten acquainted with the whole Medjugorje message. Certainly the Virgin Mary is calling us to listen to the Lord. She speaks to us of peace and conversion, and that is something God has always required of man and that he continues to find through the means of the Church. Our Lady seeks reconciliation and it would be well for us to respond positively to that call. Through the Virgin Mary the Lord is again looking for us to convert and to be carriers of peace."
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