Sister Hannah from Germany, born in 1962, has been a member of the Community of the Beatitudes for 15 years now, which was, on December 8th, 2002, officially recognized by the Pontifical Counsel for the Laity as an “International private association of the faithful of Pontifical right”.
As a social worker with complementary training as a psychotherapist, she has been living within the community in Germany, in France, in Switzerland and in the Philippines. For almost three years now she has been in Medjugorje.
For 25 years now in the south of France, at the house called “Château Saint Luc”, the community has been at the service of people with psychological and spiritual problems. There, during seminars, it transmits its experience to Christians who work at the service of men (as doctors, priests, teachers etc.). From there, Sister Hannah has received a mission to transmit to others the seminars that were developed there (for example: Guilt Feeling and Forgiveness, Handling Feelings, Healing Relationships, Healing Within the Holy Family, Handling a Crisis – especially Midlife Crisis, Spiritual Counselling, Discernment of a Vocation, Techniques of Dialogue, etc.).
In Medjugorje Sister Hannah provides the service of counselling and works in pastoral service, with a specialisation for the religious and for consecrated people.
Fr. Dario Dodig spoke with her.
Sister Hannah: If you really want to help people, it is important to start with what the other really needs. In the seminars, we first learn to listen. The first question should always be: “What is this person suffering from, what does she need to get better?” This not necessarily the same as what I would need in her situation. It is her suffering, her questions. For example, if somebody comes to me who is sad I could think: “He needs consolation.” But he maybe just needs a moment of silence, or to be allowed to cry in my presence. When we want to help others, we often want to impose on them our own answers.
At the end of a seminar, a man said lately: “Until now, I was thinking that – if only people would listen – I would have marvellous answers for them. In this seminar, I understood that my duty is to listen, so that others may find their own answers.”
Sister Hannah: In our society, at least in Germany, there are so many offers of help for people who go through a crisis. I think that Christians and the Church have answers that the world cannot give. I want to explain this, taking as an example the guilt feeling. To somebody with a strong guilt feeling, a psychotherapist can help to remove this feeling of being guilty. It means that the person comes to a better understanding of how he/she has developed a certain behaviour, and that he/she is not alone responsible for it. However, the psychotherapist cannot give any forgiveness. He cannot say, like a priest: “In the name of God I give you forgiveness of all your sins.” On the other hand, for a priest who has no knowledge of psychological mechanisms, it will be difficult to convince a sickly scrupulous person with strong guilt feeling that God has really forgiven him/her.
Another example: In my training, I have studied new forms of therapy that are oriented towards success and helping people to find their qualities and develop them. I was wondering again and again, how beautiful and great God has created men. However, these therapies can give no answer to the question of suffering, but faith can help to give a deeper meaning to our life, in spite of all suffering, or even thanks to this suffering. These are the limits of a purely humanistic psychotherapy. Only Christianity knows a God who came to suffer with men and to redeem them.
Sister Hannah: What we need today is inner-healing, healing of the heart, because more and more people come from broken families. In Germany and other westerns countries, it is an exception today that a child still lives with both of his/her natural parents, and that all of the children in a family have the same parents. Because of this, many young people are interiorly insecure and have great difficulty believing that they can be accepted and loved. This is how addictions, depressions, suicide attempts, etc. happen… For me, Medjugorje is an answer for the present-time, a place of peace, reconciliation and healing. Confessionals are very important in Medjugorje, it is a question of conversion, but conversion is first and foremost a turning away from evil and from sin, and then immediately a turning towards love and life.
Mary says always again in her messages: Open your hearts! From the psychological point of view, I know that, because of our wounds, we develop mechanisms to defend ourselves. Out of fear, we have built up defence mechanisms that impede us to be able to trust blindly. If a person, as a child, has been rejected by the parents, he/she cannot believe that God will not reject him/her. Or if someone was beaten by the father, it is difficult to believe that God wants no harm on him/her. For people with these kinds of wounds, each step of the opening of the heart, each time, is an act of trust, a step in faith. In Medjugorje, Mary heals our hearts so that this path of opening and trust may become possible again, that we may receive a greater share of the fullness of the grace of God.
Sister Hannah: I would like to underline that, before coming to Medjugorje, I was working in Germany and in France. But here in Medjugorje, I am a witness of healings that I have seen nowhere else. Mary has given us wonderful possibilities that help our healing. We could call them a “Medjugorje Therapy”. It is linked to different forms of prayer and different places: Rosary, the Way of the Cross, Evening Programme, prayer on Apparition Hill and on Cross Mountain.
Sister Hannah: I was wondering why Jesus has not come into this world as an adult. Why did God want him to be conceived in a womb of a mother, to come into this world as a little baby and gradually grow? Why was it necessary for Him to go through all of this? I believe that it was not so much for Him as for us. In the Catholic Church, we believe that Mary was conceived without original sin. This also is for us, because we need a sinless mother.
The Annunciation is the moment of the conception of Jesus: Mary said YES, she wanted her son. Here is the source of healing for all those who believe that they were not wanted, whose conception was a kind of an “accident”. In the Visitation, we meditate the nine months that Jesus spent in an immaculate, sinless motherly womb. In this mystery, we find healing for all those wounds that happened when we were in our mother’s womb, for example because of an abortion attempt. The joy about the Nativity of Jesus can awaken in us joy about our own birth. The Presentation in the Temple gives us the possibility to present to God our early childhood and all the sufferings of this time. In the Finding in the Temple, we can present the time of our youth.
We can pray the rosary in this way alone or with others; it can be a prayer for myself or for someone else. We receive special graces each time when we pray like this on Apparition Hill itself. Maybe this is, for me, the greatest grace of healing here in Medjugorje: this form of meditation of the Rosary is an authentic and true path of our spiritual and psychological healing.
Sister Hannah: Apparition Hill is a place full of peace and tranquillity. People that I accompany go often daily on Apparition Hill to spend some time there in the presence of Mary; they sit there and look around and tell Mary whatever they have on their mind, their worries and their joys – like a child on its mothers knees. I consider the grace of the presence of God on Apparition Hill as very motherly.
Compared to it, Cross Mountain has something more masculine. It is rougher, higher, steeper. In the meditation of the Way of the Cross, we are exposed to the look of the Father who sees the suffering of his Son. Here, we find another help in the process of healing. Often I invite people, alone or with me, to go to Cross Mountain and to pray there not the Way of the Cross of Jesus, but to meditate on their own way of suffering. From station to station, they remember difficult moments of their life when they were scorned or humiliated, when they were carrying a cross that seemed to be too heavy (illness, death of a beloved person, etc.). Here, often, they can wrestle with God; they can tell him, for example: “I do not want people to do such things to me. I do not agree with what has happened…” God can hear this cry! Somehow, on the way, a change of perspective happens: the person understands that it was not God who sent this suffering, but that people have made mistakes, have treated him/her unjustly, hurt him/her, but that God is on his/her side. He sees his/her suffering and suffers with him/her as he suffered with his Son. In this way, a prayer of the way of the Cross can lead to a deeper reconciliation with God and to a reconciliation with one’s life story.
Sister Hannah: Here, Mary really takes her wounded children under her wings. She gathers us as a mother and repeats again and again: “I love you, I pray for you, I want to help you, I want you to discover how much God loves you.” On January 1st, 2002, we were on Apparition Hill for an apparition with Marija Pavlović. Our Lady told us just one sentence, and for me, it summarises all the messages: “Do not forget that I am your mother and that I love you.” I believe that this love of her’s is the answer to many of our wounds and problems.
I would like to add a word about the Evening programme, as it is lived here. These three hours of prayer make me think of a mother that holds her children in her arms, sings and talks to them, always the same, but the child does not really understand what is being told. This is the case of most of the foreigners here. This rhythm, this melody of the rosary, are for me like caresses of a mother that rocks a child in her arms. It is not by chance that we speak about “Mother Church” who feeds us with the Word and the Bread of life, who gives us security and shelter. People who come here for a time of healing say often: “During these three hours of prayer in the church, I feel secure, I am at peace, my whole soul is at calm.”
Sister Hannah: I had the chance to spend three months in Medjugorje in 1993, during the war. It was a time when I was personally not very well. My superiors did not know how to help me, so they sent me to Fr. Slavko. At that time, I made with him a short therapy. During these months, he taught me first and foremost to dream. He asked me again and again: “What do you desire? What do you need now?” It was very difficult for me to be aware of what I want, and even more difficult to speak it out. Once he said – and I will never forget it: “You may desire anything and you may tell me everything, even if it were, ‘Slavko, get for me the moon from the sky!’ I cannot do it, but you are allowed to desire it and you are allowed to tell me that.”
Thanks to this experience with Fr. Slavko, the desire grew in me to become a psychotherapist myself. I was coming every year to Medjugorje and each time we met together, so he was following my training. Three months before his death, my community sent me to Medjugorje to be myself at the service of therapy and counselling. Also then, I had the chance to share with Fr. Slavko. In one of our conversations, he gave me a wink and said smilingly: “It is a bit of my fault that you do this now!” It is true! When, sometimes, with people whom I accompany, I do not know how to advance, I pray to Fr. Slavko: “Now you have to help!” And he does it!
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