As the sun sets in Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina—a hot spot for Virgin Mary sightings—devotees of diverse faiths and nationalities gather to pray.
By Maureen Orth
Photographs by Diana Markosian
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.
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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.
“The anxiety and depression were gone, ” he told me. “You know when you’re carrying someone on your shoulders in a swimming pool water fight—they come off, and you feel light and free? I was like, Wait a minute, what just happened to me? Why is that?”
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The next morning, with his friends Rob and Kevin, he met another of the “visionaries, ” Vicka Ivankovic-Mijatovic, in a jewelry shop and asked for her help. Gripping his head with one hand, she appealed to the Virgin Mary to ask God to cure him. Boyle said he experienced an unusual sensation right there in the store. “She starts to pray over me. Rob and Kevin put their hands on me, and the heat that went through my body from her praying was causing them to sweat.”
Back in Boston a week later, a CT scan at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that his tumors had shrunk to almost nothing.
Since then, Boyle has been back to Medjugorje 13 times. “I’m a regular guy, ” he said. “I like to play hockey and drink beer. I play golf.” But, he continued, “I had to change things in my life.” Today, Boyle said, he’s become “a sort of mouthpiece for Jesus Christ’s healing power and of course the Mother and the power of her intercession.”
Mary is a magnet for young and old. On August 12, during a Mass celebrating her assumption into heaven, Roman Catholic youths guard a life-size figure in Kalwaria Pacławska, Poland. The Feast of the Assumption is a weeklong festival here.