July 1st

From the early hours of the eighth day, the visionaries were being chased by large police forces. Throughout the village people were being asked where they were but the answers were of  little help to the police: In the fields, in the village, here, there, everywhere.

It may not look too frightening, but there were many of them: A good week into the apparitions, tracking down the visionaries was the top priority of the local police

In a sense they were right because the visionaries, fully aware that they were being looked for, stayed out of sight and even changed their clothes in order to change their appearance. However, in the early afternoon all these precautions did not prevent Ivanka, Marija and Vicka from being tracked down by two policemen who offered to take them along for a ride: This way, the officers explained, both sides would get what they wanted: The visionaries would escape the throng of people who kept asking them all kinds of questions – and the police would keep the seers away from the Hill of Apparitions.

Ivanka, Marija and Vicka accepted the offer, but soon had to acknowledge they had fallen into a trap. When the police car drove by the church toward Ciluk, they started banging the doors as they shouted for help. This was when the Virgin Mary appeared to them briefly to offer her encouragement. The police officers noticed the expressions on the girls’ faces and stopped the car, shouting they were witches. The three visionaries flung the doors open and ran through the vineyards, heading for the church.The two policemen continued chasing them on foot.

St. James' Church in Medjugorje in the Summer of 1981. The stream of people heading towards the church is merely a symbol of the throng that gathered for the evening Mass on July 1st - and of the more than 30 million pilgrims who were later to arrive

Inside the church Fr. Jozo, the parish priest, found himself in great anguish. Now both of his assistants had started to believe that the visions of the children might be real. Feeling great responsibility towards the people as well as towards his fellow priests, yet less and less knowing what to make of the whole situation, alone in the church he knelt down and prayed: “God, I know You talked to Abraham, to Moses and to others. Now there are thousands of people here these days. Tell me where the river is going. I do not know where the mouth of that river is, nor what its source is”.

To Fr. Jozo, what happened next was both a turning point and a moment of profound revelation. While he was praying, he heard a voice say: “Come out and protect the children!”. He left his Bible and breviary behind, genuflected and with no further thought or delay left the church. As he left St. James’ Church through the middle door, with his foot still in the air and the door handle still in his hand, the visionaries ran toward him from the left side.

“The police are after us! Hide us!”, the visionaries told him. They gathered around him, and Fr. Jozo embraced them. Next he took them to the rectory and locked them in an unoccupied room. In the very last minute, it showed, for the next to be rounded up by the police was Fr. Jozo himself.

“Did you see the children?”, he was asked. “I did”, Fr. Jozo answered as he pointed towards the visionaries’ part of the village. When the policemen ran there, Fr. Jozo returned to the seers. Soon after the Virgin Mary appeared to them and consoled them.

Fr. Jozo with five of the visionaries in the Summer of 1981. Left to right around the priest: Ivanka, Jakov, Vicka, Mirjana, and Marija

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon all the visionaries were together in the church. The word started spreading that the seers would be there, not on the Hill of Apparitions. Around 5 o’clock Fr. Zrinko started leading the people in the prayers of the Rosary, and one hour later Fr. Jozo found the church packed with people to the point when he could not stretch out his arms in saying “The Lord be with you” when the Mass began. During his homily the Virgin Mary appeared to the visionaries in a small room in the rectory.

In his homily Fr. Jozo asked the congregation to pray and to fast, begging God to help them all to understand the events. The throng of people responded, full of faith: “We will!”.

That evening the spectators became participators – and the centre of events also shifted from the Hill of Apparitions to the church. In this way, the eighth day of the apparitions became a prelude to how things have been in Medjugorje ever since.

Endnotes:
Though the interrogations went on, and though the visionaries and their families were threatened with the loss of their land and their houses, none of them were ever sent to prison. However, every day for about half a year Mirjana was taken to the police station in Sarajevo for intensive questioning, and there were many other harassments as well. Instead Fr. Jozo was sentenced to three years of prison out of which he served a year and a half subjected to hard physical work and occasional torture. Fr. Jozo had lost the last traces of his disbelief in the apparitions when he also saw the Virgin Mary during an evening Mass, as witnessed by a great many people. Also 20 years old Ivan Ivankovic who only saw the outline of the Virgin and only on the first day had to spend a while in prison for refusing to deny the apparitions.

Sources:
Fr. Svetozar Kraljevic: “The Apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje”, third English edition, Informativni Centar “Mir” Medjugorje” 2010

Fr. René Laurentin: “Learning From Medjugorje”, The Word Among Us Press 1988

Randall Sullivan: “The Miracle Detective”, Grove Press 2004