Twenty one Year 14 students from Holy Trinity College joined pupils from St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon on pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Medjugorje, Herzegovina.
They were doubly blessed to have as their spiritual directors, Fr Emlyn McGinn and Deacon John Taaffe from the Armagh diocese. The latter has taken groups to Medjugorje on more than 60 occasions to date and his expertise contributed to making the pilgrimage such a rich and rewarding experience for the students.
Over the seven days, the students swapped Holy Trinity College and St Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon for “the school of Our Lady” as Medjugorje is often referred to. They got the opportunity to attend holy mass each day, receive the sacrament of reconciliation, listen to inspiring testimonies, visit the main sites where Our Lady has appeared to the visionaries, such as Apparition Hill, the Blue Cross and Cross Mountain and pray together there. Their open and enthusiastic feedback speaks volumes about the supernatural atmosphere of this “oasis of peace.”
Students variously described their experience in Medjugorje as “incredible,” “a once in a lifetime opportunity,”” the main highlight of my years in HTC,” “absolutely unforgettable’’ “something I will cherish forever,” “an amazing experience.”
Asked to describe the highlights of the pilgrimage, many cited the experience of climbing Apparition Hill at night by torchlight, finding this a very emotional experience: “The emotions were overwhelming at times when visiting some of the powerful spots such as Apparition Hill.” In a similar vein, another student commented, “It’s hard to come to terms with the waves of emotions that just hit you at certain points, but it’s an amazing raw feeling of emotions experienced during times such as climbing Apparition Hill at night, when you really feel close to relatives who have passed.”
Visiting the Blue Cross at night was also a highlight for many. “My fondest memory remains climbing up to the Blue Cross in the peace of the night. Everyone shared their intentions and sang together. The moment held unexplainable beauty.” “A very peaceful and special moment for everyone,” wrote one student. Also surprised by her response, another student admitted, “I generally wouldn’t be an emotional person, so I found it strange when I got very emotional at the Blue Cross for no particular reason.”
Asked to evaluate the pilgrimage in terms of their faith development, students were unanimously positive:
“My faith has been strengthened and my heart has been warmed,” wrote one, while another acknowledged, “It has created so much peace in my mind and life. I do believe that Medjugorje has strengthened my faith.” That was a sentiment shared by many. “The whole experience definitely strengthened my faith and hearing the different testimonies really dispelled any doubts I ever had. I would recommend going to anyone I have spoken to as it clears your mind and brings you closer to God in a personal way.”
When the Bosnian War raged through this region in the 1990s, Our Lady promised that Medjugorje would remain ‘an oasis of peace,’ and indeed the village miraculously escaped the ravages of war. It’s clear from this brief summary of the students’ experiences that Our Lady’s promise of peace still holds true for her children visiting this sacred place where heaven meets earth. Even more encouraging is her promise to all her “children” that peace can reign in their hearts and homes if they follow her motherly advice to “pray until prayer becomes a joy for you.”