February 5, 2014 A.D.
Twenty years ago, February 1-3, 1994, Medjugorje visionary Marija returned to the home of our founder for the first time since her first visit in 1988-1989 when tens of thousands of people came from across the nation to be in the presence of Our Lady. Medjugorje, in 1988, was spreading like wildfire across America and, so too, deep conversions of the heart. Hundreds of cars and buses filled up the narrow road on County Hwy 43 that led to the open field where pilgrims would gather to await the apparition of Our Lady.
Caritas of Birmingham had become incorporated just a year earlier. Its growth was so rapid it had to be moved out of a small office that was located in the back of a clothing store to a much larger space in a commercial dry cleaner in Birmingham that friends of our founder made available to him for Caritas. The office of Caritas of Birmingham had several desks, computers and phones and with a couple of volunteers to handle the phones, the typing of the Caritas of Birmingham newsletter written by our founder each month and the ever increasing mail. Obstacles immediately came against the mission, as within the first year, a thief broke into the cleaners and stole the Caritas computers and equipment. Caritas would move four times in two years because it out grew each location. Its 5th move was into the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages on September 26, 1995.
During the first apparitions in our founder’s home, an unbelieving neighbor who was filled with jealousy and agitation began leaving skinned raccoons nailed on crosses on fence posts in view of pilgrims as they came into the Field. The crosses were made in scale of the animals which made them look both animal and human hanging on their crosses. As a raccoon’s teeth and scull has a very demonic look, it was very disturbing. Many pilgrims also returned to their cars finding slashed tires or deep scratches in the paint of their cars. Neighbors began expressing their discontent on the 6 o’clock news. Jealousies started to develop even amongst believers in the apparitions, and calls to the bishop were made to shut down the Field. “Emissaries” from still communist run Yugoslavia, from Medjugorje itself, flew into Birmingham to do the same. The level of anger, jealousy and maliciousness against a Friend of Medjugorje was intense. All the while, Our Lady was doing remarkable things here. She was giving messages every day, something She wasn’t doing even at the time in Medjugorje. People were seeing the “dancing” sun and other dramatic physical signs. But mostly, people’s hearts were experiencing the presence of Our Lady and the power of God in their lives. Despite the many obstacles and threats, the apparitions continued for three months, as did the conversions, and Caritas’ mission continued to grow. But so did the opposition.
In 1990, seeing Caritas’ outreach doubling, tripling, quadrupling month after month, Caritas’ founder foresaw the need and felt the impulse through prayer to expand the mission physically, and began to plan the building of The Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages, a 32,000 square foot building for the sole purpose of spreading Our Lady’s messages. This was something so big in spreading Our Lady’s messages at that time, in scale of Medjugorje’s infancy of only 8 ½ years of apparitions, that an uproar of resistance started when plans were announced a year later and building began. No one had approached anything near to such a decision, either in concept or in physical steps, to boldly propagate Our Lady’s messages and satan was inflamed to stop it at all costs. Fierce opposition within the Medjugorje movement came up against our founder and the Tabernacle and in many Medjugorje newsletters articles were written to strongly discourage the support of Caritas, even calling the Tabernacle the “Tower of Babel” and telling people not to donate to it because it was against Our Lady, Her way and what She wanted. Everything possible was done to stop or stymie the plans. Even the parish house orchestrated it’s resistance through those who readily allowed their Medjugorje centers to be used by them for slanderous propaganda.
Even though every possible obstacle was thrown out to stop our founder by some of the parish priests, including banning him from Medjugorje, he did not flinch. He only would answer his call to witness and spread Our Lady’s messages. This call did not come from the Medjugorje priests or visionaries. His call came from Our Lady and he was steadfast not to be swayed otherwise. While virtually every Medjugorje center fell in line, joining with the resistance and slander, save one or two, plans marched on to build the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages. In the apparitions of 1988-1989, Our Lady had called for the founding of a “community” and then began calling people to come. They followed the life of Our Lady’s messages as was being witnessed by their founder and witnessed miracle after miracle of Our Lady’s presence that encouraged them and confirmed their path. The mission continued to grow, the outreach continued to expand…and so too, yet still, opposition against every initiative the founder made in spreading Our Lady and Her messages. This was especially true against the building of the Tabernacle and the founder’s forming the new community. The attacks continued “rabidly.”
This was the setting, the behind-the-scenes, of Our Lady’s second visit to the founder’s home in 1994. The Tabernacle of was half-built and everyday letters and phone calls were coming in from people wanting to know why so many were heated-up against the building. Our founder began to wonder as well. He was steadfast in his discernment, but there was such a wall of lies, slander and opposition being allowed by God that he began to question if he, perhaps, was misreading Him. He was “listening” to the persecution in the sense that because its degree of intensity was so great, he felt it necessary to question himself as to whether God did want this plan in building the Tabernacle. Had he taken a wrong direction? Did God, perhaps, want him to grow the mission in another way, in a different direction than what he was following? He was all alone in facing the opposition. He had no influential friends who would speak on his behalf. Caritas was too new and untested. He knew that anything that God began would be tested by fire, but he also knew that if something wasn’t from God, it wouldn’t make it through the fire and the obstacles against the mission and community seemed too large to surmount. Was God allowing such destruction of his reputation and distortion of our founder’s intentions because He was not happy with his path? Why was the fire so intense and blazing, he and his wife wondered? Yet, he felt to press on.
When Marija and her new husband, Paolo, arrived at the home of our founder on February 1, 1994, Marija was just a few months pregnant with their first child. Some priests and other voices had gone to block Marija to convince her from returning to Alabama, saying that our founder was off track, that she should be careful of whom she was associating herself with, and that she would damage Medjugorje by going back. Every argument was thrown at her. However, because Marija sees truth everyday in her apparition, she came anyway. Before the first apparition, our founder had gathered the community together and said to hope for a message from Our Lady was too much to ask, but that we should pray that if She would at least smile during the apparition, that would give enough confidence to him that they were on the right track. That was all he had hoped for, all he’d prayed for. Our founder had questioned Marija often during these war years in the Balkan states, when he was in Medjugorje, of Our Lady’s “mood.” Every time Marija would say Our Lady was neither happy or sad, rather She was tranquil. This never varied in Our Lady from month to month, and year to year, during the war. So coming to Alabama, a smile from Our Lady would be out of the ordinary during this time period and that is the reason he could have confidence in it.
On February 1, 1994, our founder gathered with his family and Marija and Paolo in the Bedroom while the community met out in the Field to pray the Rosary. There had been no “community” the last time Our Lady had appeared here. This would be the first visit of Our Lady since the establishment of the Caritas Community. We prayed that Rosary with all our hearts and all our hope in Our Lady. Twenty minutes after the apparition, we saw our founder leaving the house and we raced through the Field towards him. When he told us that Our Lady had given a message, his voice caught. We held our breath, and he could barely tell us what She had said, as tears fell from his eyes. Six words:
And more than just the words, when Our Lady appeared in the apparition, She came smiling. Over the past 25 years of apparitions here, Our Lady has made 15 visits with 181 apparitions, primarily in the Bedroom, and then in the Field. But in everything that She has said and done, this apparition of February 1, 1994, was to our founder the most profound as far as the results it produced in him. What it did for him was to give him the confidence that Our Lady was walking with him and the community. It gave him the confidence that God’s power was with Him and therefore, every obstacle could be met and overcome. It instilled within him a resoluteness to never look back, and erased any doubt as to if he should continue on the path he, his wife and family and the community were on. It was a pivotal message at a pivotal time in the critical development of the community and mission of Caritas and his tears sprang not from relief or the vindication he felt after so many attacks and persecution, but in the pure goodness of Our Lady who gave so much in those six simple words. She did not have to do so much, and he was humbled by Her giving much more than what was asked or hoped for, knowing that neither he nor the community were deserving of anything. He said of this message, “To this day that at that moment my calling, there were no other words in the English language that could have been said, as what was said in those 6 words that could have brought greater clarity and impact. They confirmed my path and contradicted what was being heralded around the Medjugorje world, both in the United States and across the ocean that Our Lady ‘was not happy with what was happening here’, yet She said, ‘I am happy to be here’!”
Our Lady’s message of February 2, 2014, resonates deeply with us who have walked this walk with our founder these past 25 years. We experienced today, in a fresh way, the goodness of Our Lady who continues to point us to our past so that our faith be strengthened for whatever we face in our future knowing that no obstacle is an obstacle for God.
The Bedroom of Apparitions, February 2, 1994. The second apparition that took place on February 2, 1994, the members of the Caritas Community were invited to the Bedroom. It was a joyful but also a solemn occasion as this was the first time, for most, to be in an apparition. Placed on the Bed Our Lady would appear upon were gifts of wood carvings and pictures the children had made as a gift for Our Lady as well as religious articles to be blessed and petitions. A Friend of Medjugorje’s wife stands at the foot of the Bed giving direction to the final preparations before the apparition.
Marija, and her husband Paolo, can be seen kneeling at the foot of the Bed with the community gathered around. Our Lady did not give words in this apparition, but blessed the community. This silence was significant for the community. The community was just beginning a path that our founder had already been walking for many years. Her silence, in our presence, just after Her words and a smile were given in the presence of our founder and his family the day before, was a sign confirming his “witness” and his authority as head of the community. He never looked back, even despite many more persecutions and obstacles that he would live through, through all these years to this day.
The Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages was nearing completion at the time of Our Lady’s visit, in February 1994. A few years earlier, by September 25, 1992, the excavation had just begun on the building site for the Tabernacle. The founder and community were amazed when the message came into the office that afternoon, especially in light of the persecution that was aimed at stopping the construction of the building:
September 25, 1992
On February 25, 1993, the “concrete” footings were being poured that formed the foundation for the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages. On that day, the community again was moved to read Our Lady’s words that seemed to be following the progression of the building.
February 25, 1993
Who could have anticipated that Our Lady would use the word “concrete” while concrete trucks were rolling in and out of Caritas the whole morning of February 25? These messages, and many other signs during the construction, gave the founder confidence in Our Lady’s leading, despite the obstacles and resistance that threatened the mission at that time.