Community of Caritas

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In June 1987, the founder of Caritas of Birmingham asked Medjugorje visionary, Marija Pavlovic, to come after Mass next to St. James Church and pray with a group of 13 married couples who were a part of a BVM Caritas pilgrimage…



BELOW: In the beginning of their marriage, Caritas’ founder and his wife bought their first five acres of land in a rural area about 30 miles from Birmingham, Alabama in 1977. Often they would camp at the site that would be their future homestead. This beech tree marked the spot for them and the founder carved he and his wife’s initials in the tree. They could never have imagined the Community that would grow up around it.


the founder of Caritas and wife initials in beech tree


Meaning of Consecration:



In June 1987, the founder of Caritas of Birmingham asked Medjugorje visionary, Marija Pavlovic, to come after Mass next to St. James Church and pray with a group of 13 married couples who were a part of a BVM Caritas pilgrimage. He thought what better place to renew one’s wedding vows than there in Medjugorje. His experience of consecrating himself to Our Lady in his first visit to Medjugorje imprinted upon him how powerful consecration to Our Lady is; he wanted to lead others to do the same—but why not also their marriage and their family? He asked Marija to come and offer a prayer from her heart, interceding for these couples to our Lord Jesus.


The young guide who was helping with the group wasn’t necessarily a believer as she worked under the Communist regime. She was asked to translate the prayer into English. She was so moved by Marija’s words and her deep spirit of prayer, that she began to cry and could not completely translate. Fortunately the founder of Caritas, who would become known as a Friend of Medjugorje, had recorded Marija’s words. He asked the guide to translate the prayer while the group was gathered. She said she couldn’t do it. She would have to take it home. She said it was too powerful not to spend time on it to make sure the translation is correct.


Marija had been under the formation of Our Lady through the Medjugorje prayer groups Our Lady started. Our Lady led the prayer group into a deep prayer life, union with God and walk of living the Christian way. Marija received from Our Lady an intimate understanding of “consecration” and how being consecrated was not an end in itself, but was to lead to a profound unity and love within the prayer group that would illuminate the world around them with the great love of God that He has for those He created. This is what Our Lady wanted for all the prayer groups She began. This is what She wanted for the families who desired to follow Her.

Friend of Medjugorje Wedding

The hands of a Friend of Medjugorje and his wife on their wedding day. These rings were held in their hands when they reconsecrated their marriage to Our Lady in Medjugorje in June 1987. Marija was asked to say a prayer on their behalf and the other couples with them. Marija explained that each family is a little Church and unity in the family, like in the Church, is what Our Lady wants to establish in every family. From his personal consecration made on July 4, 1986, before Our Lady in Marija’s apparition, to the consecration of their marriage a year later—these consecrations were necessary for what Our Lady was going to call the founder and his wife to—the formation of a community.



Before praying with the married couples on pilgrimage, Marija tried to explain to them the essence of consecration. In this explanation, the spirit of “community” is captured and whether one is speaking about a prayer group, a family or a religious community the purpose and perfection of each lies in how well each group lives out this calling. The 13 couples were circled around Marija; all 26 of them held their wedding rings in their hands. Marija began at once to speak very seriously and spoke with profound depth. Marija’s words on consecration:



“I shall recommend all of you to the Blessed Virgin. I want each of you to start living a new life so that each of you will become Our Lady’s witnesses and that you will take this consecration seriously. Our Lady says that every family is like a small Church. You have to grow spiritually, but it is impossible for an individual to grow spiritually. We have to grow together in our holiness and in that way we shall become united and unity is what Our Lady wants. Our Lady always says that it is very important for us to set an example by our way of living for one another and that is the way we shall show one another the way to holiness. God bless you.”



Marija then entered into a beautiful prayer for these couples.



“My Lord, I plead You tonight for these couples. I plead You to bless them, to take care of them and to show them which way leads to salvation. My God, it is Your Will that they will be changed, that their lives may become Your life; and tonight, my God, I am giving them to You and I plead You, You embrace them and lead them, because You can do everything, You are Almighty. From this night on, I am giving them to You and I plead You, give them Your blessing tonight because they are not strong enough to carry their burden alone, and I plead You my Lord, set them free from other ways but Yours. Let them be turned only towards You, towards Your Will. Let them do only what You would like them to do. Let them always search for Your Will; and I plead You, my Lord Jesus, give them Your blessing tonight. Amen.”



Everyone was moved to tears. A Friend of Medjugorje expressed what everyone felt at that gathering:


“We felt a presence of holiness, very solemn and very deep. It was as if Our Lady was there in those early days. We all were convinced She was with us.”



Maya, the guide, who had not been inclined to believe all the happenings surrounding Medjugorje, was most disturbed by Marija, her prayer and her humility. This moment triggered her conversion; she changed.



What Can Consecration Lead To

Medjugorje Visionary Marija in Bedroom of Apparitions

Marija kneels at the foot of the Bed in the Bedroom of the Apparitions in December 1988. It was in this setting and in this room that Our Lady told Marija on December 13, 1988, that She wished for a community to begin through the founder and his wife.



In the first apparitions in the Home of the founder of Caritas, from November 1988 to the end of January 1989, there were many things that Our Lady did that showed She was initiating something unique and different apart from Her apparitions in Medjugorje; separate, but at the same time in unity, for a special purpose to do what could not be accomplished in the village of Medjugorje, but could in another place. Our Lady began giving daily messages through Marija from the very first day in the Bedroom of Apparitions. She changed the schedule of the apparitions daily, and other things that broke away from Her typical pattern She had set in Medjugorje. In Medjugorje, She had stopped giving daily messages while She continued Her daily apparitions in Alabama. Signs in nature were present to confirm Her apparitions, and tens of thousands of people of all faiths experienced conversion.


On December 13, 1988, when Our Lady appeared, She conveyed to Marija that She desired a “community” here. Immediately after the apparition, Marija spoke with the founder and his wife and said to them, “Our Lady wants to start a community here.” They were deeply struck by her words. The founder asked, “What kind of community?” Marija said that she thought Our Lady had in mind something similar to what Fr. Gianni Sgreva, a Passionist priest from Italy, had just started through a new religious association named the Oasis of Peace. The idea behind the Oasis of Peace was born through conversations Fr. Gianni had with Marija in how Our Lady was forming the prayer groups in Medjugorje in living their consecrations. The four years Our Lady had asked of the youth in these prayer groups were nearly over. After these four years, they were free to decide on their future vocations, but many were left wondering what to do next. Marija, herself, was deeply attracted to the idea of living in a community based in living the messages of Our Lady. It was the natural next step after their formation in prayer groups.



The Founder of Caritas of Birmingham and Fr. Gianni did not know each other. It was only after Our Lady asked the founder to start a community that Marija spoke of Fr. Gianni to him. Yet there were definite similarities in how Our Lady called them and what their visions were of these new communities Our Lady was directing them to form. That Our Lady initiated these new communities in relatively the same period of time, following the completion of the four year period of the prayer groups in Medjugorje, strongly suggests that this was a new step Our Lady was taking in the formulation of Her plans.


It will be a surprise for many to read how Fr. Gianni received permission to begin this new association in the Church. The fact that permission was granted by the highest authorities in the Church, despite the fact that Medjugorje had not yet been approved, suggests that there was an understanding that the revolutionary ideas that were being generated through Medjugorje were a hope-filled answer to the many crises confronting the Church and the world just as the third millennium began to appear on the horizon. These authorities reacted to the vision that Fr. Gianni wanted to follow by granting the Holy Spirit maximum freedom to lead the development of a new kind of community in which all vocations would come together to live in peace and harmony together—single men and women, and married couples with families.



Fr. Gianni Sgreva and the Oasis of Peace Community


Fr. Gianni Sgreva became acquainted with the visionaries of Medjugorje in the mid-80s during his pilgrimages to Medjugorje. In July 1985, while staying in the home of Marija Pavlovic, Fr. Gianni spoke to her about the consecration which Our Lady had asked of her. While listening to Marija describe this way of Our Lady, a desire was born in Fr. Gianni to create a foundation in which this new spiritual life could be lived by others in a permanent way. During this visit, while they were working in the tobacco fields together, Marija said to Fr. Gianni:



“Where will I go after the apparitions? Which congregation or institute will be able to follow the education which Our Lady has given for four years.” (since the beginning of the prayer group that started on July 4, 1982)



When Our Lady started the first prayer groups in Medjugorje, She did not just call those who were single, but She said even married people could be consecrated and join in the formation through which She would guide the prayer groups. This was something unique in the Church of our day, but Fr. Gianni recognized that this was the way the Church was first birthed at the first Pentecost and it was this idea that began to inspire him more and more. He said:



“The plan rooted itself in the concern of finding again the inspiration of the apostolic age, according to the Acts of the Apostles. The eleven devoted themselves to constant prayer, together with some women, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts: 1:14). It is in the high chamber, this cenacle, that the Church was born in the waiting for the Holy Spirit. Mary guided this waiting. There were there, not only the Apostles (the origin of the bishops and the priests), but also some lay people, men and women: the whole Church in its infancy. Medjugorje, the world movement, which interests the whole Church, invites one to find a form of consecration where all the original components of the Church are found again, in sharing the experience of the cenacle, guided by Mary, as She is at Medjugorje. Such was the first and embryonic line which was taking shape.”



Fr. Gianni said that the same day he had this conversation with Marija in the tobacco fields, they went to visit an Orthodox monastery in Mostar, which gave something visual to their reflection. Fr. Gianni said:



“The structure of this place embodied what we were looking for: at the center was a Church dedicated to Mary, with two main parts of the building, on each side; the one was occupied by monks, the other (on the left) by nuns. Life was centered on the little Church of the Madonna. Then why couldn’t others live together, men and women, celibate and married, desiring to reconstruct the primitive cenacle guided by Mary toward a new Pentecost?”



Fr. Gianni began to pray to understand this call in a deeper way. Later the same year, in December 1985, Fr. Gianni was in Medjugorje. On December 4th he stayed to hear Confessions instead of going to the apparition that evening. Marija came to find him afterwards and told him that Our Lady spoke of him in the apparition that evening. Fr. Gianni was astonished and asked how this had happened. Marija questioned Our Lady regarding discernment sought by Fr. Gianni who she told Our Lady wanted to found a “Community of Consecrated” based in the messages of Medjugorje. When Fr. Gianni asked Marija what was Our Lady’s response, Marija said, “I cannot tell you yet, but only when you are in an environment of meditation.” Fr. Gianni explained from there what happened the next day:



“The following day, December 5th, at Marija’s house, after a long time of prayer, she confided to me this message. I had trouble believing it and for that reason I asked Marija to write the statements from the Madonna, in Croatian language, so that I could have it translated by Fr. Slavko in order to avoid the risks of subjectivism. Fr. Slavko confirmed the meaning of the message which said this:



“...to enter into a stage of profound prayer and great silence, until some signs would confirm the message.”



In March 1986, someone offered Fr. Gianni a house in Verona, Italy, to begin his new apostolate and community. He had concerns as to how he was to establish the community. First was the difficulty of bringing both men and women together in the same community; second was the difficulty in bringing together both the celibate life and the married life; third was how to found the community based on the message of Medjugorje when the apparitions had not yet been approved by the Church. But as Our Lady had said, signs would be given to confirm the message. The first sign was the house offered to him. The following month, April 1986, Fr. Gianni was invited to an International Assembly of the Renewal of the Spirit at Rimini in Italy. There, he said, he met:



“...Brothers and sisters from the Community of ‘Lion of Juda,’ and from the ‘Lamb Sacrificed’ (Cordes, France), in white tunics and sandals, men, women and children. Some brothers or sisters were celibate, others married, all belonging entirely to this community. I discovered the new Code of Canon Law (Canons 298 and 299) recognized for the laity and the clergy, the right to unite in private associations of the faithful, in order to lead a consecrated life.”



On June 7, 1986, Fr. Gianni was with Marija again in an apparition in Medjugorje in which he was seeking from Our Lady whether to proceed with starting this new community based on the messages of Medjugorje. Our Lady said:


“Yes, one must pray. What you are doing pleases me. For the time being, keep a very active prayer life, and God will then light up the other plans.”



While this was proceeding, Fr. Gianni was receiving many requests from young men and women “whom the Madonna had chosen, oriented and gathered at random from retreats, letters or telephone calls. The movement was becoming larger: two, then 10, then 20.”



The signs continued to come. On September 9, 1986, Fr. Gianni was granted an audience with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Fr. Gianni expressed to Cardinal Ratzinger the same three concerns he had identified at the beginning in founding this new community. Cardinal Ratzinger immediately reassured Fr. Gianni. He said:



“Why are you worried about it? Medjugorje—I’ll take care of it. With respect to you, keep very well in mind a very important principle. It is necessary to distinguish between the facts which are in the course of investigation, and the fruits. It is up to you to think about them. I invite you to much discernment in the vocations, and in the sustained contact with your bishop and your provincial. But, ‘go ahead.’ He stated to me precisely the formula of private association of the faithful, provided by the new Code of Canon Law.”



The following day, September 10, Fr. Gianni unexpectedly obtained an audience with Pope John Paul II himself. Repeating everything he had said to Cardinal Ratzinger, John Paul II responded in the same way. John Paul II said:

Fr. Gianni with Pope John Paul II


Fr. Gianni Sgreva met with Pope John Paul II on September 10, 1986, the day after meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger and received from both the encouragement to follow the inspiration from Our Lady to begin a new association in the Church, based on the messages of Our Lady of Medjugorje. Fr. Gianni, being concerned that Medjugorje had not yet been approved, was told by the Holy Father, “But, Father, what are you concerned about? This problem with Medjugorje, my services are concerned with it. Concern yourself with vocations and move ahead.”





Fr. Gianni with Oasis of Peace Community


Fr. Gianni Sgreva stands with members of the association he founded, the Oasis of Peace. When Our Lady appeared in the Bedroom of the founder of Caritas of Birmingham and his wife and said on December 13, 1988, that She desired a community to begin “here,” Marija told them that she believed Our Lady wanted a community that was something like the Oasis of Peace. Marija had walked with Fr. Gianni as he was discerning his calling of Our Lady and she could see through the actions of Our Lady in Birmingham, Alabama, that Our Lady was giving birth to something new here.



“But, Father, what are you concerned about? This problem with Medjugorje, my services are concerned with it. Concern yourself with vocations and move ahead.”



Fr. Gianni said that John Paul II spoke to him with emotion and then embraced him, saying, “The Madonna will open all ways.” John Paul II then gave Fr. Gianni his Rosary, saying to him at the same time, “Pray also, for me.” Everything became open to proceed, just as Our Lady had promised. Fr. Gianni had left the Vatican at 1:00 p.m. on September 10th and when he returned to his provincial house, he found a note left for him by the head of his order. A house had been found that would accommodate the increasing number of vocations. The very next day, Fr. Gianni traveled to the Diocese of Vincenza. The location was at the summit of an “inspired hill.” It was complete with a sanctuary, surrounded by some buildings. Fr. Gianni saw Our Lady’s hand in this as well, and settled his new community there while he began to lay the foundation for what would become the Oasis of Peace Community.


On September 20, 1986, Fr. Gianni’s provincial obtained an audience with Cardinal Ratzinger. Regarding this new association of Fr. Gianni’s, Cardinal Ratzinger reassured the provincial saying, “It is a work of God.” That assurance was passed on to the superior general of the Passionists who stated, “It is an honor for the entire congregation to welcome this new initiative where so many vocations meet.” “Where so many vocations meet” was in reference to the celibate and married vocations that the community was embracing, following the witness that Our Lady had developed through Her prayer groups in Medjugorje.



On March 22, 1987, the superior general signed the official approval of the Oasis of Peace association, followed by the Bishop of Vicenza who also signed his approval on May 18, 1987. On March 25, 1987, the Feast of the Annunciation, the first members of the community made a day retreat and signed “the private agreement” required by the Code of Canon Law for the approval of a private association of faithful. The colors of the habit were chosen by visionary Marija. Members wear a grey-blue tunic which is the color of the gown Our Lady of Medjugorje wears, with a burgundy cincture from which their Rosary hangs, and a Cross on their chest. The sisters wear a white veil, fashioned also from what Our Lady of Medjugorje wears. In 1990, the Oasis of Peace opened up a house in Medjugorje.



This is the history of the origins of the Oasis of Peace founded by Fr. Gianni Sgreva. Fr. Gianni’s call paralleled the same time line of the founder of Caritas of Birmingham's call. This was the community that Marija pointed the founder of Caritas to after Our Lady requested of him to begin a community on the site of his Home in Birmingham, Alabama, on December 13, 1988. Marija would tell him that consecrated single men and women and consecrated married couples and families are together. He already had in his heart a similar concept, of some kind of joining together of all vocations.


Though the founder of Caritas met Fr. Gianni on several occasions, they never met to discuss the formation of the communities Our Lady was calling them to found. There were both similarities and differences in the paths they followed, led by Our Lady and the Holy Spirit. They both had the same understanding to develop a community that embraced both the celibate and married states, but where Fr. Gianni’s community followed along the lines of a monastic life of prayer and contemplation, the founder of Caritas’ calling led to a more active community that made it possible for families and children to thrive in an environment of love, work and prayer with a very active apostolate in spreading Our Lady’s messages that grew out of living the messages within their community life.



The Founder and the Community of Caritas



The timing of these two men and what they would be called to could not have been more parallel. Fr. Gianni was already a priest, consecrated to the Heart of Jesus and Mary when he first had the conversation in July 1985 with Marija. Caritas’ founder had felt inspired to set aside a year to prepare to consecrate himself to Our Lady. He started his year of special prayers and sacrifices in the first days of July, 1985, though his personal conversion started several years before that when he was already increasing his prayer life and making changes in his life. Though working 10-15 hour days to provide for his family, with a wife and three young boys, he was going through a deep conversion in his life and experiencing a profound prayer life.


In this year of prayer of the founder, Fr. Gianni was learning that Our Lady was calling him to begin a community. She confirmed this to him in December 1985, a house was offered to him in March 1986, and Our Lady again gave another message to encourage Fr. Gianni to “keep a very active prayer life, and God will then light up the other plans.” That was June 1986.


One month later, in July 1986, the founder found himself with his family on a pilgrimage to Rome, Medjugorje and Fatima. Finishing his year of consecration in the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, in Rome, it wasn’t until he was in Medjugorje that a formal act of consecration took place. On his very first evening in Medjugorje, in the company of 400 or 500 people crowded around the rectory where the evening apparitions were taking place, he watched as about 20 priests climbed the steps of the rectory. Once the priests were inside, a woman at the top looked directly at him and motioned him to come up. This was a miracle of grace. Marija and Jakov were already in the room praying before the apparition.


The founder of Caritas of Birmingham, realizing there would never be a better time or place for his consecration, asked the priest with him, Fr. Ken Roberts, to consecrate him to Our Lady. Fr. Ken invited the rest of the priests in the room to join him in laying hands on the founder. The consecration was made and then Our Lady came in Her apparition, to give Her blessing and to receive, among other prayers, his consecration. The day of this apparition was July 4, 1986. This consecration set into motion the plan of God for him, a plan in which Our Lady would use him to help open up to the world the life of Her messages.




Medjugorje Visionary Marija ging to Apparition


These steps lead up to the entrance to the rectory where the apparitions of Our Lady took place in the mid-80s in Medjugorje. Here, Medjugorje visionary, Marija, has reached the top of the stairs just before she disappears to enter the apparition room. At the time of the apparition every evening, literally thousands of people would gather outside this building knowing Our Lady would be appearing inside the room of Fr. Slavko where the apparitions were taking place each day at 6:40 p.m. On July 4, 1986, the future founder of Caritas of Birmingham stood at the bottom of these stairs along with many of priests who were promised a place beside the visionaries for the apparition. When the door opened to allow their entrance, a woman pointed to the founder and motioned for him to come in as well.



Fr. Ken Roberts in an Apparition in Medjugorje


Above is the room of Our Lady’s apparitions, Fr. Slavko’s bedroom. The date is July 4, 1987. Fr. Ken Roberts is in the center. This is just moments before the founder asked Fr. Ken to consecrate him to Our Lady. Fr. Ken then invited the other priests in the room to join him in this prayer. Visionaries Marija and Jakov entered the room to prepare for Our Lady’s coming. From the priests’ consecration to Our Lady’s apparition, the founder was deeply affected by grace that overpowered him. He was shaken and unable to speak for several hours after the apparition. He knew his life had changed forever.

Fr. Gianni was in Rome meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II in September 1986, while the founder of Caritas of Birmingham was making plans to return to Medjugorje in October 1986. He carried with him a note from Fr. Tomislav Pervan to be allowed to present a petition to Our Lady through Marija in which he desired to ask Her to allow the same conversion taking place in Medjugorje to be able to take place in his own parish Church. This decision to ask Our Lady a question was not entered into lightly, but with profound humility. Though there was no one else involved in writing or presenting the petition, the founder could not write it in the first person. Who was he to think he could go before Our Lady on his own behalf? Therefore, he wrote the petition stating “we” not “I.” There was no “we.” No one else was a part of it.



“Dear Blessed Mother, if it is God’s Will, we humbly ask that the conversion taking place in Medjugorje be allowed to take place in the Parish of Blessed Sacrament in Alabama and that it ‘divinely’ be spread throughout the whole region. We surrender this Parish to you and ask if there is anything you request.”

While the petition was written in third person, “we,” Our Lady answered his petition by answering in the singular, “you.” She addressed Herself to one man, singular, the one man before Her.



“Pray and by your life witness. Not with words but rather through prayer will you attain what your desire is. Therefore, pray more and live in humility.”



With hope in Our Lady’s words, he began to pray, fast and offer sacrifices for the fulfillment of this “desire.” When Marija came to his home in 1988 and when Our Lady told him that She wanted him to start a community on December 13, 1988, he assumed that with his relationship with Marija, he would receive guidance directly from Our Lady through messages given to Marija on his behalf. What happened instead was that he was given very profound confidence in making decisions of what path to take at every crossroad. He understood these powerful interior promptings was Our Lady speaking to him. One priest who had been following the growth of Caritas for some time told the founder he had never met anyone in his life so straight forward and confident in knowing what steps to take and how to walk. When saying this, the priest made a gesture of holding his hand sideways in front of his face and then moving his arm straight out, the full length of his arm; straight as an arrow.


The summer of 1989, the founder and his whole family went to Medjugorje for a month. He had visited Medjugorje several times over the past months and each time had gone to Our Lady to ask Her for words that would confirm what She began in Birmingham. Each time he asked, Our Lady only said, “Pray.” Increasing his prayers and sacrifices over this time period, when he returned to Medjugorje in July, he again asked Our Lady to give him words. And again, Our Lady’s only answer was “Pray.” Feeling frustrated at Our Lady’s lack of words on his behalf, he went to Marija and asked her opinion on what he should do. She suggested that they do a novena together, and at the insistence of a Friend of Medjugorje, she chose the novena. She said they would go up Apparition Mountain for nine days in a row, at 5 a.m., praying all three mysteries of the Rosary along with the Sacred Heart Novena.


After nine days, he went before Our Lady and asked again if She had any words concerning the site where She appeared in Birmingham. This time Our Lady said, “You pray. You are in a time of prayer.” In this same period of days, he was moved by a Bible verse his wife, Annette, had opened up to that stated:

 

“Bear with me a little, and I will show you that there are yet words to speak on God’s behalf. I will fetch my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker. For truly my words are not false; one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.” Job 36:2

 

Feeling that this might be part of the answer he was seeking, he asked Marija to ask Our Lady if these words were meant for him. Our Lady responded, “Pray.” The conclusion that the founder began to derive from all of these occasions, and especially on July 27, when Our Lady emphasized “you” when she said, “You pray,” was that Our Lady would lead and guide him through his own prayer. Similar to when Marija was questioning Our Lady on behalf of Fr. Gianni, Our Lady said, “I prefer to answer him personally.” Our Lady wanted to build confidence in him that She was guiding him for what She wanted established in Birmingham and She would continue to do so through his prayer.


Even while Our Lady was illuminating him to a special role God was calling him to fill in Her plan, he was looking to hand Caritas over to a priest. It had always been in his heart to start and then help fund Caritas, but he believed a priest should eventually be placed over it. Yet, Our Lady had different plans, though it would take some very drastic measures to convince the founder to accept in fullness what God was calling him to do. One of the first priests that the founder considered to help spiritually manage the mission had been on several pilgrimages to Medjugorje with BVM Caritas in 1988. Though a friendship had started between the priest and the founder, and the priest was a strong believer in Medjugorje, he was tragically killed in early 1989, much to everyone’s shock.


In the same time period, during the apparitions in his home in 1988 and 1989, the founder and his family became very close friends to two other priests; one older priest, Fr. Luke, and the younger Fr. Larry, a 40-year-old Franciscan priest. Fr. Larry was young, energetic, deeply devoted to Our Lady and seemed the perfect fit for Caritas. He was enthusiastic about Caritas, its mission and working with the founder. The bishop of the Birmingham Diocese at the time, Bishop Raymond Boland, had given permission for Caritas to have a priest move on the site. With that assurance, Fr. Larry was also given permission from his provincial to accept the position. It was decided that he would take over Caritas in one year’s time, and the founder, who could not see himself running Caritas, was happy and relieved to hand over the authority and responsibility to a priest.


Fr Larry Cabbara

Fr. Larry was chosen by Caritas of Birmingham’s founder to be the spiritual director of Caritas. Yet, despite his youth and vitality, he succumbed to pneumonia that he developed after staying out for hours in the Field of Apparitions hearing confessions. He had a prophetic nature and prophesied many things concerning the founder of Caritas. His death was one of the signs given that eventually convinced the founder that God intended him to run Caritas.



Annette outside angel

Fr. Larry was filled with the love of God and his charismatic personality and joyfulness drew people to him. He often was seen running through the Field with arms upraised, Franciscan habit flapping in the wind, exclaiming “Hallelujah.” This would always bring a smile to the founder and his wife, Annette. After Fr. Larry’s death, Annette came across this angel in an antique mall which reminded her so much of Fr. Larry—hands raised and curly hair. She placed it in the entranceway of their backyard where it has remained all of these years, a silent reminder of Fr. Larry’s love and prayers for their family.



Fr. Larry would often hear Confessions in the Field of Apparitions, even in the cold and rain. One day in late 1989 or early 1990, after being in the Field for hours hearing Confessions, he became chilled and came down with a severe cold. Though healthy and robust at the age of 40, the cold developed into pneumonia. He was admitted to the hospital for 2 ½ weeks with no visitors allowed. When the founder of Caritas was finally able to visit him, he was surprised at how good Fr. Larry looked. But during their visit, Fr. Larry told the founder a dream he had while in the hospital. It wasn’t a typical dream as one has at night after falling asleep. It was more of an interior experience. Fr. Larry told the founder that Our Lady appeared to him in the dream and said to him that She was going to take him soon. He would not be leaving the hospital. The founder, seeing Fr. Larry in the hospital bed, cheerful and with energy, didn’t believe it. Fr. Larry was too healthy and seemed ready to be released. But as the founder was leaving, Fr. Larry said, “Remember what I’ve told you.” A little more than a week later, Mary Ellen, the founder’s mother, called her son and said Fr. Larry had died. He was in disbelief and felt deep regret that he hadn’t paid more attention to what Fr. Larry had told him.

 

Fr. Larry was a deeply spiritual and prayerful man. He was also profoundly affected by the events of Medjugorje, especially in being a part of and witnessing the events of the apparitions in the home of Caritas’ founder and the Field. The evening of December 8, 1988, he celebrated Mass in the dark in the Field. About 15 people circled around the small altar. Despite it being December, it was a comfortable temperature. Marija and the founder were present at this Mass. Something very deep and extraordinary was experienced by everyone present at this Mass. Marija said later that this was like a Mass of the early Christians. When she said this, everyone who had been there agreed. Enveloped in the darkness, one could barely see. There was a feeling of being hidden. The experience was both mysterious and profound. For days after that Mass, Fr. Larry repeatedly told the founder with strength and conviction, “You are chosen by God. You have a great mission. You will be in the middle of great battles. I see in this valley many battles. You are going to see many clashes. You will suffer, but you will be protected. You will be a saint. You belong to the Blessed Mother. You are avoiding who you are. The plans of God rest upon you.” The older priest, Fr. Luke, shared the same sense as Fr. Larry’s prophetic vision and would agree with him when he would say such things. The founder would be embarrassed by these statements and would be uncomfortable when Fr. Larry would express them in front of other people. Our Lady had said to the founder on October 6, 1986, “...live in humility...” Fr. Larry’s comments would cause him to think, “Who am I? I am nothing.”

In the hospital room just before he died, Fr. Larry again made these same prophetic statements to the founder. After learning of his death, the founder was deeply moved in remembering the last words the priest had spoken:“Remember what I’ve told you.” Shortly after Fr. Larry’s death, Annette, the founder’s wife, found a concrete angel in an antique store, with its arms raised in praise. Fr. Larry would often raise his hands in the air and exclaim, “Hallelujah.” With his exuberant personality, it would always make people smile. The angel so reminded Annette of Fr. Larry that she purchased the statue and placed it in their yard, at the entrance of their Home. After all these years, the angel is still there, a silent witness of what Fr. Larry spoke in prophecy when Caritas was still in its infancy.

 

Why did God take Fr. Larry, was the question uppermost in the founder’s mind. He could not understand why God would allow this to happen, but deep in his spirit, he wondered if God was meaning for him to run Caritas. He continued to pray and he began to see Our Lady blessing his efforts. Different individuals began to answer the call to join the community, and the mission itself was growing and prospering.


A year later, in 1991, a Friend of Medjugorje met an older retired priest, Fr. Donovan, from New Mexico, who was deeply impressed with what was being birthed at Caritas through the direction of a Friend of Medjugorje following Our Lady’s inspirations. In their conversations with each other, they were like kindred spirits and a Friend of Medjugorje felt that he had again found another priest who could step into Caritas and be the spiritual head. He offered Fr. Donovan the position to take over guidance of Caritas and the priest said that he only had to get permission from his provincial, but since he had never been denied any request and his provincial was pro-Medjugorje, it would not be a problem because he was free from any other responsibilities; there was nothing standing in the way.

 

Caritas’ founder flew to New Mexico and met with Fr. Donovan. They both placed everything in the Will of God for Caritas, for the Community and for their futures asking in prayer that the Will of God speak through the provincial. Of course, the founder was reluctant to tell Fr. Donovan that the first two priests he tried to hand Caritas over to were both dead! The founder and Fr. Donovan were both at peace to allow God to manifest His Will through the provincial, but they were both surprised and a little bewildered when the provincial sent word that he would not give his permission!

 

Three times this happened, and each time a Friend of Medjugorje kept asking, “God, you don’t want me to run Caritas, do You? I’m not a priest.” But when this third denial happened, a Friend of Medjugorje finally began to recognize what he felt in his heart from the beginning. God did want him to run Caritas. Yet, he also offered it to two separate lay people; everything was blocked. After five attempts, he finally accepted his fate. Though he was the hardest to convince that God wanted him at the helm of Caritas, once he accepted that this was God’s Will for him, he fully embraced his calling, even while he met with much resistance, and continues to do so, primarily because of what he says concerning what he sees in Our Lady’s messages.

Caritas Newsletter

The first Caritas of Birmingham Newsletter, printed on a mimeograph machine, in January 1987. Who could imagine what this simple “ink on paper” newsletter would give birth to? A Friend of Medjugorje has written more on the events, the messages and the apparitions of Our Lady of Medjugorje than anyone in the world. Our Lady told him to “pray” and She would help him understand many things. He is not only a prolific writer concerning everything Medjugorje, but a definer of the events of Medjugorje.



Words from Heaven

The first edition of Words from Heaven, Messages of Our Lady of Medjugorje, was published in 1990, nine years after the beginning of the apparitions of Medjugorje. No other book has compiled all the messages of Our Lady as this book. With the word, phrase and date indexes in the back of the book, searching for specific messages is possible, which is another reason why Words from Heaven is the go to book for anyone following Medjugorje. In 2017, a Friend of Medjugorje published the 17th edition of Words from Heaven. Because of Caritas of Birmingham’s printing capabilities, the book can be updated often with the newest messages of Our Lady of Medjugorje.

 

Countless times it was said to him in order to rebuke him, “You are not a priest, what gives you the authority to say what you say about Our Lady and Her messages?” He didn’t try to defend himself. In his heart he knew that he never wanted the position, nor was he vying to be the head of it; rather he searched and found three different priests over a period of three years to take his place as head. The last two, particularly, had nothing standing in their way. But it was not God’s Will for anyone but a Friend of Medjugorje to run Caritas. After 30 years of fruit and evidence that can be readily seen, it should be plain to anyone with good will of why a Friend of Medjugorje was God’s choice. 

The first edition of Words from Heaven: Messages of Our Lady of Medjugorje, was published in 1990, nine years after the beginning of the apparitions of Medjugorje. No other book has compiled all the messages of Our Lady as this book. With the word, phrase and date indexes in the back of the book, searching for specific messages is possible, which is another reason why Words from Heaven is the go to book for anyone following Medjugorje. In 2017, a Friend of Medjugorje published the 17th edition of Words from Heaven. Because of Caritas of Birmingham’s printing capabilities, the book can be updated often with the newest messages of Our Lady of Medjugorje.

 

It was at this time that he became driven to put together a message book for Our Lady’s messages from Medjugorje. It was also at this time that his alias, “Friend of Medjugorje,” was created. The publisher of Words from Heaven, Thomas Nelson of TAN Books and Publishing, came up with the title when the founder refused to use his own name as author. Though there had already been attempts to compile all of Our Lady’s messages together, none of them included all the messages—from the early days, to the Thursday weekly messages, the prayer group messages, the interior locutions and the monthly messages. A Friend of Medjugorje completed Words from Heaven in 1990, coinciding with the first vocations joining with him and his family to begin the Community of Caritas.


The importance of Words from Heaven in the formation of the Caritas Community would be phenomenal in that shortly after the first printing, a Friend of Medjugorje would establish in the daily prayer life of the community a random selection of one of Our Lady’s messages to reflect upon and live during the day. Immediately, through this practice, Our Lady began to manifest Her desires for the community in remarkable ways, revealing them through Her words. In fact, every “way” of the community is sourced back to a message. This is what makes the Caritas Community unique in the whole Medjugorje world. A Friend of Medjugorje did not rely on any other formula in the Church, past or present, to create the community. He followed the witness of what Our Lady originally established in Medjugorje, and he bound himself in obedience to Her messages by which he led the community.


Also unique to the founder of Caritas is his belief that “Community” is “the future.” The world is going to change after the secrets are released and as he has stated many times, Our Lady has raised the Caritas Community to be “a window to the future.” They are mapping out the course that others will take in the future. Through Our Lady, through Her visionaries, he learned that a prayer group is an incubator for the birth of a community. And most prayer groups start in the family.


The friendship between the founder, his wife, Annette, and Marija has remained close for over 30 years. Though satan has attempted by many means and with different people to destroy their friendship, Marija, time and time again, witnessed Our Lady’s joy and Her unique actions whenever Our Lady was present with Caritas’ founder and his wife in their home. Our Lady has never recognized any place outside of Medjugorje where She has had apparitions except Caritas. After years of seeing what Our Lady has done in and through their home, Marija said to an intimate gathering of people who were present for the apparition that evening in their Living room, “In reality, this house is a chapel of Our Lady.”


Despite Our Lady’s reluctance, back in 1989, to give in to the founder’s entreaties for a message that would confirm his way in founding the community, once he understood that he was not to rely on receiving a message from Her before moving forward in taking steps he felt inspired to do, She many times throughout these 30 years has actually given confirmation and encouragement to him personally in messages through Marija as he leads and guides the mission and community. Since 1988, there have been almost 200 apparitions at Caritas, the vast majority having taken place in the Bedroom of Apparitions of the founder and his wife at Our Lady’s request, not their own


In every public visit that usually lasts over a five-day period, Our Lady always reserves the last apparition, before Marija leaves, for only the community in the Bedroom. It was difficult for the community to understand why Our Lady would give them this special grace with every visit, but a Friend of Medjugorje always understood that these private apparitions were given by Our Lady to say “thank you” for the sacrifice made of their lives for Her plans for the salvation of the world.

Medjugorje Visionary Marija in home of Friend of Medjugorje

The house of the founder and his wife was filled during the apparition of Marija that took place on September 12, 2014. Seeing the house filled in this way reminded Marija of the first apparitions in this house in 1988. After the apparition, she spoke of this to everyone gathered. She said: “Before, I remember the first time when we (the founder and his family in 1988) were here [in the living room] and people came with many flowers. I always used to say, we need [to pray] here [in the living room] because many times people come also here [to pray overflowing from the Bedroom into the living room], because the reality is that this house becomes, when I gave my kidney to my brother—this house became a chapel—as Our Lady appeared in the living room, the sleeping room (Bedroom) and other rooms...”



  • Visit below for more information about the Mission of Caritas of Birmingham, founded by a Friend of Medjugorje.
Caritas of Birmingham




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