More than 100 people gathered at St. Mary Church in Waterloo June 25 to prayerfully commemorate the 25th anniversary of the reported Marian apparition at Medjugorje, a village in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The prayer service was hosted by the Queen of Peace Apostolate — which includes more than 100 members from various regions of the diocese — and included exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of all 20 mysteries of the rosary, Benediction, Mass and confession. Father Paul Bonacci, spiritual director of the apostolate and pastor of Schuyler Catholic Community, was celebrant and homilist at the service.
In June 1981, Mary reportedly appeared to six children in Medjugorje, according to Catholic News Service. The children continued to report visions of Mary on a regular basis for many years after that, and at least one of the six said she still receives monthly messages from Mary, which are later published online, the news service reported.
The Vatican has not officially passed judgment on whether the Medjugorje apparitions are authentic, according to CNS. Although it has not officially supported the apparitions, neither has it discouraged people from believing in them or making pilgrimages to Medjugorje, Father Bonacci said.
“A lot of times with Marian apparitions, there’s not official approval until the apparitions have ceased,” he added.
The Queen of Peace Apostolate was formed in the mid-1980s to spread the messages Mary reportedly shared with the six children, said Donald Dwello, one of the apostolate’s original members. Father Albert Shamon, who served in the Finger Lakes region for many years before his death in 2003, was one of the apostolate’s founders, he added.
Since its inception the group has held an annual June prayer service to commemorate the anniversary of the reported apparitions, Dwello said. The group also publishes a monthly newsletter, which contains the most recent Marian messages and some commentary about them, he said. For nearly a decade the apostolate also hosted an annual Marian conference in Rochester, which drew hundreds of participants each year.
The apostolate has spawned about a dozen prayer groups at various parishes throughout the diocese, and members of these groups meet regularly to pray the rosary, discuss the most recent Marian messages and celebrate Mass, Dwello said. One of these groups meets monthly at St. Dominic Parish in Shortsville.
Dwello, who belongs to St. Mary Parish, was inspired to join the apostolate after visiting Medjugorje in 1986. He’d heard about Medjugorje from Father Shamon, and his wife had heard about the reported apparitions on a television talk show.
“We normally had gone on a vacation each year overseas, and we had talked about going to Fatima,” Dwello recalled.
After discussing what they’d heard about Medjugorje, they decided to make it their new destination. They traveled to the village with Father Shamon and immediately fell in love with it.
“It’s just so peaceful and beautiful,” he said. “I always loved to travel, and Father (Shamon) said it would be nice if we could take groups to Medjugorje. I told him I would pray to Our Lady about it.”
After praying, Dwello felt he was being called to lead pilgrimages to Medjugorje.
“I promised Our Lady that as long as one person wanted to go, then I would do everything in my power to get them there,” he said, noting that he has since taken hundreds of people to the village.
Less than a year ago Dwello made his 100th Medjugorje pilgrimage. Although a medical condition kept him from participating in a pilgrimage in June, he said he feels drawn to the village and plans to travel there again. Indeed, many people feel drawn to the spiritual atmosphere of Medjugorje, Father Bonacci said.
“It’s a place of conversion. People grow in the knowledge and experience of God and God’s love,” Father Bonacci said, noting that people from a wide variety of nations and faith backgrounds routinely make pilgrimages to the village. On one occasion, Father Bonacci participated in a Catholic Mass that was said in Croatian, and during the Our Father, he heard the people around him praying the same prayer in a multitude of different languages.
“It was almost the reverse of the tower of Babel,” he added.
Darlene Duprey and her husband, David, both belong to St. Mary and joined the apostolate after making a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in 1988. Darlene had been fascinated with the story of the reported apparitions even before she made the pilgrimage, but with three small children, she wasn’t sure she’d ever find time to visit the village.
“Things just fell into place and we were able to go. It was probably one of the most life-changing events that I experienced,” Darlene Duprey said, noting she and her husband visited the village twice more in later years.
Around the time of their first pilgrimage, the Dupreys and several other couples who went to Medjugorje took turns baby-sitting for each other’s children so the couples could regularly pray the rosary and attend weekday Mass.
“The baby-sitting and the going to Mass has continued from that time on. I attribute that to the graces and the desire that was instilled in me through Medjugorje. It really is a difference in a way of life,” Duprey said.