How fitting it was that he was called Jozo for in Croatian it means Joseph and he was born on that great saint's feast day - March 19, 1941 in the village of Uzari in the parish of Siroki Brijeg, where he is assigned today at the Franciscan monastery. He was the eighth of ten children born to Mate and Milka Zovko and the times were tough for World War II was in full force, but the family survived and little Jozo finished his primary grade school first in Uzari, then Siroki Brijeg before realizing he had a vocation to the priesthood. He entered the seminary in Bol on the island of Brac directly south of Split in the Adriatic Sea. He transfered to the major seminary in Sarajevo after Novitiate and at the age of 26 was enrolled at Ljubljana University receiving his degree in Theology. He was ordained in Sarajevo on August 6, 1967. He was assigned to the Gratz University in Austria to continue studies.
Upon graduating in the early seventies he returned to his homeland of Yugoslavia where communism ruled. Though the communist regime allowed worship, they frowned on those who were too faithful. One of those was Father Jozo. Because of his deep faith, his devotion to God and because of his tremendous influence in the parishes where he was assigned, the communists influenced the local bishop to transfer him often. It must be understood that the bishops were selected at that time and all the way up until after the fall of the communistic regime in the early nineties, by approval of the communist authorities in Belgrade. This included Bishop Zanic and the present prelate Bishop Peric. It was often a tough call for the Vatican but the Holy See realized it was the only way to prevent total persecution of the Church. It's also interesting to note that the two bishops in question who have ruled against Medjugorje, the Vatican has taken jurisdiction on ruling on Medjugorje out of their hands in unprecedented moves. That and the long history of the Franciscans' loyalty to the people and the Church should shed some light on the current flap between the bishops and Franciscans regarding Medjugorje and which have been totally blown out of proportion in accusing the Franciscans of being disobedient. Nothing could be further from the truth and the Franciscans continue to operate in Medjugorje at St. James and surrounding areas of Bosnia within the Diocese of Mostar because of Vatican intervention. The Holy See is well aware of the politics and corruption of past bishoprics because of communist influence.
It was into this atmosphere that Father Jozo was transferred to St. James parish in Medjugorje, which, in Croatian means "between two mountains." This agricultural valley was a small village where the Faith was practiced but not with the devotion expected. Father Jozo began to preach and entreat the people to return to the Sacraments, to live their Faith. He was like "John the Baptist" if you will for, without him realizing it, he was preparing the parish for what was to come eight months after he had been assigned to St. James as the new pastor. On June 24, 1981, while he was on retreat in Croatia, the Blessed Mother is reported to have appeared on the Podrbo, also called "Apparition Hill." Medjugorje would never be the same, nor would Father Jozo.
When he first was told of the apparitions, he felt the children - Mirjana Dragicevic, Ivanka Ivankovic, Maria Pavlovic, Ivan Dragicevic, Vicka Ivankovic and Jakov Colo - were all pulling a prank. He chastised them for such tales and the seriousness of such claims. To his surprise, rather than the children coming clean and admitting it was a hoax, they stuck to their story insisting the "Gospa" had appeared to them. Still he didn't believe until he knelt in St. James alone one morning after Mass and heard a Heavenly voice say, "Protect the children." Almost immediately they came flying into the rectory, out of breath with the communist soldiers in pursuit. He knew instantly it was no hoax and sought to give the six young ones sanctuary. For this he paid the price. He was summoned to communist headquarters in Mostar where he was accused of provoking an uprising by spurring the children to fabricate the apparitions and get the parishioners stirred up against the communists. They ordered him to suppress the movement in Medjugorje as more and more were flocking to this village as news spread. Had they called him in one week earlier, before he heard the voice which he knew instinctively was from God, he might have complied. But he could not go against God's charge. Therefore he refused and, after a kangaroo court, was sentenced to three years of prison. The sentence in communistic incarceration was commuted to half that following the pressure applied on the Yugoslav government by the faithful in Medjugorje and surrounding areas as well as others outside the country who had heard of the phenomena and the travesties against him.
In the spring of 1983, Father Jozo was released and transferred to St. Elijah in Tihaljina. It was here where we first came in contact with this holy priest. It was May of 1990 during our first pilgrimage to Medjugorje, one that would forever change our life. We were kneeling at the communion rail after his inspiring two hour talk in which he blessed each person afterwards. It was a throwback to the old way of receiving Our Lord at Holy Communion, except this time it was the Holy Spirit Who came through the charisma of Father Jozo; for as we knelt immediately in front of that beautiful, famous statue of Our Lady, known as "Our Lady of Tihaljina" we could feel the power of the Advocate. As he placed his hands on our head, a warmth never before felt came over us and were slain in the Spirit for the first time ever in the most relaxing, peacefilled mode ever experienced.
This charism has been experienced by millions who have flocked to Medjugorje and made side trips to Tihaljina and now the monastery in Siroki Brijeg to hear and be touched by this amazing priest. He continued to receive pilgrims, preaching and touching them until 1992 when the war in Croatia and then Bosnia-Herzegovina prevented this. He turned his attentions to helping his people, making trips to London, Washington, New York, Paris, Brussels, Strasbourg and Rome on a peace mission trying to persuade political leaders to help stop the killing and suffering of innocent people. It was the same kind of mission Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo just returned from concerning his beleaguered and suffering flock in East Timor. Just as he had been called by Heaven to "Protect the children" when the six visionaries were threatened, so also he has been called by God to protect the children ravaged by war and hate. He helped establish the International Godparenthood which served as a vehicle for people the world over to adopt a Godchild from among the many whose parents were killed in the devastating war that slaughtered 280,000 over a four-year period and destroyed countless homes and churches throughout Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was established on December 20, 1992 with Father Jozo as president of the association. Today over 4,000 children are cared for spiritually and financially in Siroki Brijeg through this organization. There is also the Holy Family Institute which he is involved with which sponsors a children's renewal center in Siroki Brijeg serving as a clearing house for people of all faiths in rebuilding and getting back on their feet after the devastation of war. The center provides food, shelter, clothing and the opportunity to educate all as to the sacredness of human dignity. The center is, as Father Jozo explains, "a monument of love..the monument that speaks to all generations here as to what love has done by reestablishing themselves in society for the good."
While he has sponsored and approved of many organizations, he has also been used by some. One such was the "Nine Novenas of Prayer" in which the organizers illegally signed his name to it. He took umbrage for much of the appeal dealt with a forboding apocalyptic tone full of fear and fatalistic threats. Father Jozo renounced that as he wrote, "In through these fatalistic and threatening texts are obviously contrary to the messages of the Queen of Peace who for eighteen years as a mother has been arousing, instructing and inspiring millions of pilgrims and followers toward an apostolate of prayer and fasting."
Another project that did not have his blessings and which he was not consulted on was the movie "Gospa", a poorly done portrayal of him played by Martin Sheen in which the facts were misrepresented and he was made to look like a priest more interested in his image than souls. Nothing could be further from the truth for he is a man who speaks from the heart - a heart that reveals a selflessness and total surrender to God's Will. Even though "Gospa" was promoted to aid the refugees, it died a quick death because it was not faithful to the life of Father Jozo and his own sister Sister Fabiana, a humble, obedient nun who in no way represents the Hollywood image conveyed by Morgan Fairchild in the part of Sister Fabiana. In an interview in 1995, Father Jozo refuted most of what was in the movie.
Since 1992 he has been stationed at the Franciscan monastery in Siroki Brijeg just a short way from where he was born. But he has also traveled the world, from the far east, the mid east, Americas and throughout Europe and Africa spreading the message of Medjugorje and the vital importance of the Eucharist which are intrinsically linked as Father says, "Place your life upon the altar. You will witness how a priest will place a drop of water within a chalice full of wine. That drop of water intermingles with the wine and signifies you in the Holy Mass. You can become one, unite with and intermingle with Jesus. That is why the Holy Mass is called Communion - union with God - you and your God together - that is the Holy Eucharist." He also pointed out this link before Mass in Portland, Oregon a few years ago which we have taken from www.medjugorje.org, "Why is it that churches and sects do not tolerate the Mass, do not respect Our Lady? Because they go hand-in-hand. Yes, they go together. Our Lady teaches to come to love Jesus, to fall in love with Him, and that is why she places us before the Holy Eucharist, and pleads with us to pray before this holy, Blessed Sacrament, so from Jesus we may learn to become bread for others; so that I not have fear to say, 'Take this, all of you, of Me, and eat of it.'...Our Lady works in miraculous ways. She was always the sign, the sign of a better world, the sign of peace and unit in the Church, the sign of our salvation."
Father Jozo has been persecuted, imprisoned, denigrated and accused of unspeakable sins from graft to child abuse. What is his defense against all of this? "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do." He can be found innumerable hours a day before the Tabernacle in prayer, pleading not for his own will and reputation but for God's Will to be done no matter the consequences. He epitomizes the priests of Medjugorje who day-in-day-out are ridiculed and placed under the magnifying glass of scrutiny - men like Father Svetozar Kraljivec, OFM, another very humble and holy priest whose heroic acts during the war have gone untold at his request; Father Ivan Landeka, OFM, the current pastor of St. James, Father Slavko Barbaric, OFM, who was the voter's choice for the 41st selection of the TOP 100 CATHOLICS OF THE CENTURY on October 14th; Father Petar Ljubicic, OFM, the priest whom visionary Mirjana Dragicevic has selected to receive and announce the ten secrets when Our Lady says to do so; Father Philip Pavic, OFM, the American-born Franciscan who serves the English-speaking pilgrims in Medjugorje and has come to be known as the loveable ol' curmudgeon with a cynical streak; Father Tomislav Vlasic, OFM, Father Ivan Dugandzic, OFM;Father Tomislav Pervan, OFM, now the Franciscan provincial, and Father Ljudevit Rupcic, OFM who we personally interviewed extensively along with Archbishop Frane Franic, the former Archbishop of Split who was instrumental in the Vatican taking the matter out of the local ordinary of Mostar's hands.
Today, at 58 Father Jozo continues to minister to the people of Siroki Brijeg and the countless pilgrims who come to hear and be inspired. He also continues to travel the globe bringing Our Lady's message to all. When asked about the criticism that Medjugorje has become a commercial venture, he winces but admits, "Our Lady is so pure that I would like the entrance to her shrine to be clean, with no shops at all. But I also understand that the people want to take something home, to remember their visit. This is something that happens in all famous places." He is truly correct in this which can be corroborated if one ever visited Guadalupe, Lourdes or Fatima. They all have vendors coming out of the woodwork, as does the Vatican.
When asked about the fact the apparitions continue to this day after an unprecedented eighteen and a half years, he doesn't hesitate in affirming that "A made-up story could not last this long. And it couldn't be satan's work. Satan doesn't call for prayer and conversion." And this is what Father Jozo continues to preach with every waking breath - prayer and conversion! In this humble, charismatic Franciscan is embodied the messages of Medjugorje.
With the death of Pope Saint Gregory in 604, Christianity was on the defensive almost everywhere it existed. The one connecting link to Catholicism was the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - the rubrics, reverence and ritual having been established by Gregory. Pope Sabinian succeeded Gregory as the 65th Pontiff for two years from September 13, 604 to February 22, 606. He regulaged the ringing of the bells to indicated the canonical hours for meditation and prayer for the faithful and also decreed that sanctuary lamps be kept lit in all churches when the Blessed Sacrament was residing in the Tabernacle.
Pope Boniface III became the next Vicar of Christ for less than a year from Feburary 19 607 to November 12, 607. During his ten month reign, delayed by a year, he outlawed arrangements for the election of a new Pope until three days had passed. Today that time period has been extended to nine days minimum. He also made the important declaration that the Pope as the Bishop of Rome was the only universal bishop.
On his death Pope Saint Boniface IV ruled from August 25, 608 to May 8, 615. It was this 67th successor of Peter who instituted All Saints Day on November 1st after he had consecrated the pagan temple of Agrippa, more commonly known as the Pantheon, to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints. He also sanctioned reforms improving the moral and material climate of the lower clergy including priests and deacons.
On October 10, 615 six months after Boniface IV's death, Pope Saint Deusdedit I was chosen as the 68th in the line of Peter. He was a humble, dedicated servant of the servants, opting to go into the streets to treat lepers and the plaguestricken during the plague that had struck Rome during this time. He also was the first Sovereign Pontiff to use seals of lead to imprint on Papal Bulls and other Pontifical Decrees and his seal is still preserved today in the Vatican museum. He died on November 8, 618.
Pope Boniface V replaced him a year later on December 23, 619. The delay was due to the terrible wars for the Crown of Italy and the lingering plague. Boniface is credited with instituting the privilege of sanctuary for those persecuted ones who sought refuge. He decreed that they would have it in the churches where no military or government could arrest someone or harass them. It was during his six year pontificate that the prophet Mohammed began preaching, signaling dark times ahead for the Church.
His successor Pope Honorius I, born in Capua, Italywas elected on the same day as Boniface's death and enjoyed the longest papacy of the century - 13 years during which he sent missionaries to almost all parts of the known world and resolved the problem of the Eastern Church and the Schism of Aquileia on the question of the "Three Chapters." Honorius is also the Pope who decreed the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross would be held on September 14th each year. He died on October 12, 638.
Because of plague and tensions with the Byzantine Emperor, the Throne of Peter remained vacant for two years until Pope Severinus was elected on May 28th, 640. During his very brief pontificate he greatly angered the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius because of the Pope's condemnation of sthe monoteletic heresy. Heraclius retaliated by sacking the Basilica of St. John Lateran and the Lateran Palace where the Supreme Pontiffs resided at the time. It was too much for Severinus who succumbed on August 2, 640.
Dalmatian-born Pope John IV succeeded him on December 24, 640 as the 72nd successor of Peter and tried to bring the people of Egypt into the Faith. Because of the schisms, he personally ordained 28 priests and 18 bishops to make sure of their allegiance. He passed away on October 12, 642.
The next Pontiff chosen was Pope Theodore I who had been born in Jerusalem. He also struggled with the schismatic Byzantine Emperor Costans II who had succeeded Heraclius. Theodore restored order to the internal jurisdiction of the clergy and added the title of "Sovereign" to "Pontiff." He died on May 14, 649 and many suspect he was poisoned by one of Costans' spies who had infiltrated the Holy See.
Following Theodore's death, the saintly Pope Saint Martin I was elected the 74th in the line of Peter on July 5, 649. He sought valiantly to cooperate with the emperor and patriarch of Constantinople in bringing the eastern factions together, strongly opposed the heresy perpetrated within these factions of Monotheilitism, the false belief that Christ had only one will, both human and devine. This heresy denied the humanity of Christ. It was eventually condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 680. He was imprisoned by the Byzantine emperor and exiled to the island of Cherso where he was sentenced to a life of hardship and torture and he died a martyr's death on Cherso on September 16, 655. Three hundred years after the worst persecutions of the Church, her people were still being tortured and martyred for the Faith and Pope St. Martin was an ideal example of the saints of that time in history.
Death of Saint Malachy at the age of 54. He was the Irish Archbishop of Armagh and Down who was a mystic and is credited with his famous "Prophecies of the Popes" which foretold every Supreme Pontiff until the end of time. His accuracy to this point on all the Popes has been amazing, giving more credence to its authenticity. Some historians say he died on November 2, others November 3. Since it was around midnight we adhere to the latter.
Death of Saint Martin de Porres, Dominican Missionary in Peru. For more about this devoted saint, see DAILY LITURGY
Pope John Paul II beatifies the Carmelite Blessed Titus Brandsma.