This was the case early in the 14th Century when a group of Franciscans decided to stay in this tiny mountain village during the persecuted reign of Pope Boniface VIII and the territorial and political influence of the Catholic Austrian Hapsburg family which had become a major territorial power. Though other missionaries had tried to convert the Dalmatian mountain lands, it was the simplicity of the Franciscans, mirroring the ideals of their founder from Assisi, that endeared the friars to the people. The Franciscans were revered because they related to the people from the beginning. They came in poverty, wearing only their robes and, like St. Francis, carried only sacks of bibles and bread to share. The never asked for anything more. The people could see their sincerity and thus was established a holy love affair between the people and the Franciscans that lasts to this day and age. Less than a hundred years after settling this area, shortly after the terrible plague of the mid-14th Century Black Death which ravaged all of Europe, the area became part of the state of Bosnia. The scourge of the Bubonic Plague had weakened the Hapsburg hold, allowing the Turks to invade. In 1389, Bosnia was incorporated into part of the Ottoman Empire as a result of the conquests of the Ottoman ruler Sultan Yildirim Bayezid, who was known and feared as the "Thunderbolt." After the conquest of the Turkish Sultan Fatih Mehmed, known as the "Conqueror," in 1463 the Serbian kingdom disappeared, followed by the absorption of much of Bosnia, the area in southern Bosnia was divided, becoming Herzego or Hercegovina with the capital set in Mostar, 30 miles from Medjugorje. The Byzantine and Ottoman architecture of Mostar, much of what was sadly destroyed over the last few years, is a testimony to this era. Hercegovina remained under Ottoman influence with a mix of Turkish Islams and Roman Catholics. The Turkish influence brought the Muslims into Croatia, Bosnia, and Hercegovina. Serbs from Bulgaria, Russia and Greece infiltrated the land and there was much cross-breeding through the centuries. In virtually every century the Croats, Serbs and Muslims have been at odds over something as the three major forces of faith - the Western Church, the Eastern Church, and the followers of Mohammed sought to live in harmony. We can see from history how the ethnic struggles simmered until exploding into full-blown war 500 years later. The bitterness runs deep. Herzegovina had been administered by the Austro-Hungarian Empire since the time of the Hapsburgs, but in 1908 Bosnia too was annexed by the Triple Alliance of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy, renaming the area Bosnia-Hercegovina. This annexation revived the fires of nationalism. Though the Croats, Serbs and Muslims had always fought bitterly among themselves, they would have no part of outsiders. This unity destroyed the unity of the Powers and in 1912 the Croats, Serbs and Muslims formed the Balkan States in an effort to expel the Turks from Macedonia. However after successfully fending off foreign influence, they returned to the internal feuding as the Serbs and Greeks annexed most of Macedonia.
In 1914, three years before Our Lady would appear at Fatima in Portugal, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated on June 18th in Sarajevo. It was extremist Croatian efforts to suppress the Austrian influence that Ferdinand, nephew and next in line to Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, was killed. This murder provoked the outbreak of World War I. Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina were once again annexed by Austria-Hungary and were forced into alignment with the Triple Alliance again. With the defeat of the these powers by the United States, France and England, the Franco-Belgian military convention agreed to the Czehoslovak-Yugoslav defensive alliance to avert Hungarian revisionism. In 1918, as an aftermath of President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points for World Peace, the Serbo-Croatian-Slovene Kingdom of Yugoslavia was proclaimed. After centuries of fighting among themselves, they were now forced to live in harmony. Though it might work in America, the resentment and long bitter ethnic struggles ran too deep to really work though they put on a unified front to the rest of the world, while underneath seethed an ethnic bitterness that spilled over in blood in 1991. Through the regime of Marshall Tito the Yugoslav Republic even put on a facade that Communism really worked. In 1945, Hercegovina, which lies along both banks of the Neretva River near Medjugorje, joined the Western region of Bosnia to form the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the foundations were shaky and, on the tenth anniversary of the Apparitions of Medjugorje - June 25, 1991 the Croatian people had the opportunity to choose their own destiny in voting for independence from Yugoslavia and Serbian domination. Overwhelmingly Croatia and Slovenia opted for freedom which was quickly countered by the suppressing Serbs directed from Belgrade, seat of the Serbian stronghold. Recognized by the United Nations and the U.S. as independent countries, Croatia felt the brunt of Serbian retaliation but fended off the brutal attacks. The cost: countless lives, demolished churches and monasteries, millions left homeless! The crown jewel of the Adriatic Coast - Dubrovnik, the old walled city that withstood the fatal Bubonic Plague - the Black Death which claimed over 75 million people from 1347 to 1351 - was systematically destroyed by Serbian gunships, air power and ground militia. In 1992 Bosnia-Hercegovina, tired of Serb suppression, also voted for independence and their reward was a full onslaught of genocide and ethnic cleansing unparalleled in history - even more grotesque than Hitler's infamous Holocaust and second only to the terrible sin of abortion. Many have termed this war a civil war. Oh, how wrong they are for this is truly a religious war and satan is having a field day! It is just as Jesus prophesied in Mark 13: 7-8, "When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; for they must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These things are the beginning of sorrows." Kingdom against kingdom refers both to Heaven vs. hell and the ethnic groups fighting amongst themselves. The Muslims remain loyal to their Allah, while the Serbs cling to their Eastern Orthodox Church which not only is not in alignment with Rome, but a far cry from the devout Orthodox faith. Many Roman Catholic Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina fight valiantly as Soldiers of Christ for their Faith. For many their only weapon is the Rosary. And this faith and devotion is what the Serbians hate most, attacking every church they can, destroying monasteries, demoralizing parishioners. Over a 1000 churches, basilicas, cathedrals and chapels have been destroyed by the ruthless Serbs and Moslems.
Though Medjugorje has been a target, God has protected this special Oasis of Peace in many miraculous ways as we shall see in the next installment next issue when we deal with: Preparing for the Apparitions in part II of this special anthology on Medjugorje in commemoration of the upcoming seventeenth Anniversary.
The course of several current events must bring sadness to the Merciful Heart of Jesus and His dear Mother Mary's Sorrowful Heart in this month dedicated to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts. First of all, Bill Clinton is at it again. Trying to coverup the scandal of sin amid the scrutiny of an independent counsel's investigation, the president is going on the offensive and, by it, filling the air with an odor most offensive. He has done this in a myriad of ways from approving abortion and the homosexual lifestyle in inadvertantly promoting the culture of death, to living a lifestyle that exudes a stench of amorality, far from the highest values expected from the chief executive of the land. Now he's at it again, blatantly attacking Congress' push for a prayer amendment, claiming that children's rights to religious expression are well represented and we don't need a prayer amendment, which has been actively promoted by Christian coalitions and conservatives. If what Clinton says is true, then why are there so many law suits and restraining orders against Christmas creches, crosses in public locations, restrictions from praying in school, etc? Clinton claims the First Amendment protects the right to allow voluntary prayer in schools, but that is a smokescreen that has allowed so many loopholes for such organizations as the ACLU to exploit and tangle the courts up in knots for years. It's time, Mr. President, to take the power out of the courts and put it where it belongs in the hands of the people through an amendment to the Constitution in a nation under God and the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary! Only in that way can we clear the air of another agenda being masterminded by that denison of the deep regions of hell!
We're also disappointed in the story that ran yesterday on these pages about the Manhattan Theater Club reversing its decision to cancel the aberration of a play depicting the Son of God as a homosexual by controversial playwright Terrence McNally. Probably the most hideous aspect is the sacriligeous title. McNally is calling his atrocity "Corpus Christi". If this doesn't wreak of satan, nothing does! Yet the Theater, just days after having the courage to cancel it, did an about face after heavy pressure from liberals and gay factions and announced the show will go on. You haven't heard the end of this one yet for we suspect William Donohue, the crusading head of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights will mount a strong campaign against it ever seeing the light of day. If anyone doubts his resolve and clout, look at the League's track record. Their steady lobbying against ABC's teledrama "Nothing Sacred" about a liberal priest and his cohorts who portrayed the Church as a cafeteria of sorts, was highly successful in not only garnering national attention, but in being the main nail that sealed the show's coffin. In fact, the League is a bane to liberals who make no bones they don't like Donohue and claim he is only one voice crying in the wilderness. That's all right. Didn't the prophet Isaias equate the "voice of one crying in the wilderness" to another who made a difference? Someone called John the Baptist! So while we're disappointed the play is back on, we're not disappointed that it is going to face fierce opposition.
Speaking of disappointed, in an article out of Boston this weekend we read where a study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force claims there is more acceptance to gays receiving equal rights in society and government today. However, almost in the same paragraph they admit that overall approval of homosexuality is only 56 percent in 1997 compared to a high of 75 percent in the late 1980's and that gay men and lesbians remain one of the least-accepted groups in the country. Let's hope it continues to decline. The director of the task force, Urvashi Vaid (that's not a typo, folks, that's his name) is quoted as saying "I think the lesson for us out of this data is that the strategy of education and the continued effort we expend on public education is more important than ever." Reread that last quote and ask yourself what you can do, other than praying, to help curtail this propaganda that is permeating our schools and society in an overt campaign to force God-fearing citizens to accept something that is against everything the Almighty intended. We touched on this danger last week about school curriculums today and the permissive attitude we are being forced to accept if we are to be politically correct in a society that is morally incorrect. And there it is in black and white, straight from the horse's mouth (we'd like to substitute another similar animal here instead of a horse - one related to the equine family but more linked to being a beast of burden - but we weren't sure which end was appropriate!) It is a great danger that permeates every fiber of our lifestyles and we can be thankful we have the backbone of Holy Mother Church to guide us and such astute watchdogs as William Donohue and the League to wake us up to what is happening in our society right under our noses. Yes, that odor reeking through society today is the rancid air of sin being fanned by that stinker from hades. As we mentioned above, when something fouls the air, disinfectants are the only resolve. For Catholics, with what is happening in society today, it's time to break out the fresh air purifier of prayer!
When Louis IX was King of France, some of his courtiers came to him and told him to come quickly to witness a miracle; the Christ Child had appeared in the palace chapel standing on the altar next to the tabernacle. To their amazement, the king refused to go. He told them he did not need to go to the chapel to see the miracle because he knew that Jesus was present there all the time. He refused to go to see the apparition because he had tremendous faith. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe, Jesus told doubting Thomas (John 20:29). Real faith does not depend on signs, but often triggers them.
Nor does faith depend on feelings or emotional reactions. The basis of your prayer of faith isn't whether or not you feel good. You're not assured of your salvation because you "feel" saved. True faith is in the Savior, not in saved feelings. Faith is independent of feelings. If you feel very unprayerful, without much fervor, and still you pray, then you have the faith of a sterling character; and grace is flooding into your soul far more at that time than if you were to pray only when you felt like it.
So, many things faith is not. So, what is it really? Where does faith find its warranty? It is warranted simply in the promises of the Word applied to our hearts by the Spirit of God. It is divinely given intuition, an assurance that God has answered our prayer. Faith is an effortless confidence in God.
In the next installment, I will treat "Faith's Simplicity."