Lunch was about to take a bizarre turn.
This being the time of Lent brings to mind spirituality, and spirituality reminds me of Medjugorje. During the ‘80s through the present, the town of Medjugorje, located in the former Yugoslavia, became a well-traveled destination for Christians who were drawn there by reported apparitions of the Blessed Virgin.
Medjugorje was especially popular among New Orleanians. Advertisements would promote group tours to the town. Some locals who barely traveled beyond Pensacola in their life were suddenly winging to the Balkans. Church groups made the trek and so did some of the city’s richest and most powerful people. If New Orleans was a country, it could have opened a consulate there just to serve its countrymen. The Slavs must have been baffled when visitors ordered a sandwich and wanted it “dressed,” or when they referred to a street median as a “neutral ground.”
As the many travelers came back, they had stories to tell. We heard about Medjugorje locals opening their homes to accommodate travelers. Some visitors experienced little more than a long trip, but others told of miracles such as rosaries turning gold and the sun appearing to be spinning.
As editor of this publication, I was interested when a local journalist told me he would be accompanying his wife to the town. I had been wanting to publish a story about Medjugorje that would be approached from the impartiality of a journalist rather than the passion of a pilgrim. While respecting the faith of those who went there, I wanted a story that was neutral in tone.
Several weeks later the journalist, whose credentials included having worked for a major news service, called me. He had returned. We agreed to meet over lunch to discuss his experience. Now I could get the real lowdown on Medjugorje.
Lunch was at the Sazerac restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel. As the salad was being served, the journalist told me about the villagers in Medjugorje who provided housing, but he also pointed out that they were able to do so by adding on to their homes, thus creating a tourist business. He also revealed that there was disagreement among some Medjugorje religious groups about the authenticity of the apparitions.
Then I started to ask him another question. “How about…” He interrupted and finished the question. “How about the magic?” “Yes,” I answered shyly.
Suddenly his mood changed. He began by saying that his wife’s rosary had turned gold and then, as though he slipped into a trance, he spoke passionately about the feeling of tranquility and inner peace that he felt there. Every word was spoken with emotion like that of a man whose troubled waters had parted.
As he delivered his sermon the Hispanic waiter leaned in front of me to put dressing on my salad. I was stunned when I noticed his nametag: Jesus. He was pouring oil on my greens.
Once the journalist’s story was done, I gasped. I told him about the waiter and the oil. He smiled and answered, “well, I guess the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Medjugorje these days still receives visitors and still claims apparitions, but you hear less about it from New Orleanians. What goes on there is I guess influenced by the faith of the beholder. But if there are any favors to be granted, sometimes tranquility and inner peace can be miracles in themselves.