“Celebration of Life” Pilgrimage to Medugorje, Bosnian-Herzegovina
“To offer Him our free will, our reason, our whole life in pure faith, so that He may think His thoughts in our minds, do His work in our hands, and love with our hearts” ….Mother Teresa.
I will try to find the right words to describe to you the great miracle which took place on March 19, when 45 medical doctors from various regions of Ukraine, (including Kiev, Zaporozhe, Kamenka-Dneprovskaya, Cherkasi, Irpin, Gitomir, and Donezk), began their pilgrimage to a little town called Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The true question is how was it possible that these doctors, from whom 90 percent are obstetricians and who lived and worked during communist time, could possibly want to go to such a place of prayer? What motivated them? They did not practice any faith, yet they desired to come to this place of prayer and conversion. Not only that, but they fully participated in the retreat “Celebration of Life.” Truly by human understanding it is impossible. But their deep inner thirst, allowed them to hear and respond with a “Yes’ to the calling.
I should probably go back in time to help you understand what it meant to be a doctor during Soviet Union times and what each one of them had to go through in order to practice their profession. The 20th century was a horrific time in Ukraine. A great darkness polluted the people’s minds and, most dangerously, their hearts. It was a time when it was absolutely impossible to show your faith in God. His existence was called the “Opium for Humanity”. Killing was considered a great action if it was done to deter any threat against the government. It was also considered a threat if you believed in God, if you believed in the resurrection and salvation of Jesus, and if you believed the Church is the Body of Christ. All people who had professions such as teachers, musicians, artists, scientists, including those completely consecrated to God or had anything to do with the Church, such as priests and nuns, were persecuted and thrown in jail. In the best case they were jailed, but most were killed or sent to gulags. People were only allowed to do what the communist party said and taught.
Communist times were very difficult for everyone in Ukraine. There were shortages of most everything throughout the country. People were constantly living in stress, in silence, and in fear. It was strongly taught that a new heaven of communism would be established within a short time and there is no such thing as sin, so it would be okay to do many terrible things. One of them was to kill a child in the womb of its mother. Two or more children were considered too many because it was very hard to feed, educate and provide for them. So it was “recommended” or I should say, they were forced to pursue abortions. This happened everywhere, everyday. It was very easy, quick and massive. Just a short time ago, abortion was allowed to be performed even at the 28th week – which is the 7th month of pregnancy. Doctors worked under strict pressure from the communist government so all of them were taught to perform abortions. This was done without any hesitation. And since most doctors believed there was no God, they also believed that there was no judgment. In fact, abortion was considered a good deed because it set the family free from their ‘problems’. But the result of this will always be one of plummeting into an even deeper darkness and depression. Many women suffered and continue to suffer, along with the doctors who performed the abortions. This is the true result of abortion.
Now you will be able to picture this pilgrim group of doctors, most with over 30 years of practice in their profession. Doctors with no religious background, who came to experience something absolutely fascinating.
The group was led by Fr. Andre Popov, Fr Sergey Serebrov, Genya Samborska (President of Pro-Life missions in Ukraine) and Ludmila Barakova (OBGYN with 40 years of practice and educator of natural family planning). Ludmila and Genya gave the retreat.
After three days traveling by bus, the doctors arrived in Medjugorje on March 21. They were completely exhausted from their trip, but to our surprise, most all decided to attend the evening program at St. James Church, held every day for all pilgrims. Some of them shared that, after attending Holy Mass for the very first time, they were not sure what happened, but they felt peace.
We began the next day with introductions, where everyone was able to meet each other individually. It was followed by the first part of the retreat. We talked about many subjects, but mostly about what all doctors shared in common. They shared history of learning medicine in a communist country that denied the reality of sin, and thus allowed such things as abortion to be embraced. The ethical dimension of abortion was known but it was just covered up very deep somewhere and never brought to the light. We also discussed the difference between natural family planning and the forced world of contraception. And then there was silence. Not even one doctor could say abortion is a good deed. They all had so many years of their profession on their shoulders and saw so much and felt so much, that it was almost unbearable. They began to share stories of their life with tears in their eyes; you could feel in the air that something very special was happening.
The afternoon of March 22, we made our way toward the place called Apparition Hill, which marks the place where Our Lady appeared to six children for the first time in 1981 and has appeared many times since then. On this beautiful day, we all climbed the hill with rosaries in our hands, and without any resentment, many prayed the Hail Mary for the first time. It was so moving and fascinating that they wanted to do this – to climb and to pray. While climbing, some had tears in their eyes. Doctor Tatyana (chief of Birthing Hospital in the city of Cherkasi, Ukraine) cried and shared this with us the next day, “When we began to climb the mountain, all I could see were stones turned to skulls and bones…mountains…of skulls and bones….I could see what I had done, it was so clear to me …then in my heart I felt God can forgive and that I can change my life. Something is happening inside me to make it possible for me to feel this way.”
On Wednesday, after the evening program at St. James Church, and before adoration, some of the doctors decided they would not go to eat during this break because they wanted to sit inside the church and wait for adoration. “We want to stay here inside”, they said. “We will pray.”
Something that was dead inside came alive; the realization that sin exists and the desire for repentance; the desire to change and return home new. It was a moments of joy which is impossible to put into words. On our way back down the mountain several doctors asked me if it will be possible to go to confession and asked how this is done.
With the intercession of Our Lady, and with the help of Ludmila and Genya, and our beautiful and completely self-giving Priests, we were able to help the doctors understand the dignity of their profession. This was especially true for the doctors who see the first moments of life during a child’s birth, as the child takes its first breath of air.
A doctor is the most important profession, as described by St Gianna Berretta Molla: “Everyone works in the service of man. We doctors work directly on man himself… The great mystery of man is Jesus: ‘He who visits a sick person, helps me,’ Jesus said… Just as the priest can touch Jesus, so do we touch Jesus in the bodies of our patients… We have opportunities to do good that the priest doesn’t have. Our mission is not finished when medicines are no longer of use. We must bring the soul to God; our word has some authority… Catholic doctors are so necessary!”
Our first Holy Mass together as a group was held on March 26 at a place near Medjugorje called Mothers Village. This village was built by Fr Slavco Barbaric, specifically for children that were left without parents from the Balkans war. After Mass, one of the ladies who work there took us to a house that was built for single mothers. One of the girls shared her life story with us. She was a Muslim who became pregnant after being raped, but kept her child, despite her parent’s desire she have an abortion or abandon the child. She was kissing her little daughter and holding her close to her heart saying, “I would never leave my little one”. The power of love that this mother showed was tremendous and shook the hearts of us all.
The afternoon was free time. But, instead of preparing for the long return trip back to Ukraine, many desired to go back to the church to give thanks for their family, or chose to climb Apparition Hill again. For the 13 of us who decided to go to the Hill, it was indescribable. It was filled with prayer intentions and decades of the rosary; Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries poured from them. We found a stone that was shaped like a heart. The doctors took this back to Ukraine, to hopefully be installed someday in a home for single mothers in Zaporozhe. The evening was filled with joy and the desire to learn more. They had so many questions. The most important questions were; When? How? We can begin new… what must we do?
After morning Mass on March 26, they left Medjugorje with new hope, with freedom and with tears. We could see each one was thinking as they took one last look around before they left.“I couldn’t believe I would ever go to such a place, but now I don’t know how to be without it”, one doctor shared.
On the way back home, Father Andre found several doctors with prayer books and rosaries in their hands, and they asked him to help them. “We want to pray. Can you help us?” One doctor, named Lena, upon her return back to Kiev, found a Catholic Church and with a completely opened heart and thirst, she desired to listen and learn about Her Jesus, with whom she said, “I fell in love with Him ….and I can’t be separated from Him now”.
Now, the doctors are all back to their places of work and are facing the choices in front of them. Do they sign abortion papers or not? It is more difficult than ever. But they understand that they, as doctors, have a voice and can speak about life, and can save the lives of children and spare the mothers from a lifetime of dealing with post-abortion trauma.
The pilgrimage is not finished. It has only begun. There is much ahead of us. Now, the hearts of 45 doctors have melted in the love of Our Lady in Medjugorje. They are eager to change the situations where they work. One obstetrician, who also trains other doctors after they receive their diploma, and speaks to large audiences about family planning, said she always wanted to do good and help. But she was doing this without God and knows she must change. “I must only teach the truth and look at everything differently.”
In Zaporozhe a group of the gynecologist and obstetricians are now preparing for a seminar for natural family planning on May 13-18. Also, Barakova Ludmila is returning from St. Petersburg to give another seminar May 27-29.
We have had so many responses from everywhere. Doctors have asked us provide as much information and materials as we can. During our last meeting in Medjugorje, each doctor received a picture of St. Gianna, to remind them of her heroic love as a wife, mother and physician. When we talked to the doctors about our mission of St. Gianna Physician’s Guild, held in Ukraine last May, they all showed great interest in establishing such a Guild to in Ukraine. We discussed how this could be accomplished. All the doctors received models of 12 week old babies, 10 weeks old baby feet pin’s and other brochures and materials. They were so thankful and asked for more.
Heavenly Father …You see that your children of Ukraine truly crying for your love, after so many years of darkness and sin. But You are also crying for Your children, and already suffered everything on the Cross that forgiveness might be ours and You have only one desire; to give us freedom from the slavery of evil. Help us Father. Shelter us in Your Heart. Come back to walk the streets of the world. Come back to live among Your children. Come back to set everything on fire with Your love. May we truly offer you now our reason, our whole life and thoughts, so we might become instruments of peace in Your hands.
I want to thank everyone who prayed, fasted, and sacrificed to make this pilgrimage happen. Thank you to our sponsors, for offering donations to pay all the cost to make this possible. Thank you for responding with desire to help Ukraine live again in freedom of faith. Thank you also to our wonderful hosts, Patrick and Nancy Latta, who generously let us stay at their house in Medjugorje. Thank you also to all who served with such tender love and care during our stay. We appreciate all of our benefactors and want to give them our greatest thanksgiving and gratitude.
We thank God for you. You are all constantly in our prayers. May God bless you and your family with great peace.