The former Yugoslavian town of Medjugorje is not an ideal place for tourists to visit, but it is for many people who want to pray and develop a deeper relationship with the Virgin Mary.
Kim Holliday, a member of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, has made 10 trips to the Marian shrine on the Bosnian border with Croatia. Her first trip in 1996 was probably the most dangerous pilgrimage of all. From 1992 to 1995 the country was at war, leaving 270,000 people dead and 600 churches destroyed.
"There were still some bombings going on over there," she said of her trip in 1996.
Like countless other people, she read Wayne Weible's book, "Medjugorje: The Message," and had to go to see the site of countless Marian apparitions.
"I just knew Our Lady wanted me to go," she said.
In 1981, the Virgin Mary first appeared to six children. The apparitions have not been officially confirmed by the Church because three of the visionaries are still receiving daily messages. Official pilgrimages by parishes or dioceses are not allowed, but lay groups are permitted to organize trips.
Pilgrimages to Medjugorje include hikes to the top of Cross Mountain where Mary has appeared and Apparition Hill where the six visionaries first saw Mary. Pilgrims also attend Mass at St. James Church, pray the rosary and attend adoration. Lodging for pilgrims is often through private homeowners who had added annexes with bedrooms and bathrooms.
Holliday has returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina each fall and on occasion has been accompanied by her husband, Robert "Doc," and their three children. Each year she organizes pilgrimages through the Croatian Mir Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for other Catholics in Arkansas.
After each trip she said she returns "spiritually recharged."
Mary "is a daily part of our lives," said Holliday, who converted to Catholicism with her family in 1991. "She is my spiritual mother. She has just guided me throughout everything."
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