A Catholic Monthly Magazine

An Unexpected Journey

Church SquareMy story began when I received an unexpected phone call from a friend, asking me if I would like to join her and her husband on a trip to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I had always wanted to visit Europe when I was younger, but never got around to actually planning a trip there, so being 70 this year, I said “Yes” as I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

Later, I began to worry unnecessarily about the journey to the point that I felt it affected my sub-conscious.  A few days before leaving, I dreamt that I had lost my shoes  and, like all dreams, I soon forgot about it.

From Wellington, NZ, it took over 40 hours to reach our destination and by the time we reached Frankfurt airport, I had endured 2 twelve hour flights in cramped quarters.  My right foot was painful, as it had developed blisters under my toes, and I had discolouration in my limbs due to restricted circulation.

We arrived at Medjugorje late evening.  The next morning, as the weather was beautiful, I was eager to go up Apparition Hill as I felt I needed the exercise to help stimulate circulation in my limbs after such a long journey.  We only had 5 days there, so I didn’t want to miss out going up Apparition Hill if it rained over the next few days.

Teresa on the right with fellow pilgrims

Teresa on the right with fellow pilgrims

It was a long walk along the path that led up to Apparition Hill.  We had to climb over large boulders and sharp stones, but my excitement at being in Europe for the first time made me dismiss the slight pain in my foot.  Along the way, we met a group of 150 Lebanese pilgrims. When they realised that we were on our own, they kindly invited us to join them. A young man and two twin sisters from the group went beyond the call of duty and helped me get past difficult rocky outcrops and other places where the going got tough.

It felt great to get to the top and we celebrated the achievement by admiring the views, taking photos and praying at Our Lady’s statue. I also took the opportunity to place my family’s rosaries at the feet of Our Lady. The Lebanese group left early, so my friend’s husband had the difficult task of helping the two ladies downhill. It was late afternoon when we returned.  My foot got worse, so we stopped at St James Church to take a break.

Inside the church, there was a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary adorned with flowers. We sat in the front pew resting and praying.  As my foot was aching, I took off my sneakers and put on a more comfortable pair of worn-out flats that I carried with me. At 6pm, we left the church to attend the outdoor Mass.

The Twins assist Teresa

The Twins assist Teresa

The Mass was long and when it ended, it was getting dark and on our way back we got lost! By the time we found our accommodation it was nearly 8pm. It was then that I remembered that I had left my sneakers under the bench in the church! With hundreds of people going in and out of the church I feared that my shoes were surely lost for good. We were all extremely tired, and a heated argument erupted!  Thank God, that by His grace we made up before I left the room.

That night in bed, I wept. My mind was in turmoil. My blistered foot was aching and my heart was pounding. I was worried about the condition of my foot. With my shoes lost, I was uncertain if I could manage more walking in a pair of inappropriate flats. I was also sad over the row I had with my friends.

I couldn’t sleep;  I couldn’t pray.  I was in agony for a long while when suddenly I recalled the dream I had about losing my shoes. I didn’t understand the significance of the dream. After a while I felt drowsy, and just before falling asleep, I felt these thoughts inside me, “Pray often, love and help one another in need…”. It might have only been my imagination, but in my semi-conscious state, I was reminded that after placing my family’s rosaries at Our Lady’s feet on Apparition Hill, my shoes would be safe before our Blessed Mother’s statue. In my heart, I pictured what Our Lady would say, “Your shoes are not lost, they are safe with me.”

I slept well for the rest of the night.  The next morning I told my friends that I think my shoes were still in church. With renewed hope we hurried there, but to our utter disappointment the shoes were gone!  I saw a nun working in the distance at the main altar. I signalled to her about my shoes, pointing to my feet. She nodded, and asked me to wait until she finished her work, before returning with a white plastic bag. Inside, to my surprise and relief, were my shoes!  We thanked Our Lady for answering our prayers.

The summit of Cross Mountain

The summit of Cross Mountain

On Friday, we decided to climb up Cross Mountain.  Although my foot was still sore it didn’t bother me at all.  This mountain is the “Mecca” for Medjugorje pilgrims. It does not so much attract pilgrims for its natural beauty, but they climb this steeper, more rugged mountain to make the 14 Stations of the Cross to the summit, and to imitate Jesus as He did on His way to Calvary.  To our astonishment, the three Lebanese who had helped me up Apparition Hill showed up unexpectedly and joined us. My friends referred to them as my “angels” as, like on Apparition Hill, they stayed beside me to help me through the difficult part of our arduous climb.  It took us 3½ hours to reach the summit and about two hours to come down. As I was slow going downhill, it took my helpers and me an extra hour to get down.

At one point half way downhill, we were left alone.  I sat on a rock to rest, taking off my shoes to examine my tired feet. My Lebanese companions were astonished to see a very red and swollen blistered foot, even though oddly I felt no pain at all during the climb.  They could not believe that I was able to climb up this difficult mountain with an injured foot. I myself was also taken aback! I ended up telling them the story of my dream and the lost shoes.  They all began talking excitedly in Lebanese before exclaiming, “We love you Teresa and your story!”  We all felt that Our Lady was with us on this journey and that thought brought tears of joy.  After thanking my kind helpers, we parted and the pain gradually returned as I walked back with my friends to our accommodation. We had walked the whole day that day from 7.30am to about 5pm.

The next day, after attending the 10.30am Mass I went to confession. During confession Father asked me, “What do you want for your penance?”  I said, “I want to say the rosary.”  He replied, “As you please, but also say the Magnificat”.  I took out my son’s rosary and after praying, I kept it back in my handbag.  After lunch, I was tired and headed back to rest. When I awoke, I decided to pack. However, when I emptied the contents of my handbag, I was horrified to discover that the rosary I was praying earlier on had broken.

The beads scattered out of my bag and the rosary lay in a dull strewn mess on the bed.  It looked as if someone, in a rage, had pulled all the beads apart.  Four “Our Father” beads were ripped off the rosary, and the decades of the “Hail Marys” were all broken into several pieces. I was shocked, confused, and a little frightened. How did this happen?  My next thought was to throw away the rosary as I had bought new rosaries for my family. Then I remembered that the broken rosary was my son’s favourite and I decided to get it repaired instead.

Sunday was my last day in Medjugorje and my Lebanese helpers planned to meet me for a final farewell after the English Mass.  However it wasn’t meant to be as confusion arose when this Mass time was cancelled.  Disappointed, I informed my friends, and they replied saying wasn’t it remarkable that on two occasions I had no plans of meeting with anyone and my “angels” turned up unexpectedly;  and on this single occasion, when we planned to meet, things just didn’t work out.

I returned to NZ safely and my foot healed the next day. I will always have fond memories of my trip to Medjugorje and cherish the friendships both old and new that blossomed during my time there. As for my son’s rosary, it now looks brand new, and whenever I see the crystal-like beads glistening brightly in the light, I am reminded of the five precious days I experienced in a strange distance country, climbing mountains  and seeking a closer connection with God.   

Teresa Mitchell emigrated to NZ 25 years ago from Malasia. She married a Chinese Malaysian Gabriel Teoh. Her maiden name came from her adopting Scottish family. Now a NZ citizen she  is retired in Wellington with her family...

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