CAMP 2006: The Heart of a Mother; the Touch of God
by the Volunteers of St. David's Relief Foundation
"Son, they have no more wine." A mother, ever watchful
over her children, asks a favor of her Son. The
favor is not for herself, but to save a young couple
from embarrassment at their wedding banquet. Our
Lord teases His mother, "Woman, what does this concern
of yours have to do with Me?". Of course, it has
everything to do with Him, the Bridegroom of His
creation. Our Lord's eyes soften; they become again
His eyes of a child as He gazes into the eyes of
His mother. The eyes kiss. Our Mother smiles and
turns to the servants, "Do whatever He asks of you".
"Son, these women and children have no home."
Sister Bonifacija Barbaric and her Community of
Mother Krispina (Zajednica majke Krispine) have
been taking care of abused, abandoned and pregnant
women in the Medjugorje area. These women had been
staying at the orphanage of Mother's Village (Majcino
selo) but now they needed a new home for themselves
and their children.
When the call came, Father Svetozar "Svet" Kraljevic
went into action. With the help of a generous donor
from Ireland, a partially-constructed building on
the outskirts of Medjugorje was acquired. The volunteers
of St. David's also received the call to return
to Bosnia-Herzegovina. For two weeks, we would spend
our time working to rehabilitate the women's shelter
known as the KAY Centre. The Lord would call others
to our side to help in this work. This is the story
of the 2006 Work Camp.
On Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit had gathered
us all in one room in the Vienna airport for Mass.
Father Terry Messer and his gray friars from the
Bronx were here with us. Brothers Joachim, Tobias,
Dominic, and David are ready to work and to pray
and to journey with us on this road that takes us
a little closer to God. We had flown from America
in two separate planes, one from New York and the
other from Washington, D.C. I suppose I could make
a joke that this was wise planning. If one plane
goes down, there will be still a team of volunteers
to carry on. Thanks be to God, we all arrive in
Vienna in one piece to partake of Mass and to begin
this year's adventure.
After Mass, we fly to the coastal city of Dubrovnik
in Croatia. We are met by Mr. Jeff Reed, founder
of St. David's Relief Foundation, and by our trusty
guide and interpreter, Miljenka Majic. She is like
a den mother to us, keeping us in line in a strange
country. We board the bus in short order and begin
the trip to Medjugorje. It is mid-afternoon and
a beautiful day. The bus lumbers its way up the
north highway along the Adriatic coast passing the
border checkpoints at Neum. Further north, the bus
turns east and we begin the climb through the mountains.
We pass through the little villages and towns of
Croatia and then through another border crossing
into Bosnia. Arriving in Medjugorje around 6:00
P.M., we are greeted by our hosts, Dragan and Ivanka
Kozina and their children. We will be staying with
them for the next two weeks. The children are all
excited; the crazy Americans have come back. Let's
get the water balloons ready! We are treated to
a great home-cooked meal. I thank God again for
surviving modern air travel; we have reached heaven
for a time. Some of us turn in for the night, but
most of us walk down the street to St. James Church,
the heartbeat of Medjugorje. Our "young tigers",
college-age men that we have on this trip, take
in the local sports scene as the World Cup is in
full swing. The weather is beautiful. When you are
in Medjugorje, time seems to stand still and to
fly simultaneously. Morning is coming and even the
best of us must finally turn in. The transatlantic
crossing has already become a dim memory. Mother,
you called us and we are glad to be here to serve.
In the morning, after breakfast, Mr. Jeff Reed gives
us a brief rundown of what we can expect for the
next two weeks. We will be working with local construction
men on the building site. There is much to do. So
after breakfast, we take a ride down to the KAY
Centre. It is on the northern outskirts of Medjugorje
right next to Regina Pacis, a hospital for crippled
children that is also under construction.
After walking around the premises, we break up into
small groups. Some of us get involved in removing
broken glass and old window frames from the building,
while others dig line trenches for utility lines.
There is also work to be done in preparing trenches
for concrete footings. There is going to be a perimeter
fence here made of stone, but first the foundation
work must be done. At noontime, we walk over to
the nearby orphanage, Mother's Village, where we
have Mass and then a welcome lunchtime meal. We
will also be taking turns keeping Our Lord company
in the chapel during our workday, for without Him
we can do nothing.
In Mother's Village, the small but beautiful Eucharistic
chapel is in a separate room right next to where
we hear daily Mass. I find myself enjoying the quiet
and coolness of this chapel after lunch in the presence
of Our Lord. Sometimes, I enjoy it too much and
must be awakened by other volunteers when they begin
their Holy Hour with Our Lord. I must confess that
in Our Lord's presence, I feel at peace, safe and
secure, oblivious to the fact that I am in a strange
country, many miles away from home. But with Our
Lord, you are always home no matter where you are.
During the day, Sister Bonifacija Slavko comes by
with her Franciscan sisters. She heads up the Community
of Mother Krispina. What I noticed first about Sister
is her eyes, how bright and joyous they are. Through
our interpreter, she says a few kind words to us,
commending us for our work. We are glad to do it.
We have not done much yet, but working for such
good people is its own reward. We complete the first
day without serious mishap and it is time to go
home. Some of us take the van while the rest of
us ("the walkers") enjoy a leisurely 20-minute walk
back to Dragan's place.
The people here do great work with their gardens.
One feels so safe and welcome in Medjugorje that
it is indeed a taste of Heaven. For the villagers
to be so gracious to us all these years is a sign
enough for me that Our Lady has been at work here
softening their hearts. And so, we walkers enjoy
a few laughs strolling back to our lodgings, deftly
dodging the local cabs and meeting the curious eyes
of the locals with a "Dobar Dan!" (Good afternoon!).
The rest of the week begins to fly by quickly. Near
Mother's Village, there is a community for young
men in need that was started by Father Slavko. We
are invited to hear the boys of the Community of
the Merciful Father (Milosrdni otac) tell their
stories of how they were able to overcome their
drug and alcohol addiction with the help of God
and His Holy Mother. It is beyond me how such fine
young men can get trapped in the world of such addiction,
but God does not forget them nor write them off.
He is always the Father waiting for the return of
His Prodigal sons and daughters.
We have rain on Wednesday and the soft ground of
the construction site is turned into mush, so we
are turned loose on the village for the day to pray,
to explore, to shop, and to bargain. We bargain
with God to send us good weather and He answers
our prayers for the remainder of the week. In the
evenings, after work, we take tours of different
parts of the village. Many of us have been here
before so we act as "mini-guides" to the "first-timers".
When Friday evening comes around, we have done well
for the week. We only have one casualty, a young
man from west Texas named Anthony who hurt his leg
slipping on a stone. We get him a wheel chair so
he is mobile. Now, he can visit with the pretty
girls in the shops while the rest of us work and
pray for his quick recovery!
During the week, our young tigers receive a postcard
from Our Lady. The card was found on the top floor
of the nearby children's hospital, "Regina Pacis".
The hospital is still under construction and will
serve the crippled children of Bosnia-Herzegovina
when it is completed.
On the back of the card, is Our Lady's message
of October 25, 2002 in Italian. Here is the English
"Dear children! Also today I call you to prayer.
Little children, believe that by simple prayer miracles
can be worked. Through your prayer you open your
heart to God and He works miracles in your life.
By looking at the fruits, your heart fills with
joy and gratitude to God for everything He does
in your life and, through you, also to others. Pray
and believe little children, God gives you graces
and you do not see them. Pray and you will see them.
May your day be filled with prayer and thanksgiving
for everything that God gives you. Thank you for
having responded to my call."
When I see this card, I see Our Lady hovering over
our own young people. It gives me great hope for
On Saturday, we take a break from work and head
out to the coast of Croatia to visit the Marian
Shrine of Vepric in Makarska. It is a shrine dedicated
to Our Lady of Lourdes. The natural rock formation
forms a grotto where Mass is celebrated on an altar.
Above the altar is a statue of Our Lady with the
words, "I am the Immaculate Conception". Father
Terry celebrates Mass for us and then we head to
the beach to enjoy a little fun in the sun. By evening,
we are back in Medjugorje, no worse for the wear
On Sunday, we have the Mass in English in company
with pilgrims who have come from all the corners
of the world: Ireland; England; Scotland; Wales;
Canada; Australia; and of course, the good old USA.
The Mass in St. James is concelebrated with our
Father Terry as the main celebrant. It is quite
a lively Mass with the Catholics singing as if they
were Protestants back in America, loud and strong.
For the rest of the day, we will wander about the
village. Some do a little shopping, while others
pray, rest, and reflect on the week that has passed
so quickly and the week that is to come.
On Monday morning, we are back at it. One crew is
working with John of Dublin to build a stone fence
that will encompass the grounds. The stone wall
will be like the encompassing arms of Our Blessed
Mother, protecting the inhabitants within. And I
think of Our Lady's words to Saint Juan Diego, "Are
you not here in the crossing of my arms? Is there
anything more that you need?"
Another crew is working on hammering out some of
the walls so that large windows can be installed
to let the light of Christ in. Cleaning crews are
also at work as there is plenty of dust here. We
all have our tasks to do and the weather is good
Tuesday, June 13th, we work only a half day as it
is the Feast of St. Anthony. This feast is celebrated
with great style here and tonight we will have roasted
pork for our meal. Wednesday now comes as our last
workday. We complete our work as best as we can
and turn the job over to the local construction
crew. In the evening, we leave the job site slowly.
It has been a short blast but now we have to prepare
ourselves for our climb up Mt. Krisevac tomorrow
Thursday, June 15th, is a special day in the village
as it is the Feast of Corpus Christi. In the morning
after Mass, we climb Mt. Krisevac, Cross Mountain.
At the Eighth Station Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
There is a small group of Italian mothers quietly
praying the Rosary, perhaps for their children.
Calvary is here again with us on this climb. We
pass quietly these women who could have been the
women of Jerusalem in another time. The completion
of our climb takes us by the marker where Father
Slavko Barbaric died on November 24th, 2000. His
quick wit and bright smile are captured here. He
is buried in Medjugorje and will always be a part
of this village until the end of time.
In the evening after the 7:00 P.M. Mass, there is
a Eucharistic Procession. For a short time, the
shops close and candles are put in the window. The
procession comes down the stairs of St. James Church
and continues down the main street. After about
a mile, it passes our lodgings and turns right for
about another mile. Then, the procession turns right
again and begins its way back to the Church. Some
of us see the sun do a little dance at this time,
nothing major, just Our Lord teasing us a little
As our work pilgrimage comes to a close, there is
much to ponder. What have we accomplished during
our time here? One of our volunteers, Debbie, put
it this way: "Being a mother, I know the love I
felt working on this project. Mothers are life givers
and I feel we gave life to this empty shell of a
building that will soon become a house full of joyful
voices, a peaceful place to give life, to heal,
and to grow closer to God".
And yourself? Do you need peace in your life? Do
you need to heal, to forgive, to be forgiven and
to grow closer to God? Then, remember Our Lady's
words, "Do whatever He tells you", and you just
might find yourself in Bosnia-Herzegovina with us,
doing God's will. There is healing within the will
of God and there is peace. And where Our Lord is,
there is Our Lady. Is there anything more that you