"So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead."
James 2:17

A Postcard from
Our Lady
WORK 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 translation:

"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 the future.

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 and tear.

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 this week.

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 morning.

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 bit.

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 need?
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