Mike Zagyva, third from left, climbs Apparition Hill in Medjugorje. (Courtesy Mike Zagyva)
Mike Zagyva, third from left, climbs Apparition Hill in Medjugorje. (Courtesy Mike Zagyva)
" Pray the rosary. Go to Mass. Fast. Read the Bible. Go to confession.
" — Mike Zagyva, explaining what he heard Our Lady of Medjugorje tell him Catholics must do
CANBY — Mike Zagyva’s life experiences must give him a trove of anecdotes.

A teacher and principal for 30 years in Canby’s schools, he also taught at Concordia University and served on the Canby School Board, St. Patrick Parish Council and many other civic and fraternal posts.

Zagyva should be good for war stories as well. He completed a tour of duty in Vietnam with the Marines and, decades later, worked full time in military intelligence with the Oregon Army National Guard in various assignments including Afghanistan.

Zagyva, however, prefers to touch only briefly on his own life.

But he’s happy to talk about an experience bigger than his own life: He feels called to pass along Our Lady of Medjugorje’s words: “Pray the rosary,” Zagyva said from a classroom at St. Patrick in Canby, where he is a longtime parishioner.

“Go to Mass,” he continued. “Fast. Read the Bible. Go to confession.”

Zagyva first traveled to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2001, before pilgrimage there was authorized by the Vatican.

Like millions of other Catholics, Zagyva found himself drawn to the site, nevertheless.

He was intrigued by the story of the teenagers who said they saw the Blessed Mother. In June 1981, days after the 40th anniversary of a close-by horrific mass execution of Serbians in World War II, a 15-year-old and her 16-year-old friend were taking a walk, talking and sharing a smoke.

The 15-year-old, Ivanka Ivankovic, saw the silhouette of a woman bathed in light on a nearby hill. “Look, it’s Our Lady!” she told her friend.

Before long six young people from the area were seeing the apparition of Our Lady — “Gospa” in the Croatian vernacular — and were speaking with her.

The six said they continued to have those visions, some of them daily, some annually.

The Vatican did not hasten to recognize the apparitions, in part because some of what the Blessed Mother allegedly said seems to venture into church politics — specifically whether Franciscan priests in the area should relinquish control of local parishes to diocesan priests, as the area’s bishops have been demanding for nearly a century.

And some of the visionaries became involved in apparition-related ventures that have benefitted them financially.

Still.

While the visionaries are human, believers look to the visceral sense of holiness they have felt at Medjugorje and the messages the visionaries relay, especially the core message of prayer, peace, fasting, and penance.

In 2001, Ivan Dragicevic, one of the visionaries, was about 10 feet away from Zagyva as his group climbed Apparition Hill.

“I’m not anybody special,” Zagyva said. “I don’t have visions.”

It was dark, and he couldn’t find his group.

“His [Dragicevic’s] apparition started, and I felt an unbelievable peace that I’d never felt before,” said Zagyva. “I said, ‘Blessed Mother, is that you?’

“She answered, ‘Yes. Thank you for coming.’

“I asked her three questions,” said Zagyva. “I know my children will be fine. I know my wife will be fine. I thought, ‘God Almighty, am I losing it?’ I was a babbling idiot. ‘What do want me to do?’ I didn’t understand.”

But he did understand.

“I’m supposed to spread the word of Mary,” he said.

Pope Francis authorized pilgrimages to Medjugorje in 2019 in acknowledgement of the “fruits of grace” that pilgrims experienced there.

Father Arturo Romero, pastor of St. Patrick in Canby, attests to that grace. He has now been to Medjugorje three times.

“It’s a place where people worship Jesus and experience the intercession of Our Blessed Mother,” he said. “You see the whole town going to Mass, pilgrims going to confession — some of them for the first time in years. The most important thing is the conversion of the people.”

Father Romero said he first went because of Zagyva. “He was in a spiritual process of conversion,” said the priest. “But let me tell you, I hesitated to go. I had a bad impression of Medjugorje from what I’d heard.

“But I said, ‘Well, I’ll go with Mike.’ He had come to me and said he wanted to do what the Blessed Mother was calling him to do.”

Father Romero said he now sees that too. “I have had the opportunity to hear the confessions of people there. I experienced God’s mercy through the Blessed Mother at that place. I saw people coming for spiritual healing, trusting our Blessed Mother.”

Center for Peace West, which organizes pilgrimages to Medjugorje, notes on its website that Pope Francis’ authorization for Medjugorje pilgrimages came with a caveat. The announcement said care must be taken “to prevent these pilgrimages from being interpreted as authentication of known events, which still require examination by the Church.”

Nonetheless, Zagyva, who is a dutiful Catholic, now has an unshakable belief.

“It was the Blessed Mother,” he said. “She is as real as you or I. That personal experience changed my life, made me more dedicated and devoted.”

For Father Romero, that is the point. “It’s not about the visionaries,” he said. “It’s the Blessed Mother who is bringing people to Medjugorje.”

kristenh@catholicsentinel.org



Learn more

Those of a skeptical bent but who want to read more about Medjugorje may want to find a copy of “Medjugorje and the Supernatural: Science, Mysticism, and Extraordinary Religious Experience” by Daniel Maria Klimek.

Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a research associate professor at The Catholic University of America, describes the book as a “ground-breaking scientific look at the visionary experiences in Medjugorje. The author shows how science and spirituality can work together in illuminating the truth. An important study for anyone trying to understand supernatural experiences.”

The author, Klimek, is a member of the theological commission of the International Marian Association and has taught at the School of Franciscan Studies at St. Bonaventure University.

While the reviews of Klimek’s book, published by Oxford University Press in 2018, are excellent, the book is eye-wateringly expensive.

Zagyva recommends two very affordable books: “Medjugorje: The Message” by Wayne Weible, published in 1989 by Paraclete Press, and “My Heart Will Triumph” by Mirjana Soldo, one of the visionaries, published in 2016 by Catholic Shop.

All books are available on Amazon. Locally, Gifts of the Spirit in Portland (giftsofthespiritpdx.com) carries “Medjugorje: The Message” and “My Heart Will Triumph.”