'You don't need a wifi password to climb Apparition Hill'
More than 20 students from Holy Trinity College, Cookstown and St Patrick's Academy, Dungannon made the pilgrimage to Medjugorje this term. Here, they reflect on the experience and how their faith has been strengthened
IT has been said that when Our Lady wants you to go to Medjugorje she will call you.
She most certainly called each and every member of our group. It has also been said that obstacles will be placed in the way as you endeavour to make the pilgrimage, and this was most certainly the case for our group, both going and returning.
All of that aside, our pilgrimage to this beautiful place, which most of us had to hunt down in an atlas prior to travel, was, for all, transformative.
The peace of Medjugorje is very hard to express in words. It is something that you feel and, for some of us, we felt it immediately.
Within hours of arrival, many felt like they did not want to leave - and that was before we even saw Apparition Hill.
Daily Mass in English was at 10am and receiving the Eucharist was grace-filled for many.
It was wonderful to be part of a truly universal congregation, where everyone sang at the top of their voices.
We had the honour of leading the liturgy of the Word and preparing the Prayers of the Faithful for one of the Masses.
All of our students wanted to participate, finding courage and strength from deep within, becoming the voice of the youth of Ireland whilst there.
Our spiritual director, Deacon John Taaffe, organised for us to meet Patrick and Nancy Latta in their 'castle', the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Retreat House which they have built in Medjugorje, while we were there.
As we listened to their conversion testimonies, you could not fail to be moved.
The parents in our group were struck by handing our children over to Our Lady, consecrating them to her.
In an impromptu moment, Nancy spoke to us about how Ireland needed each and every one of us.
She spoke passionately about the consecrated hands of our priests and how their hands were Jesus on earth. She was truly on fire with the holy Spirit and touched us all deeply.
Our first ascent of Apparition Hill took place on a warm afternoon.
"A rocky hill, full of many untold stories," is how one of our students described it.
As we climbed the hill we paused at each bronze plaque, which marked each of the joyful mysteries of the Rosary.
We reflected on these mysteries together, singing as we climbed.
Indeed, much of our week was marked by spontaneous singing.
It is difficult to find the words to describe the feeling of reaching the top of the hill.
Many remarked on a peace like no other, of wanting to stay there forever.
Grace-filled tears flowed for many. It made such an impact that we returned to climb the hill in the dark, with most of us choosing to climb barefoot, on two more occasions.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is very important in Medjugorje. Queues form in late afternoon as pilgrims fill the area to the left of the church of St James the Apostle.
Our Lady has said to some of the visionaries that if we knew how much she loved us, we would cry tears of joy. Many of us, both young and old, cried these tears throughout the week, and particularly around the confessionals.
The opportunity to feel Jesus' forgiveness for the times we have failed to follow Him is an important part of the pilgrimage experience.
The peace of Medjugorje is very hard to express in words. It is something that you feel and, for some of us, we felt it immediately
We visited the Cenacolo community, founded by Mother Elvira, and listened to powerful testimonies from two young men who, prior to joining the community, had literally reached the end of their chosen roads.
Whilst there, we bumped into a pilgrimage group from St Brigid's College in Derry.
Their spiritual guides were the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, who have a community in Derry.
Our students were immediately drawn to these men and when we met them again at Kravica waterfalls more chats were had.
Since returning home many of us have been following their Living Disciples podcasts on Soundcloud.
When the group is asked to describe the experience of Medjugorje, the same words recur: fun, faith and laughter.
We had such a good time together, be it sitting in the rain at the Blue Cross on our first evening together, where we shared our private intentions with one another; swimming or paddling in the gorgeous Adriatic after Mass in the Lourdes grotto near Makarska; hiking up and down Cross mountain, knowing we were very late for dinner; being part of thousands of Catholic faithful at evening adoration, where you could hear a pin drop; or simply sitting on the bus about to go home, not really wanting to.
As we reflect on our time in Medjugorje, as we return to our daily lives, some of us know why we were called by Our Lady.
For many it has been an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Jesus, through his mother. For others a call to vocations was affirmed.
Our Rosaries are alive in both of our schools in the hope of continuing to nurture the seeds that have been planted on pilgrimage.
In the words of one of our pilgrims: "I have strengthened my faith and found peace with myself.
"I realised I have nothing to worry about in my life. You do not need a wifi password to climb Apparition Hill."