By Diane Freeby
NOTRE DAME — Many priests within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend say their own vocations have been strengthened by graces received in Medjugorje. A Vatican commission is studying the alleged Marian apparitions at Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. At least two of the newest seminarians credit their experiences of the Blessed Mother in Medjugorje with helping them discern and prepare for the priesthood.
Seminarian Daniel Davis recently shared his story at the 22nd National Conference on Medjugorje, held in May at the University of Notre Dame. Parishioners of St. Therese in Fort Wayne, Davis and his family have attended the conference for many years, but 2008 was especially meaningful. It was at Mass during the conference that Davis says he discerned his call to the seminary. As an act of thanksgiving, Davis went to Medjugorje the following year and was accepted into the seminary a few months later.
“Medjugorje heightened my devotion to Our Lady, my devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist and prepared me for life in the seminary,” recalls Davis. “While I was there, Our Lady showed me many things. She definitely helped me to prepare for spiritual life in the seminary. It excited my desire to have a deep spiritual life.”
Another area man, Marian High School graduate Robert Garrow, will enter the seminary this month. He was also in Medjugorje last summer with a group including Father Daryl Rybicki, pastor of Corpus Christi Church in South Bend.
Father Rybicki, who devotes time every year to help at the Notre Dame conference, has been to Medjugorje several times, only after entering the priesthood. Father Rybicki says going to Medjugorje “reenergizes” him, especially after hearing confessions there, where lines are long and hearts and lives are often changed.
“The reality is, I think you come back having had that experience of seeing God at work in people’s lives,” shares Father Rybicki. “I think for a priest, that’s a refreshing kind of thing because it gives some credibility to the vocation and to the work of Christ and His Church.”
While people can come back to the sacraments anywhere, Father Rybicki says there is something special about what’s happening in Medjugorje.
“People obviously are experiencing some sort of change in their life,” says Father Rybicki. “When you see it happen in such great numbers, that to me is one of the fruits. Hopefully people can take that experience and take the messages and make them part of their life from that point forward.”
Father Rybicki was in charge of all liturgical elements for the conference weekend, including both Masses, the candlelight rosary procession to the grotto, the living rosary and Saturday evening’s Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction.
Father Mark Gurtner, pastor of St. Anthony de Padua in South Bend and adjunct judicial vicar of the diocesan Marriage Tribunal, delivered a talk Saturday morning about the Holy Mass. He explained the different elements that go into every Eucharistic celebration.
Father Gurtner says the pilgrimage he made to Medjugorje as a teenager helped him learn to surrender his life completely to God. He talked about having his heart set on going to the University of Notre Dame and having his entire life wrapped up in that possibility. While he was in Medjugorje, his parents received the letter saying he was put on the Notre Dame waiting list. Father Gurtner said that might have devastated him, but upon hearing the news when he returned from Medjugorje, the 18-year-old instead had great peace. He attributes that to Our Lady’s presence. A few years later, at Indiana University, he felt the call to the priesthood and went on to be ordained, earning a canon law degree from Catholic University.
The three-day conference wrapped up with Mass on Pentecost Sunday. The celebrant, Father David Simonetti, was ordained five years ago to the day by Chicago’s Cardinal Francis E. George. Father Simonetti has been to Medjugorje three times and is the spiritual director of the Pope John Paul Eucharistic Adoration Association in Chicago. During Sunday’s Mass, Father Simonetti knelt before the statue of Our Lady and rededicated his vocation to Our Lady at Medjugorje, to whom he credits his priestly vocation.
As a young seminarian, Davis says Medjugorje helps him remain focused on Jesus.
“Our Lady has many times emphasized that she is not the center of attention; Jesus is the center of attention,” says Davis. “The Eucharistic devotion there is so inspiring. It inspired me to have a great devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Honestly, without the Eucharist, Medjugorje would not exist.”
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