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Apr 27, 2021
Encounter Apr 27, 2021

You may be feeling lost and alone. Take heart, for God knows exactly where you are!

Alone in the shower, I could scream and not be heard. The water pelted the top of my head as anguish wracked my heart. My mind imagined the worst, a tiny coffin and a loss too great to bear. My heart ached, as if squeezed in a vice. It was more than a physical pain but I felt tortured with an oppressive sinking feeling. It pervaded my being. Nothing could alleviate the pain and no-one could comfort me.

Suffering is part of the human condition, unavoidable. A particular cross is fashioned for each of us to carry but I didn’t want this one. I whimpered beneath its weight. “Please God, give me a different cross, not this one. I can’t carry this one. I will take any pain, disease, anything, but not this, not my son. This one is too big. I can’t, please,” I begged. Nausea swept over me. I vomited and then slumped to the floor of the shower, sobbing.

My ‘No’ was futile. Surrender was the only path forward. Spent and exhausted, I prayed, “If you won’t change this cross God, please give me the strength to carry it . . . (the image of a tiny coffin flashed into my mind again) . . .  no matter where it leads. Help me. I cannot do this without You.”

My sweet, little boy had been admitted to the hospital in a serious condition. For eight days I lay next to him in his hospital bed. His spirit was undaunted by his illness but he no longer looked like himself. Bright pink and purple blotches spotted his cheeks, ran across the bridge of his nose and over his arms and legs. The medicine that would offer him a reprieve bloated his face and body. When he slept, which was hardly at all, I sobbed myself to sleep. Prayer, distraction and rocking his frail body were the only contribution I could make in his battle to survive. I read to him and drew cartoons on a magna doodle he had been given before he was hospitalized. It was therapeutic for both of us. Although I had never been able to draw before, in my efforts to give him some small joy, I suddenly found that I could draw with ease.

Finally, he was released from the hospital with a treatment plan, hope and a prayer for remission. Our new normal set in. My mom suggested that I explore my new ability to draw. We took an art class together at the local fine arts studio. The art teacher asked to bring in a picture that moved us. I chose a Christmas card depicting the Blessed Mother holding the Infant Jesus. The art teacher thought because I lacked experience and training, I should draw something simpler, like a flower. I turned my stool to face her, declaring , “My son should be dead but he is alive. Jesus and the Blessed Mother are all that matters to me. They move me.” Her eyes widened. “Oh, I had no idea about your son. I am sorry. Just be sure to watch your values.” I was confused. “What do my morals have to do with my picture,” I asked. “Light and dark values,” she said gently. “Oh, okay,” I said, somewhat embarrassed.

I turned to my easel, closed my eyes and prayed, “Come Holy Spirit, help me draw a picture that will help others love and need Jesus and Mary the way I do right now.” As I drew, I relied on the strength, love and wisdom of Heaven to carry me through. My desire found expression in my art. Each new piece was a prayer and a gift from God.

One morning, as I left the church after Mass, a visiting priest approached me, saying “When I was at your sister’s house, I saw the picture you drew of Christ and the angel in the Garden of Gethsemane during His agony. It moved me deeply. Your sister told me about your son and how you unexpectedly discovered your ability to draw in the midst of your anguish. Your art is truly a blessing born of suffering, a gift.”

“Thank you.” I replied, “It is. Looking back I feel that this artistic gift was a foreshadowing.”

“Why? What do you mean,” he asked.

“Drawing taught me to see everything differently. I discovered that the contrast of the dark and the light in a picture creates depth, richness and beauty. Without the light, the darkness in a painting is an empty abyss. The darkness of suffering is like the darkness in a painting. Without the light of Christ, suffering threatened to swallow me into the depths of despair. When I finally let go and surrendered my pain and my circumstances to Jesus, I fell into His loving arms and submitted to His plan for my life. Then Christ, the Master Artist, used the darkness of my suffering to tenderize my heart making room for faith, compassion, hope and love to grow within me. The light of Christ illuminated the darkness and brought untold blessings from our trials for my son, my marriage and our family.”

“Now I understand. It really is true. Art imitates life and suffering united to Christ brings great blessings. Praise be to God,” he exclaimed.

“Amen,” I agreed.

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By: Rosanne Pappas

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Apr 27, 2021
Encounter Apr 27, 2021

Is anger or resentment the only way to deal with unfaithfulness in your life? Sarah Juszczak unravels the path less trodden, through her story of pain and triumph.

The Meet-Cute

I come from a lovely, Italian family. I was raised and grew up Catholic, but in my teens, although I was going to Mass on Sundays, I wasn’t really living the faith.

When I was sixteen, I joined a youth group and that’s where I met Tomasz. Tom and I were asked to lead a youth weekend together, so we ended up spending a lot of time together trying to organise it. Soon after, we started “seeing each other”. Neither of us were keen to give our relationship a label- there was no intentionality about it.

I was pretty rebellious in my younger years, which Tom hated.  Being Polish, his Catholic faith was important to him, and he had a lot of traditional values. Neither of us really knew our faith or lived it—and because he didn’t really understand the reasons behind his values, it wasn’t hard for me to convince him otherwise. It wasn’t clear where this relationship was headed and it wasn’t the healthiest, but we cared about each other.

Fog in the Glass

After nearly three years together, Tom and I were starting to think about marriage. Tom was finishing up at university and had always dreamed of spending a few months travelling Europe before getting a full-time job. I was very unsure about this, but something in my heart told me that it was important. This time apart would either make or break us.

Just before Tom left for Europe, we joined our youth group at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney. At that point in my life, I was realizing that my faith life needed to change. I couldn’t continue floating along in what was really a ‘practical atheism’. I went to World Youth Day with this question on my heart: “God, if You exist, show yourself to me. I want to know You”.

A couple of talks and experiences really spoke to me that week. As I sat on the train ride home one evening, mulling over the things I had been hearing, I opened the pilgrim’s handbook to a quote from Saint Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”. At that moment, I had a sudden and overwhelming awareness of the presence of God. My centre of gravity shifted. I knew that God was real and nothing would be the same again.

Soon after, Tomasz left for Europe and I suddenly had a lot of time to spare. I listened to talks on the Theology of the Body, read more about the lives of the Saints and attended weekly Holy Hours. The six months that Tom was away were a time of conversion for me, culminating in a one-month, live-in youth leaders formation course. During that time, I realized that if I wanted to continue on this journey with God, I needed to let go of the things that were leading me away from Him, so that I could follow him wholeheartedly.

The Worst Part?

With Tomasz away in Europe, I wondered if things would work out for us when he returned home. He was still caught up in a world that I had decided to leave behind, and our values and priorities were now miles apart.  I kept taking this to prayer, and praying for Tom. I tried to plant some seeds, and when some of his travel plans were derailed I managed to convince him to make a detour to Lourdes, which was a powerful experience for him—but he wasn’t ready to make changes yet.

When he returned from Europe, I knew we had to have an honest conversation. We went out to dinner and I tried to tell him about some of the things that had been happening in my life. I told him things needed to change about our relationship. For the most part he seemed okay with it, until I told him I wanted him to stop using pornography. He barely hesitated before responding with a flat out “No”. This was quite a shock for me. I thought he’d at least be open it to it. He’d later tell me that he was struggling with a porn addiction, although he wasn’t really aware of that at the time.

As the Fog Fades

As we continued to recount our experiences during our time apart, it became clearer to him that I was different, and he became somewhat uneasy. When I revealed that I really wanted to pray the Rosary with my family every day when I was married, he reacted very strongly against that. I would try to challenge him and encourage him. As I described my image of family life and how I hoped to live my life, he would push back. He was no longer the most important thing in my life and he didn’t like it one bit.

I started to feel that I wasn’t supposed to be in this relationship, so, I asked the Lord for an answer. I knew He wanted me to break up with Tom, but it was difficult because we were in so deep. I tried to break it off several times, but for Tom it was all or nothing. I loved him and didn’t want him out of my life completely. I told the Lord that I didn’t have enough strength to end the relationship myself. The only way it could happen is if Tom messed up big time, but I was certain that it wasn’t possible.

Completely Oblivious

Not long after, Tom came to see me. He was clearly very nervous, but he finally worked up the courage to come clean. He’d been cheating on me. I was shattered. How could he have betrayed me, when I trusted him so completely? How could he have lied so convincingly, without even batting an eyelid? How could I have been so oblivious?

This revelation made me question a lot of things I thought I knew. I never thought Tom was capable of being deceptive and I had thought I was a pretty good judge of character. I discovered he was in the habit of lying and had been for some time. He was frighteningly good at it.

Naturally, I threw Tom out straight away. I’ve always had a flair for drama, so I packed up a box of his things that night and called him back to collect them. When I met him outside my house, I completely lost it. I was enraged. To my surprise, he didn’t try to explain or defend himself, he just fell to the ground and wept.

Embraced by God

It’s hard to articulate what happened in that moment. As I saw Tom crying, all anger in me instantly dissolved. I was so moved with pity and love that I knelt down next to him and embraced him. I can only describe that moment as a glimpse of the Heart of the Father. I felt God’s love and mercy flowing through me, and saw that I was no different to Tomasz. In that moment, God gave me a glimpse of His own Heart as He embraced me and forgave me my own infidelity.

Tomasz later described this experience similarly, as if it was God enfolding him within His merciful, loving embrace. I’m not one to let go of things quickly, so the grace to forgive Tomasz so magnanimously definitely came from God, not me.

Connecting the Dots

Although I forgave Tom, we both knew we needed to go our separate ways. Tom would later say that being dumped was one of the best things that ever happened to him. God had been leading Tom on his own journey, and he needed to do this part without me. On that detour to Lourdes, months earlier, he experienced God guiding him. In fact, God guided him straight to the confessional. When he started to put things into the light, he received the grace to eventually be honest with me.

Following our breakup, Tomasz made a conscious effort to turn his life around. He started making regular Holy Hours, going to a priest friend of ours for guidance, and finally got around to listening to the CDs on Theology of the Body that I had been nagging him about since his return from Europe.

Little Did I Know

Tom and I were together three years before we broke up, and were apart for three years before God brought us back together. During that time, we were able to rebuild our friendship. I was completing my studies, enjoying a new career in marketing and communications and discerning my vocation. I was pretty sure I was going to be a religious Sister. Tom was earning a good living as a rehabilitation consultant, but growing increasingly restless. Both of us earnestly wanted to discover God’s will for our lives.

The opportunity to attend WYD 2011 in Madrid came up for each of us on separate pilgrimages. Both of us went with the intention of discovering what God wanted next. I was hoping to meet the religious order I was supposed to join, and Tom was preparing to leave his job, but didn’t know where to go next. By the end of the pilgrimage, Tom had decided to enrol in a Theology course. I was not successful in finding a religious order. Instead, while visiting Poland with my pilgrimage group, I found myself thinking about Tom and how it didn’t seem right to be visiting his homeland without him.

Shortly after returning home, I realized that I really needed to pray about God’s will regarding my relationship with Tom, so I started a novena. The same day, Tom invited me to join him in a fifty-four day Rosary Novena for a particular intention–27 days to pray for the intention and 27 days to give thanks. I agreed, but added on my secret, second intention for our relationship.

Twenty-seven days into that novena, Tom and I were both at a leadership retreat. Tom was helping to run the retreat while I served in the kitchen.  I dropped in to listen to him give a talk and was struck by how much he had grown. He was really becoming a man of God. I thought to myself, “Here is a man I could entrust myself to.” It turned out that he shared the same intention in the Novena. When we resumed dating, I felt total peace because both of us were seeking God’s will – so there was nothing to fear.

To cut a long story short, Tom and I were engaged on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady. Tom told me that he chose that day, not just because he loved Our Lady, but because it pointed to the ultimate end of the marriage he was proposing: Heaven. We were married on Easter Saturday, or the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday and prayed that our marriage could give witness to the transforming power of God’s Mercy. God had taken the mess that we had made of our relationship the first time around and made it into something completely new.

Marriage is a commitment, a vocation, a union. When we made that commitment at the altar to love one another, it was till death do us part. This is where we really learn about love. God doesn’t often ask us to die for our spouse, like Jesus did for us: His Church, but He is asking us to die to ourselves by forgiving each other in little ways every day. Marriage has to be based on loving forgiveness. God forgave us before we even said sorry. He told us to “Love one another as I have loved you.” When we imitate Him and forgive without rancour, then we share real love in a relationship centred on Christ. That relationship will last into eternity.

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By: Sarah Juszczak

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Apr 24, 2021
Encounter Apr 24, 2021

When I regained consciousness, I did not know where I was, what day of the week or how old I was.

That day everything turned very unfamiliar for me.

 

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known; along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;

I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.

These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

(Isaiah 42:16)

Because I was born with an abnormal mass in my brain, I started having seizures when I was a baby. I had become accustomed to dealing with them as a regular part of my life, until a new type of seizure disrupted my routine. One morning, I was enjoying breakfast with my mother when I suddenly lost consciousness. I fell from the chair and experienced a seizure that lasted 10 to 15 minutes.

Lost and Desperate

When I regained consciousness, I recognized my mother, but I did not recognize the house or anything that surrounded me. I did not know where I was, what day of the week it was, or how old I was. In my house, I could not identify my bedroom. Everything seemed very unfamiliar to me. The seizure had caused me to lose a lot of memory. I felt very lost. This continued for about two weeks, and I was becoming desperate.

One night, in the midst of my despair, I looked at the image of the Divine Mercy hanging on my bedroom wall, and I cried out to the Lord. I asked the Lord to strengthen me, to guide me, but, most importantly, to keep me close to Him. Lord, do not allow this situation to separate me from you. Instead, please use it as a tool to pull me closer to you. Jesus, I trust in you.

That same night, I woke around 2 AM and had a vision: I saw myself falling into a deep abyss. Then, suddenly, I saw a hand holding me and keeping me from sinking any further. It was the Lord’s hand. Within seconds, my pain and desperation was turned into peace and joy. From then on, I knew I was in the hands of the Lord, and I felt safe.

Surging Pain

Two weeks after the seizure, I began recovering memories from my childhood, but most of them were painful. I didn’t want to remember that. Instead, I wanted to remember the beautiful and happy moments of my life. At first, I couldn’t understand why I was receiving mostly painful memories. Neurologists and psychologists would have an explanation: the memories with the biggest psychological impact are the ones that are better recorded in the brain. But faith had a different explanation: The Lord wanted me to identify my wounds and heal from them.

One night, as I was reciting my bedtime prayers, I remembered the names and faces of the people who had hurt me deeply. I cried in deep pain, but — to my surprise — I did not feel anger or resentment towards them. Instead, I felt the urge to pray for their repentance and conversion, and I did it. Later, I came to realize that it was the Holy Spirit who prompted me to pray for them because he wanted to heal me. The Lord was healing my wounds.

A Different Answer

I keep a journal, and I began reading it to help me recover some memories. As I read it, I realized that I had attended a Shalom Growth retreat in March, the week prior to the lockdown due to Covid-19. At the retreat, I surrendered to the Lord and asked Him to direct my life. Later, in May, I attended a Healing Mass at my parish, and I asked the Lord to help me to identify my wounds and to heal them.

I never imagined that the Lord would respond in such a way. For me, the seizure, the memory loss and the events that followed are God’s perfect response to my prayers. You might wonder why God responded to my prayer by allowing that seizure and memory loss to occur, and my answer is this: Every moment of suffering is an invitation for us to come closer to God, every difficulty is an invitation for us to trust in Him, and every loss of control is an invitation for us to remember that He is in control and that His plans are better than ours.

A Walk to Remember

This is something I had never experienced before. The Lord certainly took me along a very unfamiliar path, but He was constantly by my side. Even though I forgot many things, He never allowed me to forget His love. The daily Bible readings, reflections, the Divine Mercy image, the dreams and the people praying for me were a constant reminder of His love. I felt Him walking with me along the way, which made this unfamiliar road much smoother for me. For this reason, the blessings were certainly stronger than the suffering.

For about a year, I had been serving the Lord by translating Catholic articles and other documents, and I was able to continue doing that throughout these months. Even though I forgot many things, I did not lose the skills and ability to translate. I am very grateful for that, because it allowed me to work for His kingdom during the time of difficulty. Now, several months later, I have recovered a lot of memory. I am still forgetful at times, and I have become slow at certain things, but I am very grateful to God for all the memories I have recovered and all the blessings I have received during these months.

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If the Lord has taken you also along an unfamiliar path, surrender to His will and ask Him to make the roads smooth before you. Remember that His plans are better than our plans. He did not forsake me, and He will not forsake you either.

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By: Maria Angeles Montoya

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Apr 20, 2021
Encounter Apr 20, 2021

Begin a new today and change your life forever!

All These Years

After nine years of formation, I recently professed final vows as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Following communion during the final vows Mass I was overcome with emotion and deep gratitude. It was as if God gifted me with a greater awareness of all that he had been accomplishing in me over the years. The gifts and graces of each prayer, confession, and reception of the Eucharist became present in that moment. I was amazed by God’s enduring, relentless love. As I knelt in prayer, I thought about how I was one of the unlikeliest candidates to become a spouse of Christ. “But nothing,” I remembered, “is impossible with God.”

I had grown up Baptist in Houston, Texas. When I was eight years old, my father died by suicide after years of struggling with addiction and because my mother was not able to care for us, my brothers and I were adopted by my aunt and uncle. The next ten years provided a consistency and stability I had never known in the first eight years of my life. I went to good schools, read books, played soccer, sang in the Church and school choirs, and got to be a regular kid.

When I was eighteen a pamphlet advertising a Dallas, Texas school for “independent thinkers” brought me to the University of Dallas. The fact it was Catholic totally escaped me.  I spent much of my four college years indulging in sinful behaviors as a way of medicating my old wounds. I had no idea what to do with the pain that come from abandonment. My conscience was being formed at the University of Dallas. I spent a semester in Rome and encountered Pope Saint John Paul II whom I loved. His understanding of God resonated deeply in me. I joined a Latin liturgical choir and became more familiar with the Mass by singing at hundreds of eucharistic liturgies.

Made for Another World

After graduation my life was mostly work during the day and bars or hanging out with friends at night. I eventually sensed something was missing; for “if no worldly experience can satisfy my desires, then probably I was created for more than just this world.” That’s when I started seeking deeper faith. I wanted to be like the godly women who raised me. To my surprise, when it came time to decide where I would go to church, I found myself hungering for the Mass. I hesitated to become Catholic because there were so few Black Americans in the church. But the desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist pulled me into the church.

Becoming Catholic didn’t fix everything. I still indulged in sinful behaviors, but I found myself constantly at confession. I was struggling emotionally and spiritually. Though I felt like I was killing myself spiritually (and physically–my weight was approaching 400 pounds), in my professional life I was reaching heights I had never imagined. During that struggle, I returned to Rome and went to confession and Mass at Saint Peter’s. My confessor’s advice that day to “just begin” changed everything. Within the year I was discerning a religious vocation, and three years after that confession I became a candidate with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

A Love Affair

Eleven years after that confession I said yes to Jesus in a way I did not know was possible. My wounds and shame had me making an all-too-common mistake which C.S. Lewis explains well: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Not only was I too easily pleased, but I made the mistake of seeing my life in light of the struggle instead of in light of the one who loves me.

During my postulancy, a Sister in her seventies who was giving a class on the spiritual life said, “I love my age. I would never want to be younger and I would never want to go back. I have all these years with Jesus. I have all these experiences. I would not want to trade that.” Surely, she had known loss, mistakes, and sin, but mingled in all that was an abiding love of Jesus that made her life a love affair with Jesus and an untradable treasure.

Gift of Tears

On the day of my final vows, my tears mingled a tinge of grief with a great sense of joy and gratitude. Throughout my life, as I experienced loss, pain, struggle and sin, joy remained inevitable because of Christ’s self-sacrificing love made manifest in the Eucharist.  I have come to know that the final word in all our stories is Christ himself. Saint John says, “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands… we saw it and testify to it.”

My tears on that day of my final vows gave witness to the enduring love of Christ, come what may, through all these years.

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By: Sister Josephine Garrett

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Mar 03, 2021
Encounter Mar 03, 2021

Going through financial stress and debts? Here’s a solution for all your problems.

Ever since high school, when I read about the fifteen promises of the Virgin Mary to those who pray the Holy Rosary, I did my best to say a Rosary every day. As a student, I promised myself that I would never charge people for rendering any assistance, especially if it involved using my God-given talents. Words of gratitude from those who benefitted from my help, made me feel more fulfilled than any material form of appreciation.

Unexpected Twist

In undertaking undergraduate and graduate education at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) in Communication Studies and Organizational Communications, I had expected that I would always have enough financial support from my family, because we had a service station selling petroleum products. Of course, it is a booming business in my country, Nigeria, so I never anticipated any lack of funds. But as I entered my final year as an undergraduate, the federal government marked my family’s business premises and other buildings for demolition to expand a major road, promising generous compensation.

As a result of the intended demolition, my family had to shut the business and purchase another site to relocate the service station, expecting that compensation payments would cover the loan and the cost of rebuilding. However, six years hence, no compensation has yet been paid. This affected my education, because I could not pay my fees. Fortunately, my other siblings had already finished university.

Weighing Down

God being so kind, I had some savings, enabling me to pay my bills for the final year of my undergraduate studies. In the expectation that the compensation would soon be paid, I enrolled in a two year Master’s degree, but this never happened, so the family business couldn’t bounce back. Towards the final year of my Master’s studies, I had accumulated about three thousand dollars in debt. Until I had redeemed every penny, they would not allow me to graduate.

The stress of my debt was weighing me down physically, emotionally, and psychologically. I felt unable to ask anyone for help because I couldn’t stand the trauma of being rejected. I took to drinking alcohol and keeping late nights with friends to stave off the constant reminders of my penury which beset me when I was alone and unintoxicated. Some of my friends, who were surprised at the changes in my lifestyle, asked what was going on, but I felt too ashamed to tell them.

When the stress became unbearable, I finally confided in my thesis moderator—Professor Oladejo Faniran, who is also the head of my department, and a Catholic priest. After disclosing my troubles, I asked him to approve my deferment request, so I could forward it to the school registrar for approval. He objected, asking me not to give up. He encouraged me to trust in God, to pray my Rosary, to share the problems with others, and promised to talk to some people on my behalf. That night, instead of intoxicating myself with alcohol as usual, I went outside into the darkness of the night to pray the Holy Rosary. With tears in my eyes, I cried my heart out to God, calling for mercy and help.

The Ultimate Encounter

With just a few weeks to my graduation, I uncharacteristically found the courage to disclose my situation to anyone who cared to know, including friends, classmates and even my social media acquaintances. Even fellow students, who heard about it from others, came to my aid with financial contributions beyond my imagination. To me, the most miraculous aspect of all this was that nobody rejected me. People came to my rescue in ways I never expected. I was able to raise the whole sum, with money to spare.

Previously, I had always relied on my will power for excellence, but when the pressure became unbearable, I gave up and become depressed. But now that I am turning to prayer to help me cope with stress, especially the Rosary when I awake every morning, I am filled with a reassuring confidence that propels me to give of my best and hope for the best.

Even when things don’t turn out the way I had expected and desired, my spirit will still be lifted and at peace. I do not feel complete if any day goes by without saying the Rosary, because I cannot afford to miss out on the promises of Jesus Christ, as revealed through His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. My daily encounter with Him in Her Rosary continues to contribute significantly to building my self-confidence, nurturing my daily interactions and setting me on a path of responsible living.

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By: Innocent Umezuruike Iroaganachi

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Feb 26, 2021
Encounter Feb 26, 2021

Read the extraordinary story of Cintia who was miraculously saved from the clutches of suicide.

Joyful Lips

I grew up in a middle class family in Brazil. My father was a paediatric surgeon who taught the students before he moved into Health Management and my mother is a nurse, so there was plenty of money for every material thing—good schools, a beautiful house, delicious food. My father had two families to support, since it was his second marriage, so he worked a lot and so did my mother. Sometimes I didn’t see her at home for two or three days because of the shifts she was working. We had someone working in our house to help care for us and do the housework, but I really missed my parents.

When I was sixteen-years my father betrayed my mother with another woman and they separated. I felt even more abandoned and frustration boiled up inside me as I felt so helpless. Even though we still had every material thing, we were not happy.

Although my brothers and I had been baptized, we had not been catechized. Occasionally, we would attend Sunday Mass but because we didn’t really understand what was going on, we found it boring. We believed in God, but we didn’t have any relationship with Him. Regular prayer and an understanding of our Catholic faith were missing.

My friend and I were lamenting our lack of good friends and the need to build something better in our lives when my brother’s friend said, “Oh I know where you can meet lots of young people who could be good friends because they follow God. They’re from the Catholic Church. Maybe you could go to Mass or a retreat there.”

My friend and I liked the idea, so we went. It was very different to what I’d experienced before—a lot of young people joyfully sang beautiful music and praised the Lord. Then, I heard a guy praying and saying many things that really applied to my life. All the things I had held inside—the emptiness, the sadness and the thirst for God that I hadn’t understood. I hadn’t realized that it was God that I was looking for.

When I attended a four day retreat in this community, it was the first time that I really experienced God. I spent four days crying a lot as I heard so many basic elements of the faith explained for the first time. For the first time I felt the presence of God, so I started to read the Bible a lot and pray every day in my room alone.

A Difficult Terrain

My parents had always emphasized the importance of gaining a good profession so I could get a good job, have money to buy my own things and be independent. I took all this very seriously, but I also felt so emotionally empty, always looking for something. I didn’t know that God could help us in this way.

Because I felt so frustrated with my family situation, when a guy from school asked me to date, I jumped at the chance to get out of the house. Because no-one had taught me God’s way and I did not have anyone to guide me. I soon found myself enmeshed in a really difficult relationship.

We started to do many things that were not good. He started to control everything in my life. Initially he went to church with me but he used that to manipulate my mind. He would use words he heard in church or the Bible so I would be submissive to him and do everything that he wanted. My formation was so lacking that I didn’t understand how wrong he was and he started to draw me away from the Church.

Because I trusted him, I lost everything. He cut me off from my family and friends and even disrupted my university studies. After four years in this relationship, I was in a really bad way, feeling crushed by all the pressure. Finally, I started to pray again when I was alone. I said to Jesus, “Three years ago I felt real love from you, but I’m so sad now. What has happened?” I begged God to help me with the many things that were troubling me. I surrendered everything to Jesus again and promised Him that I would live His way not my way. I wanted to be free and trusted that if God died for me, He would save me.

I didn’t have the strength to break off the relationship, but my boyfriend got a job in another city twelve hours away. Finally, I was able to break off the relationship because he was too far away to come after me. It was like a miracle because I hadn’t been able to do that for so long.

Lean Over the Edge

However, I still held a lot of pain inside from all I had been through. One day, it all felt too much. I couldn’t support any more of this anguish. Suicidal thoughts tortured me and one day I gave in. I went to the window and prepared to jump out to commit suicide. I wanted to take my life away, but fortunately, I didn’t have the courage to simply jump. I leaned out further and further letting my weight take me over the edge. Suddenly, I felt a big hand in my chest pushing me back. I fell back on the floor and started to cry because I didn’t understand why I was feeling this way.

God had given me a second chance. He saved me and I didn’t understand why. I cried out, “What do you want from me?” Then I felt Him saying, “Turn on the TV.” When I turned on the TV, I saw a priest talking about why we shouldn’t give up on life. Tears welled in my eyes as his words penetrated deeply into my heart. I listened intently for an hour as he ardently preached about the gift of our lives. Over and over again he emphasized,

“Your life is important.” I finally understood why Jesus saved me and I needed His help because I couldn’t do anything alone.

My mother noticed my tears and asked me if I needed help. I finally admitted that I did. When I started therapy, I was able to return to my studies. At the same time I understood that I needed to come back to church. I desperately needed Jesus. Because He saved my life and gave me a second chance, I promised that I would trust in Him and learn to do whatever He wants.

In 2009, I spent a year in the Palavra Viva community in their evangelization school. Within a few months, God revealed my vocation. He spoke really deep in my heart and asked me to be a consecrated woman. I felt confused since I had always hoped to marry because I love children. I started to discern if this call to consecrated life was real. Finally I had people that could help talk to me and guide my vocational discernment. When I understood that my calling did lie in consecrated life, I said “Okay, I will do it”, even though I didn’t fully understand. In 2011, I professed my first commitments of poverty, chastity and obedience. In 2017, I made my definitive commitments and came to Tasmania where I live out my vocation today. I am just a limited human being with many, many sins, but if I trust in Him all will be well.

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By: Cintia Ramos Sozinho Amorim

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Feb 20, 2021
Encounter Feb 20, 2021

Sometimes what begins as a harmless pastime can spiral your life into a dark abyss!

Finding My Destiny

During most of my adolescence, I struggled to trust God and from this lack of trust came my decision to entrust myself and my future into the hands of powers that promised prosperity, love and happiness. I turned to New Age beliefs and soon found myself mesmerized by tarot cards, psychics, horoscopes and magic.

At first, dabbling in these things seemed fun and exciting. Because of the New Age practices, I felt I wasn’t walking blindly anymore—I clearly saw the path of my destiny and received helpful guidance for my life. I believed the cards and psychics knew me. They understood what was going on in my personal life that I had not shared with anyone, and because of this, I believed in them with all my soul. Pretty soon, what started off as a seemingly harmless hobby became an obsession that turned me away from God.

Beyond the Obsession

I was constantly consulting my tarot cards, desperate to find answers to my life’s problems. I worshipped false idols–gods and goddesses- -pleading for help that never came. I started looking into spells that were supposed to help me get out of uncomfortable situations or enhance my life. Thankfully, “looking into” was far as I got, but I came very close to actually casting spells. If it weren’t for guilt I felt as I researched witchcraft, I probably would have gone through with it. Looking back, I believe this was God’s grace keeping me away from something that would have led me on an even darker path.

My obsession impacted my faith drastically. Although I had grown up Catholic, I no longer considered myself Catholic. I felt that I resonated with New Age beliefs more than anything else. I told my friends and family I wasn’t sure if I believed in a God anymore. After all, if God existed, why did I seem so hopeless and lost? Why did God work miracles for others but not for me? I didn’t see myself ever returning to the Catholic faith, not after all the “truth” that I had learned about “enlightenment.”

I thought Christians were the blind ones, the ones who couldn’t see the truth right in front of them, while I could see past the lies and deceit of the world. I didn’t know that I was the blind one who was walking through life alone. I was desperate for guidance and thought New Age beliefs would give me something to hope for.

Come Back to Me

For weeks, my tarot cards were giving me mixed messages. They no longer made any sense, nor did they apply to what I was asking of them. I felt hopeless, frustrated.

My Tarot cards were my only assurance that things would turn out okay, but even they stopped working. It was like everything was spiraling, and I no longer had any control over my life. But that was just it! I was so obsessed with control that when I lost it, I felt weak and vulnerable.

I soon realized that God wants us to be vulnerable so that we can learn to surrender all control and put our complete faith in Him. In the end, it was Jesus who saved me and returned me to the truth that I had been seeking for so long. I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps (Jeremiah 10:23). I began to hear God whispering in my heart that it was time for me to trust Him. I opened the door to the Lord, and He did not hesitate to enter in.

After years of crying out to no one in particular, I received an inspiration from God rather than from my cards. God led me out in nature where I felt most at peace and He placed His loving arms around me. I looked up to the sky and God spoke to me, hidden in the clouds on that fateful afternoon. “Come back to me,” He said, and I was filled with more love than I had ever felt in my life. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

It only took a day for the healing light of the Holy Spirit to brighten the darkness within which had plagued me for several years. This is the beauty of God’s healing powers which illuminate even the dimmest of souls! Still, I knew that I needed to open my heart completely to the Lord so that I could experience His grace. That night, in my bedroom, I poured out everything to God. I told Him I was sorry I had strayed so far away and repented of all the sins I had committed. I told God that from now on, I would trust Him with my life.

I placed my destiny in God’s hands and I gave up New Age beliefs. I fell into the arms of a God who loved me as His child. Once I felt the comfort of resting in God’s merciful arms, I began to see that I could rely on the Catholic faith with all my heart, so I no longer felt the urge to be the sole director of my own destiny. I don’t obsess about answers anymore; now I trust in the Lord’s plan for me. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

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By: Ashley Fernandes

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Feb 09, 2021
Encounter Feb 09, 2021

I was praying for a miracle and then I heard the gentle voice of Mary, my mother.

Into Your Heart

I am an only child, loved and cherished by my parents. My father was a devout Catholic but my mother was a member of the Protestant Church of Scotland. However she was very happy for me to be raised in the Catholic Faith, so I attended a Catholic school where I was fortunate to be taught by the Sisters of Mercy and the Marist Brothers. I remember singing her all the hymns I had learned, but, as a non-Catholic, the hymns to Our Lady were unknown to her.

Amazingly, these became her favorites and she would proudly sing them when she attended May devotions and Marian Processions with my Dad and I. She encouraged me to join “The Children of Mary” and it was her love for the Mother of God which led her to join the Catholic Church many years later. I was also fortunate to have a very devout aunt who fostered my love for Mary. I loved to visit the beautiful church of Our Lady of Victories, next to my school, on my way home and spend a few minutes before the Lady Altar and felt that this was pleasing to Her and that She loved me.

This relationship which was born in my childhood continued into my adult life, so in times of stress or hardship I would turn to Mary, my Mother and always feel Her tenderness, concern and loving help. I had a very difficult marriage, due to my late husband’s addiction to alcohol, so one day I decided to pray a Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.

My parish at that time was run by the Redemptorists who have a particular devotion to Our Lady under that title. A week later my husband stopped drinking! We had 14 months of peaceful sobriety, but unfortunately the addiction returned. Nevertheless, I am so grateful to Mary, because during that time, my youngest daughter, Alice was born—a fourth blessing.

Pentecost without Mary?

In 1989, I experienced the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. My spiritual life was enriched by being part of a Charismatic prayer group and I helped run “Life in the Spirit” seminars for several parishes. Then in 1993, I began to lead a prayer group and we ran these seminars again. I have always been grateful for the new relationship with Jesus that came about as a result of my baptism in the Holy Spirit, but became very aware that there was no mention of Our Blessed Mother because the seminars were based on a programme introduced by the Pentecostal churches. How can we have a Pentecost experience without Mary? When I suggested that this was an omission, my good friend John Vaughan Neil agreed and rewrote his excellent seminar, “Sons and Daughters of the Living God” with prayers to bring participants into a new and deeper relationship with their Heavenly Mother.

In I994, I felt a strong call from Our Lady to visit Medjugorje and although the war was still going on in Bosnia, my friend, Anne and I managed to travel there with a small group from Ireland. This led to a radical change in my spiritual life. We were privileged to be in this holy village for the 10th anniversary of the Consecration of the World to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. So on the 25th of March, we took part in a procession up the Hill of Apparitions (Podbrdo) led by a Czechoslovakian Bishop who was a personal friend of Pope John Paul II.

There, he urged us to consecrate ourselves and our families to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, telling us that this was a place of refuge and safety for the whole world. I did this, feeling happy that I had offered such a lovely prayer. The next day, I was surprised to find that I repeated the same prayer, word for word, and realized that it had been given to me by Our Lady. I have prayed it every day since. I have also prayed the 33 Day Consecration to Mary, as written by St. Louis de Montfort, which I cannot recommend highly enough. To entrust everything into Our Lady’s hands and to Her most powerful intercession is to experience Her maternal loving care and find true peace.

A Gentle Voice

I would need all of Her unfailing support in 2016 when my younger son Ruairi, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was only 33, a fit and healthy father of 2 young children. I immediately called upon Our Lady, asking Her to hold my son in her arms just as She had held Jesus and to sit with him on Her lap, at the foot of the Cross. I also asked Jesus that He would only see Ruairi in the arms of His Mother. Sadly, in spite of the treatment that he received and all the many people who were praying for him, it became obvious in July of 2017 that there was to be no miracle. My son was dying. One Saturday at Mass, I sensed a gentle voice within me saying, “I need your permission.” I tried to ignore it, but it continued, gently yet persistently, “I need your permission”.

I knew it was Our Lady asking me to allow Her to let Ruairi go. I wept so many tears but knew that God loved my son and wanted the best for him, so I gave my permission. How gracious is Our dear Mother to ask. Days later, my darling son passed away, but the knowledge that he was with our Heavenly Mother was a huge consolation for me. Now, 3 years later, I can even thank God for the great privilege He granted—allowing me to share in the sorrows and sufferings of Mary. We have both experienced the agony of losing a son. Ruairi chose St. Maximilian Kolbe as his Confirmation saint. Like this great saint, he loved Our Lady and The Memorare was his favorite prayer. St. Maximilian said, “Never be afraid of loving Mary too much because you can never love her as much as Jesus does”. How true! Put your hand in Hers and let Her lead you to Heaven.

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By: Patricia Dowey

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Nov 02, 2020
Encounter Nov 02, 2020

Last Christmas SEAN BOOTH received an unexpected gift that’s etched in his memory forever!

I have received many blessings in my life, but the most memorable Christmas gift I received in my life involved paying a prostitute.

Tentative Meeting

Around three years ago, I was helping at a homeless centre in Manchester, England, where we shared the Gospel with people who came each Sunday for a meal. One of the men that came was a Muslim man. He was not homeless, but joined us for fellowship. Over the course of a few months, we struck up a close bond, sharing about our respective faiths. Often our conversations would last for hours. As Christmas drew nearer, I explained how special Christmas time was for us as Christians and asked if he would like to join me at Midnight Mass. He gladly accepted the invitation, since he had never been in a Catholic Church, let alone attended a service.

At the same time, I was also volunteering with a city centre, Catholic Church, who worked with a charity providing meals and a bed for homeless asylum seekers. Many of these men were also Muslim. By the grace of God, I was on the rota to sleep over on Christmas Eve. It was all hands to the pump since the priests were busy preparing for the celebration of Mass. As we shared a meal that night, I invited the men to come to Holy Mass and five of them accepted the invitation. I explained I had to pick up a friend but would be back before Mass started.

After picking up my Muslim friend, we drove into the city centre. Along the way, we noticed a distressed lady waving her hands at us. Although I thought she was a prostitute, I turned the car around to make sure she was okay. When I wound the window down, she begged me for a lift to the pharmacy because there were no buses running and it closed at midnight. I agreed and as we drove, she leaned forward from the back seat and asked if I would ‘like some business’. I declined her offer, explaining that we believed in God and were on the way to attend a church service. Then, I invited her to join us.

Need for Money

She apologised if she had offended us and said she could not come because she had to ‘earn some money’ on the streets. We reached the pharmacy in time and she went inside. I felt inspired to follow her inside to ask if I could pray with her. While her prescription was being prepared, she closed her eyes and held out both of her hands. We prayed, standing at the counter, holding hands. It was beautiful. She was so open.

After we came out, I asked her once more to join us, but again she explained that her need for money prevented her from coming. In that moment, I had a thought. I’d brought money for the collection during Mass, but if I spent it bringing her to God’s house, that was still giving it to the Church. Potentially, that could open her heart to encounter Jesus in the Mass, where Heaven meets earth, whilst also keeping her from potential evil. I offered her the money, explaining that it would only be an hour long and, at the very least, would be warmer than standing on the street. She deliberated and eventually agreed. My heart skipped a beat as I thanked God. When we arrived at the church at two minutes to midnight, the asylum seekers were waiting for us on the steps. I was in absolute awe of God. Before we all went inside, I asked everyone if we could pray together. I asked for The Lord’s blessing on each one of these beautiful people, that they would each feel welcome and for the Christ’s peace to rest upon them all. The lady asked if I was a priest and looked surprised when I laughed and said “No.”

Sobbing Like a Baby

As we walked in, if felt so surreal, I thought that I should pinch myself, I felt so blessed. Only God could have arranged this. I stood with tears in my eyes, thanking God, in absolute awe of His goodness, thanking Him for allowing me to be in His presence with my new group of friends. The gratitude and love in my heart exploded. There was nowhere else in the world, I would rather have been.

During reception of Holy Communion, I explained how they could receive a personal blessing from Christ through the priest. The lady said, ‘Look at me. Look at what I am wearing. People will look at me. I can’t go up there’. I told her that if they were truly Christians, they would not judge her, because Jesus exhorted us not to judge, lest we be judged for the sins we are ashamed of. I explained how Jesus came for the sinners, those on the edge of society, the outcasts. He even came to the defence of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He often ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes, assuring her that she was both worthy and welcome.

The Muslim man heard our every word and agreed. I told her that the Lord’s eyes were the only eyes that she needed to be conscious of. She went up, sobbing like a baby. If only every person went for a blessing or Holy Communion aware of their own unworthiness and brokenness like this beautiful child of God, we would have a very different church.

A priest once told me in Confession; ‘The Church is not an exclusive club for saints, but a hospital for sinners’. Saint Paul also reminds us that ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). ALL of us!

As we came back to our seats, she cried again. The asylum seekers and Muslim man also went up to receive Christ’s blessing, through the priest. As I contemplated the reality of Jesus being truly present within me through Holy Communion, I was able to pray with even more love for my companions.

The Greatest Gift

As The Mass concluded, the priest wished everybody a happy Christmas before the final blessing. In typical, reserved Catholic style, there was not much of a response, apart from one person—my lady friend, who replied, “And a very merry Christmas to you too Father.” Instantly, I beamed with a massive smile and my insides lit up. The priest, almost shocked, smiled and thanked her. As people turned to see who had spoken, she said ‘Well, he said it to us!’. Nobody could deny saying Amen to that.

I mentioned in the beginning that this was the most memorable Christmas gift I had received and what an absolute honor, privilege and blessing it was to be with these beautiful human beings that night. Nothing can compare, though, to the very first and greatest gift the whole world received over 2000 years ago, at that very first Christmas—when God Himself took on human flesh to become a helpless baby; when the Light was born into our darkness and the world was changed forever.

This is the true message of Christmas; welcoming Jesus into our lives—for the first time or once again. This is the real giving and receiving. Allowing Him to be born inside us, welcoming Him with joy, love, awe, and wonder. He gives Himself to us every moment of every single day. We must hear and respond like the shepherds, who were invited to come and see. After they encountered Jesus, they went away ‘glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard’ (Luke 2:20). We must also be like the angels, God’s messengers, inviting and leading people to discover Jesus for themselves.

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2). This Christmas, will you witness to this Light, to those in the darkest of places? The lonely, the depressed, the oppressed, the rejected, the dejected, the forgotten, the lost, the abandoned, the sick, the homeless, the prisoners, the elderly, the orphans and the widows? You may not have to look far. These could be members of your own household or family. It could be as simple as remembering them in your prayers. Or will you put yourself out this Christmas to personally share the greatest gift that anybody could ever wish to receive—the gift of Jesus Christ? Make this your most memorable Christmas for other people, as well as yourself.

“We must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35

Let us remind the world that Christmas is about Christ.

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By: Sean Booth

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Nov 02, 2020
Encounter Nov 02, 2020

Have you heard about one of the earliest recorded Eucharistic miracle?

Did you know that the earliest recorded Eucharistic Miracle comes from the Desert Fathers in Egypt, who were among the first Christian monks? One of the monks in the monasteries of Scetis (Roman-governed Egypt) was a hard worker who lacked instruction in the Faith. In his ignorance he would say: ‘The Bread we receive is not really the Body of Christ, but a symbol of that Body.’

Two of the more experienced monks heard his comment and knowing he was a good and pious monk, decided to speak to him. They gently told him: ‘What you are saying contradicts our Faith.’ The uneducated monk replied: ‘Unless you can show me evidence, I will not change my mind.’ The older monks said, ‘We will pray to God about this mystery and we believe God will show us the truth.’

At Mass the following Sunday as the words of consecration were spoken all except the uneducated monk saw a small Child in place of the Host. When the priest raised the Eucharistic Bread to break, the monks saw an angel with a sword pierce the Child. As the priest broke the sacred Host, Blood ran into the chalice. The monks drew near to receive Communion and when the skeptical monk looked down his bread had become a morsel of bloody flesh. Seeing this, he cried out: “Lord the Bread is Your Body and Your Blood is in the chalice.” Immediately the flesh became bread again, and the monk received reverently giving thanks to God.

This account goes back to the first centuries of Christianity and is found in the sayings of the Desert Fathers whose life in the desert followed the example of Saint Antony, Abbot. The miracle is but the first of many experienced by other holy men and women throughout the centuries. They came to believe that every Mass is like Christmas when Christ comes down from Heaven to be on our altars and in our hearts “dwelling among us” under the appearance of bread and wine.

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By: Shalom Tidings

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Nov 02, 2020
Encounter Nov 02, 2020

In a debilitating condition for nearly nine years, JULIANA ELARDE struggled to find meaning in the pain and suffering, until a pilgrimage to Lourdes changed her life!

It was a day like any other when Juliana stepped into the elevator. She felt healthy, strong and independent, but her life was about to change forever. Stabbing pain suddenly radiated across her lower back and darted down her right leg. She collapsed onto the floor in agony. Despite tests and treatments, her condition continued to deteriorate until she was completely debilitated. Doctors could give it a name—Complex Regional Pain Syndrome—but around fifty medical specialists in eight and a half years could offer no effective treatment or pain relief and certainly no hope for a cure. Again and again, she tried complicated, expensive treatments in the hope that something would make a difference, but to no avail.

Excruciating Pain

She felt hopeless and helpless. From the knee down to the toes, her right leg was grossly swollen, turning purple from lack of circulation as gangrene threatened. Her toes were twisted and purple while a painful, open sore oozed for years without healing. The constant load on her arms from the walking frame resulted in carpal tunnel syndrome which sent pain shooting through her wrists, making it hard to do the smallest things for herself. Even taking a shower was excruciatingly painful. The water felt like nails piercing through the leg and the slightest abrasion felt like a knife scraping through the skin.

Every night, Juliana lay awake in such excruciating pain those 2 hours of uneasy dozing was all she could hope for. “I thought my life had ended. My independence had been taken away. I was so angry with God. I blamed him and I could see no meaning in this pain—emotionally, spiritually, physically—I was a complete mess.”

World of Happiness

Even though Juliana had been brought up in a devout Croatian Catholic family who prayed the Rosary every night, she had abandoned the practice of her faith when she was only 19, occasionally turning up for Easter and Christmas Masses. She had wanted to be in charge of her own life, so she didn’t want God in it. But the more she had sought happiness out in the world, the lonelier and more unsettled she had become. She did not understand the concept of offering up her suffering to Jesus, as someone had advised after her malady began. However, when she was given a prayer card, she started praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. “Although I had no feeling in my heart, I felt compelled to do it.”

Since Juliana had no devotion to Mary, she was surprised when a friend suggested that she could also ask Mary to intercede for her. A pilgrimage to Lourdes was even recommended in the hope of receiving a miraculous cure. “If Jesus wants to heal you, He can.” Juliana felt like a hypocrite. How could she ask Mary to help her when she had no devotion to her and even feared Mary? But she decided that she had nothing to lose, so humbly started to ask Mary to pray for her.

Peace Like a River

Not knowing anything about its significance, she attended a special Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday. On that day, she made a General Confession of all the sins she could recall over her whole life. Everything changed spiritually for her from then on. She started praying for an hour, three times a day and fulfilled a promise to spend a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament every Monday from 4 to 5pm. Her seven-year-old daughter loved spending that time there with her.

Once she understood the meaning of her pain and suffering and united them to Our Lord in His Divine Mercy, she was able to surrender her will to God’s Will, and trust in His great plan for her life. She learned to deal with pain and suffering by praising and thanking God every moment of the day. He knew when the perfect time to travel to Lourdes would come, so she was at peace.

With the help of her mother and her daughter, Juliana was finally able to join Harvest Pilgrimages on their journey to Lourdes in 2008 for the 150th anniversary of Our Lady’s visions to Saint Bernadette. Paul, the leader of the group was very helpful to her and she felt encouraged by the strength of his devotion to Our Lady.

Waiting for her turn at the baths, Juliana felt very nervous. Since she had been told that the water was freezing cold, she feared it would cause spasms and increase her pain. Before she stepped into the bath, she gazed at a statue of Mary and requested her to warm up the water. To her delighted surprise, when the attendants gently lowered her into the water, it was completely warm. She was overcome with emotion that this simple prayer had been answered so completely, but more was to come.

When they returned her to the wheelchair, Juliana’s daughter noticed with excitement that the dark purple skin on her toes was fading. They were turning pinker. As they wheeled her out of the cubicle, she felt a sensation like cool, flowing water passing over the top of her foot. She kept asking her mother and daughter if her foot was wet, but it wasn’t. The pain in her wrists had also disappeared.

The next day, she went to the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction in the underground basilica. As she waited in her wheelchair in the front row, gazing at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, she asked Him, “If it’s Your Holy Will, could you please heal me spiritually, as well as physically, so that I can be a mother to my child in the way I’ve always wanted to be.”

When the priest lifted the monstrance in Benediction, she felt a tremendous jolt from her waist down to her toes in both legs. It felt like she was being electrocuted. Such intense pain, on top of her usual agony, made her want to scream, but she gripped the arms of the wheelchair tightly and held the suffering deep inside. As the priest placed Jesus on the altar and began the Divine Praises, the pain started disappearing, from her waist down to her legs, section by section.

Mystical Moment

At that moment, she knew that something had taken place, but what? She was still in pain, but her right leg felt very light. She felt in her heart that Jesus was calling her to go to the Grotto right away, so that she could pray the Rosary in the place where Mary had appeared to Saint Bernadette.

As they prayed the Rosary at the Grotto, she experienced a very special, mystical moment with Our Lady. Although, the sun was shining on her right she saw a tiny light in the sky ahead of her. She had a deep sense that Mary was behind this light and heard Mary’s voice in her heart saying, “Julie don’t worry, everything will be all right. Just trust!”

Immediately Juliana felt deep, tender, motherly love from Mary, and love for Mary spontaneously burst from Juliana’s heart in return. Without judgement or fear, Juliana felt she could really trust Mary. Only then, did the Lord allow the completion of her physical healing.

Her toes, which had been so twisted and mangled, felt like they were being stretched out. She started crying, “My toes, my toes!” When her mother removed her slipper, the toes were wiggling. The pain in her lower back and leg had totally disappeared and she could even touch her leg without wincing, which had been impossible for the last eight and a half years.

“I think I can stand up!” she exclaimed. As Paul and her mother lifted her out of the wheelchair, she rejoiced at being able to stand without any pain at all. “I think I can walk!” she declared, feeling as if she were gliding on a cloud, as she moved toward the beautiful statue marking the spot where Saint Bernadette had seen Our Lady. “Wow! Is this really happening?” she thought, astonished at the lack of the pain which had been her constant companion for eight and a half years. Later, she would realize that the day and hour of her healing was that of her usual Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament.

The open wound on her leg, that had failed to heal for several years, closed up a few days later and healed over permanently. Apart from some initial physiotherapy to strengthen the disused muscles, she has needed no further treatment. She has no more symptoms of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome—a condition that she had been told was incurable—or any after effects. The purple, mangled toes returned to normal in Lourdes and have been perfect ever since. The carpal tunnel syndrome, which healed immediately after the Lourdes bath, has also not returned. Her doctor still refers to her today as his “miracle patient.”

Most importantly, at Lourdes she experienced her Heavenly Mother’s love, the moment of Mary, as she calls it. She cherished that moment and nurtured the maternal affection Mary had given her by lovingly praying the Rosary every day. To keep Our Lady with her always, she invites Mary to join her in all the activities of her daily life. She asks Mary to use her as Mary’s little instrument and as a result, “I’ve never been happier in my whole life.”

Our Lady has interceded for her to grant even the hopes she had felt were too much to ask for. Crucially, Mary brought her a loving husband to share her life with and be a wonderful stepfather— modelling Saint Joseph—to her daughter as she entered her teenage years. Even better, he shares her love for Jesus in His Divine Mercy and for Mary. She met him on the pilgrimage to Lourdes—Paul, who cared for her so tenderly and was present when she was healed. Juliana and Paul are looking forward to their pending 10th anniversary.

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By: Juliana Elarde

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