That moment I felt like the Blessed Mother had enveloped me in Her cloak.
In 1947, I was born in a small town in Italy, near Casalbordino, the Apparition site of “Our Lady of Miracles.” Since my birthday was on the day between the feast of “Our Lady of Miracles” and the feast of Saint Antony, my parents called me Maria Antonia.
We migrated to Canada when I was 7 years old. Although my parents were not avid church-goers they made sure that we followed the Catholic faith, but I did not pay much attention to the importance and significance of Our Lady until my parents visited Medjugorje in 1983. My mom was very moved by the experience, so she came home and told us about what was going on there. Among the rosaries, medals, rings and trinkets that she brought back was a small post card with a picture of Our Lady surrounded by the six visionaries. Every time I entered her home, I saw this image on a little shelf in the corner of her kitchen, and it touched me. I could feel Our Lady looking into my heart.
In 1995, while I was watching a video about the happenings in Medjugorje, I felt Our Lady asking me: “When are you coming? I’m your mother and I’m waiting for you.” The next year, we heard of a pilgrimage from Calgary to Medjugorje and I felt compelled to enrol myself. Because of the recent war in Bosnia, many people withdrew from the pilgrimage for fear of what might happen, but I was determined to go.
At Medjugorje, I felt a deep confirmation that Our Lady was indeed calling me. One day, I met Father Slavko Barbaric, who looked at me and said “When you go home, I would like you to start a prayer group and the prayers have to be directed at helping the family because the family is in crisis today.” After we got back, we started the Hour of Prayer at St. Bonaventure. Every year, we have more and more people joining us for prayer.
I visited Medjugorje seriously committed to make some drastic changes. I knew that I needed a strong conversion of heart, so I sought Our Lady’s help to understand the Scripture better, to grow in my prayer life and to experience joy and love in my heart as I prayed the Rosary. All of these blessings, and more, were granted.
At that time, I thought it was just “my” pilgrimage because I didn’t realize that Our Lady was inviting me to bring more people to Her. Father Slavko had insisted that I bring my husband, so in 1998, we went together. I felt called to bring more people to Our Lady, but asked Our Lady for a sign to confirm that. Soon after, two ladies approached me, seeking my help to go to Medjugorje. Every year since, I have a wonderful heart to heart to talk with Our Lady about whether I should go again. Every time, I receive the answer that there are more people who need to receive graces and blessings from the Lord with the help of Our Blessed Mother, who is full of grace…
Our lives haven’t been perfect and we have had moments that test our faith too. Eight years ago, we received news that shocked us. My daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia. We immediately turned to the Lord, but being in such a panic, it was hard to focus on God and what He can do for us. One particular day, we went through a very difficult time. A clot had developed at the port, so medicines could not be administered and the doctors had to figure out how to treat her.
As usual, we took our concerns into the Lord’s Presence at the Adoration Chapel to receive His comfort. I looked at the Lord and asked Him why was this happening to our daughter and “Why us?” Very clearly, I heard Him reply “Why not you?” I realized that He went through such terrible suffering and He was accompanying us in our suffering, so that we could grow in His love. At that moment, I felt that the Blessed Mother enveloped me in her cloak, holding me close as she had held her Son after His birth and after His death.
When we returned to the hospital, our daughter was surrounded by a team of people resolving the problems which were hindering her treatment I felt reassured that our prayers had been heard. Our Lord and Our Lady were there. All we needed to do was trust. Everything was going to be okay. They would always be in our life, taking care of us. Last year, our daughter celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary. God has been so good to us.
Our Lady at Medjugorje gave us 5 stones to build the foundation of our faith:
1. To pray every day, especially the Rosary.
2. Read Scripture every day, to receive the Word of God.
3. To participate in Holy Mass as often as possible, if not every day, at least on Sundays.
4. To receive the Lord’s healing and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, at least once a month without fail.
5. To fast on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays.
This is not easy, especially if you are new to it. It takes a long time to build these habits and the endurance to follow them, but Our Lady kept encouraging us. What surprised me most was that when we were most consistent in praying the Rosary, we were able to practise the other stones more easily. The Rosary helped us to have the confidence to put them into our daily lives and develop them into a routine which we have grown to love and depend upon. She has become a daily presence in our lives.
Many of her messages say to us, I cannot achieve God’s plan without you. I need you. Give me your problems and pray for my intentions which are those of all the people who are praying the Rosary. So when we pray the Rosary for Mary’s intentions we feel connected to everyone. We have seen many amazing changes as the people who come on the pilgrimages return and get involved in so many vital ministries. Medjugorje has been a school of love for me. She is so ‘full of grace’ that when we join her in prayer, we become open to all the graces and blessings which Our Lord has to offer.
As I sat in Mass listening to the priest proclaim the Gospel according to Luke (6:12-19), I heard the words with fresh ears and understood them in a way I never had before. The message of the Gospel: Jesus chose Twelve. Twelve! Out of all of His followers, he chose only Twelve. What did it take to become one of the Twelve? I wondered what Jesus prayed on the mountain the night before. Was the decision difficult to make or was the deliberation brief because the soon to be Twelve Apostles were an obvious choice? What criteria did Jesus use to make his decision? Then, all of a sudden, my heart started to pound and I saw RED. A bit of panic came over me as I placed myself inside the Gospel story. Imagining myself among the other disciples, standing there quietly waiting for the names of the chosen Twelve to escape the lips of the Son of God, I looked around at those beside me. Suddenly, I was struck by the gravity of every decision I had ever made, each action I had taken, and every word I had spoken. Jesus was choosing His core group of followers—the ones who would carry out His works. My mind ferociously scanned over my own life and I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Am I living in such a way that Jesus would have chosen me? Would I have made the cut?” Certainly, there were many disciples, not chosen to number in the Twelve Apostles, who accomplished incredible works in the name of the Lord. Good works were not exclusive to the Twelve, but we know the Apostles did play a very intimate, integral role as Jesus’ closest friends and followers. To have been selected was an unparalleled honor. Additionally, Jesus gave us a glimpse of His incredible love and mercy by including Judas Iscariot among the Twelve. Even though Judas would later betray Jesus I don’t think we can argue the Twelve were a very special, handpicked group of followers. What would it have been like to be one of the Twelve? Maybe the Apostles were grateful and excited, but also nervous about the path the Lord had chosen for them. Did the other disciples react in disappointment because they were not chosen among the Twelve, or was there a feeling of relief because the road laid out before Christ’s Apostles would certainly be difficult? Just to be chosen was a sacrifice. Becoming an Apostle would prove to be a heavy cross to carry. Being chosen was just the beginning. The Christian life isn’t easy, but the reward is divine. Do you live your life to be “chosen” or do you live your life to simply get by?
Addicted, sleepless, anxious and feeling lost? Take heart, there is hope. “There is hope.” These were the last words my father spoke to me before he died at the age of 77. These words would be spoken to me twice more and they would change my life. They would take me from a life of addiction to being a disciple of Jesus running a charity for recovering addicts, where the good news of the Gospel takes shape as an everyday, tangible existence, giving hope to all who s Let me start at the beginning. I was born the youngest of 6 children in what you would consider a normal middle-class Catholic family where I received the foundations of the Catholic faith. But deek the truth. espite this solid grounding in The Church, I struggled with discipline, understanding, and prayer. I attended Mass, but my faith was weak. By the time I reached adolescence, I was falling away rapidly, and by the time I went to college, all I wanted to do was play live music in a rock band. I dreamed of being a guitar hero while enjoying the party life. I achieved recognition, at least locally, but to function I always needed an intoxicating substance inside me. My substance of choice became alcohol, though later I would become dependent on many substances. Years went by and I drank more and more—whether happy or sad, angry or peaceful, I drank. Going out or staying in, gigging or getting up to work the next day, made no difference. I was alcohol dependent, but I didn’t realise or admit it for many years. After my father died, my anxiety rose to new levels. I was abusing prescribed medications from anxiety blockers, to sleeping tablets, to pain killers and anti-depressants. My life was out of control. I was hospitalized several times over several years, and once spent a week being medically detoxed from alcohol. That’s when I heard those words the second time. I awoke in my hospital bed delirious and babbling, but a nurse was holding my hand and saying, “Mark, it’s ok, there is hope.” Fast forward a few years, and I’m in the very same hospital, only this time I’m sectioned on a ward after admitting to suicidal thoughts. My body was a toxic mix of drugs, pain killers and alcohol. I became aware of the patient in the bed next to me who was talking to his partner on the phone, and everything he said irritated me. That conversation became entangled with voices I heard in my own head which for years had condemned me. Inexplicably, I suddenly felt the urge to kill the man in the bed beside me. I lay there till midnight thinking that, without alcohol or sleeping tablets, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I got insanely angry. The urge to do violence to the man beside me grew. I imagined myself chocking him. Did I have it in me to strangle someone? Maybe I did. I thought about putting a pillow over his head and snuffing his breath away. I imagined hitting him as hard as possible and knocking him out cold. Then, I caught myself. “Wait, had I just murdered an innocent man in a hospital bed? Not once, not twice but three times. Who was I? What had I become? I had killed a man in my heart three times!” I turned my anger toward God. “I believe in You, and now You need to help me,” I cried. But I also blamed him. “Why did You create me just to torment me and send me to hell?” I realised I was weak and had no fight left in me. Because I had used up all my faith in mankind, I needed something or someone to cling to. I had to hope. I had tried dozens of times to get clean on my own with always the same outcome. Now I did something I hadn’t done in many years. Though I had slid far from God and my childhood faith, I remembered my prayers and I began to pray. “I surrender to You, Jesus. Save me. I know You are My God and Saviour, help me!” I kept praying. I began to quote Scripture: “Ask and you shall receive.” I said, “Lord Jesus these are Your words. I’m quoting You, so You must listen. These are not my words but Yours,” I knew I was quoting The Bible and I knew it was true, but I had no idea what passage it was. I know now I was quoting Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. My father’s last words to me had been ‘There is hope’ and here I was quoting Matthew 7:7. Around 7:00 am, I awoke to the sound of a nurse asking me if I wanted a cup of tea. I had slept for seven hours! Most people know that a hospital is no place to get a good night’s sleep, but there I was withdrawing from alcohol, sleeping tablets, and all sorts of other substances and I had just gotten the best night’s sleep in years. As the nurse was offering me tea and toast, I heard another voice mutter, “There is hope.” Was it the nurse or was it God talking to me? I decided Jesus had answered my prayers: I had slept for hours and again I was hearing, “There is hope.” But more importantly, something had changed, something profound. My anxiety was gone and I had a faint feeling of happiness and joy. I wasn’t sure what caused it, but the demons that had tormented me for many years were gone. This was the beginning of the miracle of my conversion, the first of many. I lay there in total peace and thanked Jesus. My journey with Jesus Christ began that day and I continue to walk the road on which he leads me.
Discover a powerful prayer that takes just 7 minutes, and opens the door of Mercy It was a warm, balmy day. The moss hanging from the massive water oak trees in our front yard blew sideways dusting the grass with debris. I had just checked the mailbox when Lia, one of my best friends, pulled into the driveway. She hurried over and I could see on her face that she was extremely upset. “My mom went into the hospital two nights ago. Her cancer cells have spread from her lungs to her brain,” Lia said. Lia’s beautiful brown eyes shimmered with tears that streamed down her cheeks. Seeing her was heartbreaking. I took her hand. “Can I go with you to see her,” I asked. “Yes, I’m headed there this afternoon,” she said. “Okay, I’ll meet you there,” I said. When I walked into the hospital room, Lia was at her mom’s bedside. Her mom looked up at me, her face twisted in pain. I hope it’s okay that I came to see you today,” I said. “Of course. It’s nice to see you again,” she said. “Have you heard from that priest friend of yours,” she asked, her voice weak but kind. “Yes, we speak off and on” I said. “I’m so glad I got to see him that day,” she said. Lia and I had been part of a Rosary group that met every week during the time her mom was first diagnosed. A priest, well known for his spiritual gifts, had come to one of our meetings and we were eager for him to join us in prayer and hear our confessions. Lia’s mom was raised Catholic, but when she married, she decided to assimilate into her husband’s family and adopt his Greek Orthodox faith. However, over the years, she felt less and less at home in either faith community. Worried that her mom had been away from The Church and sacraments for so many years, Lia invited her to our Rosary group so she could meet our special priest. Not till the priest was preparing to leave did Lia’s mom finally walk through the back door. Lia shot me a relieved smile. Her mom and the priest talked alone for about twenty minutes. Later, Lia called to tell me her mom couldn’t say enough about how kind and loving the priest had been to her. She told Lia that after they talked, he had heard her confession, and she had been filled with peace. Now, lying in the hospital bed, she no longer looked like herself. The color of her skin and the look in her eye revealed the ravages of a long progressive disease. “I was wondering if you would like to pray together,” I asked. “There is special prayer called the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It is a powerful prayer Jesus gave to a nun named Sister Faustina to spread His mercy throughout the world. It takes about seven minutes and one of the promises of the prayer is that those who say it will enter through the door of mercy rather than judgment. I pray it often,” I said. Lia’s mom looked up at me with one eyebrow raised. “How can that be true,” she asked. “What do you mean?” I said. “Are you telling me that if a hardened criminal prays that prayer minutes before he dies, he enters through the door of mercy rather than judgment? That doesn’t seem right,” she said. “Well, if a hardened criminal actually takes the time to pray it and pray it sincerely, then there must be hope in him, despite all he has done. Who is to say if and when the heart opens to God? I believe that where there is life, there is hope.” She stared at me intently. I continued. “If your son were a hardened criminal, wouldn’t you love him even though you hated his crimes? Wouldn’t you always hope for his change of heart because of the great love you have for him?” “Yes,” she said weakly. “God loves us much more than we could ever love our children and He is always ready to enter any heart with His mercy. He waits for those moments patiently and with great desire because He loves us so much.” She nodded. “That makes sense. Yes, I’ll pray it with you,” she said. The three of us prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet together, chatted a few more minutes, and then I left. Later that evening Lia called me. “My mom’s nurse called to tell me that right after I left the hospital, mom lost all lucidity.” We grieved together, prayed and hoped for her mom’s recovery. Lia’s mom died a few days later. On the night of her death, I had a dream. In my dream, I walked into her hospital room to find her sitting up in bed, wearing a beautiful red dress. She looked radiant, full of life and joy, smiling from ear to ear. The night of the wake, when I approached the coffin to pay my respects, I was stunned to see her wearing a red dress! Chills ran up my spine. I had never been to a wake where the deceased wore a red dress. It was highly unconventional and completely unexpected. After the funeral, I grabbed Lia and pulled her aside. “What made you put a red dress on your mom,” I asked. “My sister and I discussed it and decided we would put mom in her favorite dress. Do you think we shouldn’t have done it?” she asked. “No, it’s not that. The night your mom died, I dreamed I walked into her hospital room, found her sitting up smiling from ear to ear…and wearing a red dress!” I said. Lia’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened. “What? No way,” she said. “Yes, way,” I said. With tears streaming down her cheeks Lia said, “You and I were the last people she saw before her brain shut down. And that means the last thing she did was pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet!” I grabbed Lia and hugged her. “I’m so grateful you came with me that day, and we prayed with my mom, and that I was able to be with her before she lost her consciousness,” she said. “I can’t get over the fact that you saw her in your dream so happy and wearing a red dress. I think Jesus is telling us she really did enter through the door of mercy.” she said. “Thank you, Jesus.” “Amen,” I said.
“I walk by Faith, not by sight” chuckles Mario Forte as he shares an astonishing life witness I was born with glaucoma, so at the beginning of my life, I only had partial sight in my left eye and none at all in my right eye. Over the years I have had more than 30 surgeries—the first when I was only three months old...At the age of seven, the doctors removed my right eye in the hope of preserving the sight in my left eye. When I was twelve years old, I got hit by a car while I was crossing the road on my way home from school. After becoming airborne—thought I was superman there for a bit—I landed with an almighty thud and ended up with a retinal detachment, among other things I had three months off school recovering and undergoing more surgery, so I had to repeat Grade Seven. Everything is Possible As a child, blindness was normal to me because I could not compare it to anything else. But God gave me an insight. From a very early age, before I had received any official instruction, I would talk to God, just like any other person because I was so used to communicating with people that I could not see. I could only tell the difference between light and dark, but one day, in the blink of an eye, everything went black—like a light switching off. Although I have been in total darkness for more than 30 years, the grace of God gives me the courage to keep going. Now, it is not the physical light I see, but God’s light within. Without Him, I would not be any better than a piece of wood. The Holy Spirit makes everything possible. Sometimes people even forget that I am blind because I am able to move around the house, operate a computer and look after myself. This is thanks to my parents who always encouraged me to do things by myself. My father was an electrician who took me on site with him to help me understand his trade, even getting me to install power points and switches. He taught me how to think logically so I could adapt and improvise when things went wrong. My mother, with her caring, loving nature, sowed the seeds for my faith. She made sure that we prayed the Rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet together every day, so those prayers are engrained into my memory. They enabled me to successfully graduate with an IT degree. With their support, I would get in touch with the individual lecturers to get the course outline before the term started. Then we would go to the library to copy all the relevant materials so the Royal Blind Society could transcribe them for me. A Higher Call In my teens, I had a remarkable experience of God calling me. At that stage, I still had some sight in my left eye. While I was praying in the church one day, the main altar was suddenly illuminated with an intense light and an interior voice spoke tenderly, saying, “Come, Come to me.” This happened three times. Ever since, I have felt His hand protecting me with a love and mercy which I don’t deserve. This calling led me to consider if it were possible for me to become a priest or a deacon. That proved to be unrealistic but my Theology studies deepened my faith. I began to lead devotion to the Divine Mercy in a charismatic prayer group with the support of the parish priest. Despite all the setbacks I have suffered, I am grateful that I can be of service to the Lord and the people that I have met through the events I organize—the Divine Mercy devotions, overnight adoration and 40 Days for Life—have also assisted me after the deaths of my parents, my sister and my niece. They have become my family and help me weekly with domestic duties and special transport needs. Deep in My Heart The most tragic events in my life are not the lack of my sight but the loss of my closest relations, so I am especially grateful that these friends come with me to the cemetery to have a meal by the gravesides of my loved ones and pray the Divine Mercy chaplet for their souls. I try to focus on the positives—what I have, rather than on what I lack. I strive to do the best I can to carry out God’s commandments to love. Every day, I am determined to put God’s will first and put the Gospel into action. Saint Paul said, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) I often joke that I literally do this. That little verse speaks volumes. We will not see the fruits of our labour in this life. It is such a joy to work in God’s vineyard. Jesus suffered and died for me. Every single person can say this. Anyone who wants to know Him can come to receive the Lord. I give thanks and praise to the Lord that He has given us the opportunity to receive His glorious presence into our being. His living Word can revive us with the hope of the Resurrection, so that we can live each day in His presence and carry out His command to love. In my heart, I sing Alleluia! Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible; look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy that in difficult moments we might not despair, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself. Amen.
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