It was a stormy spring night, that March 16, 1993 when the phone rang at 7:00. I answered the phone to hear Sister Jeannette’s voice on the other end, from ourson John Lewis Smith IV’s school in Ridgley, Maryland, The Benedictine School for Exceptional Children.
John was born April 23, 1974 and indeed he was “Exceptional” and was about to be 19 years old. John had been born with Downs Syndrome and at birth the doctor counseled my husband Lewis that John’s basinette should be pushed to the side and he was not to be feed, killing him.“This is the way we handle these babies”, was his strong professional opinion. My husband was horrified and considered punching the pediatrician out, right there in the hospital corridor. Lewis was 6’2, 200 lbs. and was known for his impulsive inclination to deck a man when it was called for. Since he represented organized medicine as an attorney and all the doctors in the Washington D.C. area, I guess he thought better of it.
Instead he came to my room and held me close, assuring me that we would bestow on our son the name that for three generations had honored Washington D.C. and the legal profession. His name would be John Lewis Smith IV.
He also whispered that we were never to pity John, that he was to be treated with respect and dignity as all other human beings.
The second doctor who was called in was a specialist in neurology whose advise was to not bring John home from the hospital but to send him directly to an institution in Pennsylvania. The institution had been contacted and was prepared to receive him right away. He added, “This child will ruin your marriage and your family”, No more untrue words were ever spoken.
Despite all the “professional” advise, Lewis and I brought John into our home and our hearts. He was to have 10 surgeries before he was six. All this not withstanding, John became the love of our lives. He was to be “Heaven’s Very Special Child” in every way. Unconditional love was the hallmark of his life. He learned to play gold and drive a car.
At the age of 14 years it became apparent he needed to have peers and so the Benedictine School with a residential program and forty five minutes away from our home afforded him the education, the social exposure and the training for the future he needed to work and live in a independent living home. He came home every weeked and returned Monday morning.
It was very unusual for Sister Jeanette to call me and I could feel my breath catch in my throat. She informed my John had collapsed in the gym with his friends after dinner and they were on their way to the hospital. She gave me directions and I headed out in the dark and rain with my trusted sidekick, our second 23 year old daughter Gigi, leaving the rest of the family to inform their father of our whereabouts.
Gigi and I prayed that John’s life would be spared and we would find him sitting up in the hospital with his angelic smile and just a minor bump in the road. I found myself even bargining with God to let him live and in return I would return to the faith of my father’s in full force. I promised to say the rosary and go to Mass daily. At that time I had drifted away from my Catholic faith, becoming a cafeteria Catholic at best, picking and choosing what I wanted and not following the rest. So much confusion, so many mistakes so much heartache.
On reflection Gigi admitted that she knew John was dead. Sister Jeanette meet us at the hospital with the news. They had tried everything and could not revive him. Sister gently led us into the chapel to softly tell us the news and pray with us. I wanted to see him one more time. Sister cautioned me “No, not now”........they had put a resporator in this mouth. I would see him
again at the funeral home in all of his glory. Dressed beautifully in his navy jacket, dress shirt and tie. His hair parted and every hair in place as in life.
My life changed forever that wicked night, in ways I could not have comprehended or forcast.
The drive home was challenging, since the rain was hard and the tears were many. The ensuring days were filled with funeral arrangements and a great outpouring of love.
When the dust settled I was left with only my memories of “Heaven’s Very Special Child” and questions in my mind about where he was. Although John didn’t physically live I knew his spirit lived on and remembered my Catholic faith’s teaching on eternal life. I felt moved to keep my end of the bargin and returned to Mass everyday with new ears and new eyes. My faith in seeing John again was very comforting. It was simply a matter of time. God’s timing.
December 8, 1994 John’s teacher and my friend, Donna Tambornino from Montessori of Chevy Chase and I had dinner. We talked of the greatness of John and how he learned to read, write and do arthmetic so beautifully. How handsome he was and how the other children loved him and enjoyed touching his sweaters since they were so soft and in pretty colors. I enjoyed dressing
all my children well and John was no exception.
At dinner Donna gave me a book by a well known Marion author and lawyer named Janice Connell called, “Visions of the Children”. At that time I had not read any of the 10 books Janice had written on Mary.
This particular book, I was to find out later that night, was a compilation of interviews with the visionaries or seers from Medjugorge, the small village of 200 families in Yugoslavia where the Mother of God was said to be appearing to six young children and giving them messages for the world.
Janice had read the news on the front page of the New York Times with
her family during a family First Communion breakfast. All of Janice’s family had
a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother and they were thrilled to read the Mother
of God was appearing in Medjugorge and all agreed to go together to this small remote little village on the other side of the world to see for themselves what was going on.
Eleven of Janice’s family members arrived together in the middle of the night in
the village of Medjugorge and all were drawn to the electrified 30 ton cross on Mt. Kreijavic the largest of the two mountains. It was only in the morning that they found out the cross was illuminated supernaturally. In the light of day it was simply a large concrete cross at the top of the mountain that looked out over the land as far as the eye could see.
As an attorney Janice deposed each one of the visionaries and filled the book with her
questions and their answers. It was made apparent to me by the children’s responses that it was from God’s mouth to their ears, since these humble, uneducated young people had no other way to be so well spoken on every issue. No one I know, no one could answer Janice’s questions so directly, simply and theologically correct, unless God was using them in a very holy powerful way to inspire Our Lord’s poor lost sheep and have them “turn back to God before it is too late”, as The Blessed Mother repeatedly begged.
There are only a few times in my life which I call “Holy Spirit Moments”, when I
can actually feel the Holy Spirit move me strongly and this was definately one of those
times. Somewhere in my heart I just knew it was God calling me and I knew I was going. If the Blessed Mother was appearing there, I was going !
Donna brought me up short by reminding me there was a civil war going on
in Medugorge. I just said , “Well I am going anyway”. And go I did. Flying into
Paris to meet Donna and a French speaking group of pilgrams all wanting to
come closer to God through His Blessed Mother Mary.
The trip was long and tiring but I was excited to be on this adventure that God was
calling me on.
We arrived at four o’clock in the morning after three airplane flights and being bused into the village of Medjugorge in the dead of night becasue of the war. We could hear
the mortar fire coming from Mostar. No sooner had we nodded off to sleep then the cock crowed and we were all up, anxious to see the sleepy village of Medjugorge. in all it’s simplicity.
There were no sidewalks and no street lights. One or two stores with rosaries, a tiny “resturant”, and lots of dry, dusty roads. Mass was said in numerous languages in
St. James Church during the day. The church itself considered by the villagers as
large when built since they only had 200 families in the village, not realizing that soon there would be millions of pilgrams coming to pray there, was a disappointment to me esthetically. Mass was said every evening in Croatian in the fields in the back of St. James where there were no kneelers. Just dust and sharp stones to knell in and accomodated 1200 people.
The first night, as Donna and I walked back to our rooms by way of a dirt road next to a vineyard we looked up to the sky and saw the most amazing star that contained a large
pulsating heart and we smelled the beautiful “scent of sanctity”. We were directed
to focus on our spiritual relationship with God and not on the “signs and wonders” of which there were many, for they were there only for encouragement.
The days and nights consisted of Mass, the rosary and prayer. Trips up the side
the mountain took over an hour, stopping at all fourteen of the Stations of the Cross kneeling in the dirt that was filled with sharp pointed stones. Some pilgrams removed
their shoes to suffer more.
Many of the pilgrams had come to this religious spot numerous times to refresh themselves spiritually. The weather was warm and the skies blue. The evenings
Each evening around 5:00 we would see the women of the village start to come from their homes dressed in long black skirts, their heads covered with scarves and carrying rosaries heading to the field in the back of St. James for 5:30 Mass.
Along the side of the church were twenty outside confessionals where confessions
was heard everyday in every languarge.
Sister Emanual had started an order of nuns in the woods of Medjugorge and we
went as a group to visit and pray at the convent. As Donna and I were returning
we looked on the side of Mt. Krejivic and there were enormous flames at least
8 to 10 feet high. We were alarmed and said to each other that we should call
the fire department. Of course, in reflection we laughed since in Medjugorge
there was no such thing as a fire department. This was simply a very small
primative village and what we later found out was what we saw was called
“The fire that does not cunsume”. Another one of the “signs and wonders”
sent to encourage our faith. Without a doubt, there was something
supernatural going on there.
Everyday at exactly 6:40pm in the Room of Apparitions Our Blessed Mother
appeared to the visionaries and gave them a message for the world, thanking
all of us for responding to her call. So often we heard the words, “To Jesus
thru Mary” and indeed that was what was happening there. Mary was
leding us back to her son with messages, prayer and grace.
August 15th is the feast day of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, body
and soul. It the most glorious day in Medjugorge since Our Lady appears
completely in gold. We had all wanted to be there to celebrate her
feast day and she called us to the smaller mountain called Blue Mountain
for a message. Thousands upon thousands of pilgrams walked up the
steep hill saying the rosary in every language imaginable in the dar,. How
we reached the top and returned without one fall or slip was miraclous.
Our time in Medjugorge past quickly and before I knew it we were being
bused out in the middle of the night and flying back to Paris for a short
respite. After a few days of rest and site seeing in Paris I was off again
to return home.
Because I spent my time with a French speaking Pilgramage group and I don’t
speak French, I spent alot of time in silence. The scriptures say “Be Silent and
know I am God”. I believe what I learned in my time in solutude was that sin made
me realize as nothing else does the terrible lonelines of life. It is possible that,
after a while, this perception wears off and the soul becomes in this way, as in
others, hardened to the sense of sin, but at first, when the conscience is still
delicate and refined, after an offense against God, human nature feels itself to
shrivel up and become cut off from the rest of the world.
God is the most intimate neighbor of the soul; no other power can creep so close
to the heart and tangle itself so cunningly with the roots of our desire. Man was
made by Love for love. When I act in accordance with love I feel the presence
of God and I am not lonely.
I can’t prove to anyone that Medjugorge is an authentic apparition site.
Only God knows that. I am reasonably certain that the scandulous
accusations made by E. Michael Jones have some truth in them. I don’t
see where that makes Medjugorge false. Humans sin. Only God is sinless.
I only wonder why ? Why these vicous attacks. What is behind them.
My guess is my old friend who I can “Hairy Legs”, Satan. I am sure he
hates the enormous vocations and conversions connected to this place
All I know is that my life changed and the fruit of my pilgramage were good works.
Specifically, I became a full time pro-life activitist. Simply asking God to
use me as He saw fit my life became God centered and where there
had been sin it was replaced with love and closeness to Jesus, Mary, all the
angels and the saints.
Those are real everyday miracles. That is grace working because of
praying and asking for it. I could never have accomplished the things in my
own my own that I have. My story is only one of millions of conversions. Good
fruit does not come from a bad tree.
The trip was not a luxury trip to see beautiful Cathedrals in Europe, with great food
and accomodations. I had done those trips and they have their advantages. It was a long hard trip to a remote, dusty village with no amenities. So why go there ? For the grace to change my life. For the grace to live my life for Jesus.
When I think of the questioning around Medjugorge’s authenticty I remember the
opening lines to the movie on St. Bernedette - “for those that don’t believe there is no explanation possible and for those that believe no explanation is necessary”.
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