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Msgr. Issam John Darwish, BSO, DD., eparch of Melkitsk Catholic church of Australia and New Zealand, recently spent seven days on a private pilgrimage in Medjugorje. He was born in Syria. Before he became the bishop of Melkita in Australia and New Zealand in 1996, he was working with abandoned children in Lebanon. This is what he said about his impressions from Medjugorje...

Last Sunday I was in Castelgandolf with my pilgrims and we prayed with Pope. After Angelus I went to see the Holy Father, which was already arranged within a scheduled program. After our conversation I asked the Holy Father to bless pilgrims who are going to Medjugorje the next day. If you ever met Pope John Paul II, then you know he had a wonderful smile. He smiled kindly and said: "Let God protect you and bless you."

Among our parishioners there is a very strong devotion to Mary. They came to me asking to take them to Medjugorje. Although I had a lot of work I said yes. Later I was thinking that maybe I should have rejected the request, but now I'm happy that I didn't. Every day we meditated Mary's life from the beginning to the cross. For me, those were spiritual exercises. I wanted to give our congregation what our Byzantine Church talks about Mary. All prayers were aimed to enrich our knowledge of Mary's role in our lives. For me and the whole group coming here was a blessing. We think of Mary as a person who leads us to Jesus. She has an important role in our lives. She leads us to Jesus and deepens our faith.

The number of pilgrims who come to Medjugorje is the sign of God. Priests spread a deep spiritual atmosphere. I believe that Medjugorje is the place of expectation, which questions our faith how to deepen it. Prayer in front of cross, bowing, eucharist - all of that deepens pilgrims' spirituality. This is the place of prayer.

I thing the role of the priest who guide the pilgrims is very important. For their experience to be fruitful, the priest must guide pilgrims. His task is to help them go beyond searching signs. I told my pilgrims that we already have the signs: All Holly sacrament of the altar and other sacraments. We need to live all the sacraments: sacrament of penitence and eucharist - their spiritual role needs to be discovered. Our Lady speaks to each of us. It isn't necessary to see Our Lady. We can see her with the inner eyes, the eyes of faith.

I think the local priests give pilgrims very good directions, but those priests who guide pilgrims should pay more attention to teachings of the Church. Local priests should give the visiting priests a deeper insights of how to live the inner conversion. And let the Lord act in congregationers' souls. Some people need feelings, other don't. That is a Christian way of life.

Medjugorje messages are Gospel messages. I can't see it differently. Eucharist, penitence, prayer, those are Gospels. Apparitions? I don't know. I have no clear idea, but I think God can do whatever He likes. I will write a brochure about my impressions about Medjugorje. I will encourage our congregationers to take pilgrimage, to experience a few days of prayers and inner conversion. I will encourage priests to join them.