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Filmmaker Christina Georgotas is pictured on Cross Mountain in Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia. The pastor and people of Medjugorje erected the cross in 1934 in commemoration of the 1,900th anniversary of the Passion of Jesus.

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Medjugorje message mesmerizes parishioners
March 26th, 2013
By Lidia Wasowicz

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and the crowd sits riveted to the big screen at St. Sebastian Church in Greenbrae.

It is not live coverage of the 2013 NFL championship game in New Orleans that has the viewers transfixed but a documentary completed last August on Medjugorje, a town of about 4,300 inhabitants in the former Yugoslavia where the Virgin Mary reportedly has appeared regularly to six townsfolk for nearly 32 years.

During that time, those who profess to see her say, the Blessed Mother has urged a worldwide return to God and specified five weapons against evil – holy Communion, monthly confession, daily prayer and Scripture reading and fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. According to believers’ accounts, which have not been authenticated by the church but have attracted some 40 million visitors from around the world to the remote mountain village in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, she also began revealing 10 “secrets” about future events – some pertaining to the world, some to the people experiencing the visions or their villages.

Christina Georgotas, a young filmmaker who set aside her faith in high school but retrieved it at the apex of her career with television personality Kelly Ripa’s production company, decided to investigate the claims.

The result of her study is the film “Queen of Peace” – a title said to have been used by the Madonna to introduce herself to the Medjugorje children in 1981. The film continues to make the rounds at parishes and other venues since its showing at St. Sebastian Feb. 3.

“I’m hoping for a global sharing of the message of Medjugorje, especially among those outside the church,” said Georgotas, 27, who recently received an offer from a nonprofit in Lebanon to translate and release her documentary in Arabic, Greek, French, Spanish and Lebanese.

“If Medjugorje – and Our Lady – could change my heart, it can change others,” she said.

Experienced conversion at age 22

Born into a Greek Orthodox family, Georgotas as a teen rebelled against religion and even questioned God’s existence before experiencing, at age 22, the kind of conversion she portrays in “Queen of Peace.”

She describes Oct. 12, 2008, as “the day my life changed.”

Taking the weekend off from a Manhattan lifestyle befitting a rising star on Ripa’s creative team to attend a family christening, she returned to her childhood home in the suburban bedroom community of Ridgewood, N.J.

On her mother’s laptop, she viewed a video of a woman and surrounding multitudes lost in prayer.

“Her breathing quickened, and she clasped her heart,” Georgotas recalled. “When she looked up toward the vision, I instantaneously knew this was really true and that God really exists.”

This introduction to Medjugorje had immediate impact. That evening, the former skeptic resolved to make a pilgrimage to the village.

The next day, she entered church “for the first time really believing and wanting to be there.” As the ceremony commenced, her cousin asked her to step in as her daughter’s godmother.

“It felt like I was renewing my own baptism,” Georgotas said.

Back in New York, fear of ridicule kept her from sharing her experience with friends and colleagues, but, she said, “I saw everything differently.”

Former attractions, including her dream job, now repelled her as detractions and distractions from God.

Prayed, read Bible for first time

She coped with the difficult transition by praying, reading the Bible for the first time and gathering information on Medjugorje.

On June 24, 2009 – the 28th anniversary of the first reported Medjugorje apparition – Georgotas’s 68-year-old father suffered a fatal heart attack while swimming in the Mediterranean Sea during a visit to his sister in Greece.

“When and where he passed so suddenly was not a coincidence for it enabled my family to make a side trip to Medjugorje one year later” when they returned to the area for a memorial service they traditionally hold on the first anniversary of a relative’s death.

Three trans-Atlantic visits and more than a year of interviewing, researching, collecting archival footage, filming, selecting music and editing later, Georgotas completed “Queen of Peace,” the first of what she hopes will be many documentaries produced by her Bambiina Productions.

To make ends meet, she has moved in with her mom, rent-free.

“I might no longer be able to afford New York,” she said, “but my life dedicated to spreading Our Lady’s message is so much fuller now, I would never change it for the one I would have had had I continued on the television path.”

Equally inspired, St. Sebastian parishioners Chris and Vickie Lyford set aside most of their possessions, including a home, to create a healing center for families.

“The underlying foundation of our New Life Family Mission is Mary’s message of God’s mercy,” said Chris, a lay minister for 30 years.

The family’s nine-day stay in “heaven” in 2007 healed her longstanding hurts from childhood and adolescence, Vickie Lyford said.

“Despite the struggles I had gone through, Our Lady was with me at Medjugorje, assuring me, ‘God still loves you,’” she said.

St. Sebastian pastor Father Mark Taheny, who is planning his sixth pilgrimage this summer with a group organized by the Lyfords, felt an “overwhelming reassurance that our prayers are heard” during his first and “most emotional” tour – as a seminarian four years from ordination – which coincided with the 10th anniversary of the first apparition and the annual youth festival said to have inspired Pope John Paul II to initiate World Youth Day in 1985.

“As the sun went down on Apparition Hill, I looked around at the thousands of people praying the rosary in many languages,” Father Taheny said. “The sight was as amazing as any miracle.”

Medjugorje shrine controversial

Lacking the formal recognition of such shrines as Fatima and Lourdes where the Catholic Church has deemed accounts of divine visits “worthy of belief,” Medjugorje remains under review by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pope John Paul II had said, “Let them go there, let them pray there, let them convert there.” However, the final decision on its status, which rests with the Holy See, is not expected while the reported apparitions continue, said Father Mark Taheny, the pastor of St. Sebastian Parish, Greenbrae, who has visited the site five times.

In the meantime, the local parish of St. James strictly adheres to church guidelines on such matters as where to celebrate Mass or how to credential visiting priests so “it’s all done properly,” Father Taheny said.


From March 29, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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