Medjugorje, a small town nestled between mountains in Herzegovina, welcomed more than 50,000 people during this year's annual international youth festival. There the pilgrims prayed, heard personal witness talks, sat in adoration, and danced.
Mladifest, as it is known in its native Croatian language, took place Aug. 1-6. The theme "Follow Me" came from Mark 10:21.
Cardinal Angelo DeDonatis, vicar general of Rome, opened the 30th annual festival with Mass.
The cardinal said that in order to listen to Jesus when He said, "Follow me," it is necessary "that the Holy Spirit open our hearts and that He fill them with divine wisdom." He went on to describe three indications "amongst others" that can be drawn from him.
The first indication is as a good fisherman.
"The kingdom of heaven, as we have heard of it, is similar to a fishing net," he began. The net is thrown at sea in order to collect as many fish as possible. The fishermen then select the good fish, to be eaten, and the bad, to be discarded. "Every Christian," explained the cardinal, "is like a good fisherman, who watches over the sea of his mind holding back the holy thoughts and throwing away the useless or poisonous ones."
Cardinal De Donatis then introduced the second indication. "Jesus speaks of a Judgment," he began. "This Judgment is a happy light of truth, not the judgment of a tyrant." He described the Final Judgment as the "triumph of divine love" for all those who believe. For those who have denied Christ, he continued, this light "full of goodness" will "highlight the truth of a life lived without fruit."
He went on to explain that we must "anticipate the true judgment of God by immediately placing ourselves on the horizon of truth." A young Christian is wise when he or she "speaks the truth, seeks the truth, offers the truth."
Finally, the cardinal introduced the third indication. The day's Gospel, he said, "explains that the scribe of the kingdom is the Christian who draws old and new things from the treasure of his heart." This expression, he explained, can be used to understand the relationship between old and new. "The Old Testament prepares the New," he said. But, he continued, it can only fully be understood when referring to the Old. "Old and New need each other in order to open up to each other."
"The authentic Christian," concluded Cardinal De Donatis, "is neither traditionalist nor progressive." The authentic Christian "preserves the good taste of homemade bread, fragrant and appetizing precisely because it is kneaded and baked with an ancient recipe."
The closing ceremony was presided by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization Aug. 6.
Father Christopher Coric, OFM Conv., pastor of Our Lady of Bistrica Parish in Lackawanna, who grew up just a few miles from Medjugorje, has been attending these festivals for years. He enjoys seeing the crowds of young people involved in Eucharist celebration and the sacrament of reconciliation.
"This is most important, that the young people of the world come back to Church, come back to prayer life, come back to the sacraments," he said.
Much like World Youth Day, this youth fest is full of catechesis sessions and Mass. Eighty countries were represented. An international choir had voices from 24 different countries involved.
Medjugorje is reported to be regularly visited by Marian apparitions. For years the Vatican has doubted the stories, but this past May, Pope Francis authorized pilgrimages to the area. Vatican News reported that the announcement does not "enter into doctrinal questions relating to the authenticity of the account of the six visionaries of what has happened in Medjugorje since June 1981, a phenomenon that has not yet been concluded." However, Vatican representatives did take part in the Youth Fest.
"People should be aware that this is going on, that is has been going on for so long; 38 years of the Medjugorje phenomenon. The message is this: the New Evangelization, family life and parish life and how to evangelize the world," explained Father Coric. "This is what the Church needs; people come to Mass, people come to the sacraments, especially the sacrament of confession and Eucharist."