Nun finds peace in war-torn land

Published July 31, 1992|Updated Oct. 11, 2005

Just a few weeks ago, Sister Carol Vinci was in the middle of a war. She was surrounded by soldiers. She could hear gunfire and exploding bombs. But, she said, she was not afraid _ she felt safe and at peace with God.

"It was such a peaceful place," said the 53-year-old Franciscan nun who recently returned from Medjugorje, the Bosnian village where visions of the Virgin Mary have been reported since 1981.

"There is a real spiritual energy there and it brings you closer to Jesus," Sister Carol said. "You get in touch with God and find out how you can be a better person."

Despite the civil war in the former nation of Yugoslavia, Sister Carol flew to Medjugorje (pronounced MEDG-yoo-GOR-ee) to celebrate the eleventh anniversary of the first sighting of the Virgin Mary on June 25. It was Sister Carol's seventh visit to the village.

"The message of Medjugorje is a conversion of heart," Sister Carol said from the St. Clare Convent where she lives. "It is turning back to God, reconciling with God and neighbor, and saying the Rosary."

Sister Carol sat in the convent library, wearing a tan dress and a traditional, brown veil. She spoke in a gentle voice with a Bronx accent.

As director of the local chapter of Medjugorje Messengers, Sister Carol has made it her mission to spread the "message" of Medjugorje. She organizes prayer meetings, invites speakers to talk about Medjugorje, sends newsletters and literature and plans pilgrimages.

Since the first reported sightings of Mary, 13-million people from all over the world have made pilgrimages to the village. The Catholic Church, however, has not officially sanctioned the sightings.

Sister Carol learned about the village from a newspaper clipping in 1986.

On her first trip, Sister Carol went on a nine-day pilgrimage with 50 other people she had not met before. The village did not have hot water, heat and facilities for showering every day. Most of the villagers were farmers and living under a repressive government.

Now, the village is less rural and more developed, but since the war began many people have been discouraged from traveling there, Sister Carol said. There were 27 pilgrims on her last trip.

"The suffering and horrors of the war are terrible," she said. "It is so barbaric. To me it seems satanic the way they brutalized bodies."

One day, while Sister Carol was there, the village was supposed to be attacked. But a dense fog covered Medjugorje. The attack was averted. Cluster bombs also were dropped nearby, but they missed their targets and no one was injured. On the anniversary of the Medjugorje sighting, a tank was positioned near the house where Sister Carol was staying.

Anne Azzarelli, a volunteer who works on the Medjugorje Messengers' fund-raising committee, said Sister Carol is a good spiritual leader in the community.

Azzarelli went to Medjugorje before she joined the organization. "It is such a personal experience that completely changes your life," Azzarelli said. "You become a different person and you realize what you are on Earth to do."

To support the organization, Sister Carol has found ways to raise funds. One of her recent projects is a cassette tape of spiritual songs she wrote and performed.

Sister Carol is planning to make another trip to Medjugorje during the week of Easter, if the fighting has subsided.

She does not really know all the political reasons for the fighting in Yugoslavia, but she does know that there is a "prayer deficit."

"I think with my heart, so there are many things that I don't understand," Sister Carol said.

"But, what we need is more prayer and to return to God."