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Four young men from the New World leave the land of milk and honey to clothe the cowl

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The Franciscan basilica at Tomislavgrad in Herzegovina, where the Croatian king, Tomislav, was crowned 900 years ago, saw a particularly solemn ceremony this year when a group of young men took their vows. Apart from the eight seminarians from Herzegovina, who were surrounded by the whole Franciscan family and a swarm of family members and friends, there were four brothers from abroad: three Americans and one Australian.

1. Goodbye to worldly living - We spoke to one of them, John Ringelstein, in Croatian. We noticed his laughing eyes, full of life; his penetrating and honest glance - almost that of a saint. He was born in 1965 in Chicago. He had been baptised, but he did not practise the Christian faith. He only prayed to God in moments of need. He says that he had always tried to follow the right way, but that he always ended up on the wrong way.

Once he finished his technical training as a mechanic, he found a job in a private business. He had money, he went to night clubs, drank beer, watched TV and had girlfriends. In this world that was so ready to satisfy his every need, he went into crisis more than once, and went through some very negative experiences... ”Once I went to Mass early in the morning. I was looking for God. The parish priest had just returned from Medjugorje, and he spoke to me about Our Lady. I watched a film and read a book about Medjugorje. After a few weeks, on the 10th May, 1988, I was in Medjugorje, and I remained 7 days. That was the first time I had experienced God. Back in America, I was given a promotion and a pay rise. But I said to myself: things can’t go on like this; and I went back to Medjugorje, staying this time for 7 weeks with the prayer group, in search of my vocation. After a brief stay back home, I came back to Medjugorje in May of 1989 to stay. I felt that God was looking for me, to entrust me with some sort of work. I asked Fra Slavko Barbaric’ if I could become a monk. He said: why not? I stayed in Slano for three months, studying Croatian in Zagabria and working in Medjugorje, doing whatever I could. On the 15th July this year, I dressed the cowl and spent my novitiate at Humac near Ljubuski. Now, after one year, I’m going to take my vows. Here, I’ve discovered myself.

2. The story of young Anthony Burnside from Melbourne is similar to John’s. Anthony speaks more slowly and appears more serious, more reserved, but he is more than positive that what he is doing is the right thing. ”I was born in 1962 at Melbourne. I took a degree in Geography, and I came to Europe on 6 month’s vacation - and I came to Medjugorje. Up to then I had never been interested in God. After only 3 days in Medjugorje my whole life was changed.” (...) Anthony too, joined Fra Luciano’s group and took the same steps as John’s.

”In Australia I was very busy; with studying, working on my parent’s horse farm and riding. I never thought much about God. (...) My plan was to stay in Yugoslavia only one day, but everything went differently to what I planned. At first my family didn’t understand my decision, but then they came here and now they understand. The Croatians are Christians, the faith here is something very strong, and the people are good. In Australia we have too much material wealth, but here there is another type of wealth - here the people are spiritually very rich.”

3. Preferred Medjugorje to Wall Street - John Sweeney is a pleasant young man, full of spirit. His story sounds like it comes from a film. He was born in New York and is 26 years old. He is the youngest of 8 children, he was baptised. For the sake of faith, he abandoned the famous Wall Street, the sanctuary of material well- being. Here Our Lady triumphed over the powerful god of money. ”I graduated in Economics and Finance in Virginia and started working straight away in Wall Street, in New York. After 3 years I already had my own business, lots of clients and money... I wanted even more clients and so I called a fellow businessman to help me plan a meeting with a new customer. He refused my invitation, saying that he was Christian. I asked what he was doing in Wall Street if he was Christian. ”Because I love my customers,” he replied. His reply surprised me, but I told him it was all rubbish, because we were all there for the money. Then he started telling me about Medjugorje and he gave me some books to read. I took them for the sake of taking them, but then I read them. It all seemed like these people were believing in a lot of rubbish, but now I know that it was a sign from the Holy Spirit.

Something started moving within me. The messages were so clear and so strong that I couldn’t remain the same. A battle had started inside of me, and logic made me think: I can’t say that Jesus Christ and I are both here, but there is the possibility that it may be true. I decided that if I could find the time I would go to Medj. and find out for myself what it was all about. And I did go, with that same client.

I was in Medj. for just 24 hours, and God had changed my whole existence. We had arrived at night, whilst Ivan was receiving the evening apparition on the hill. I arrived in Medj. as an atheist, but in search of and open to new experiences. There were 500 people on the hill, they were singing and praying the Rosary. All of a sudden, Ivan fell to his knees, in ecstasy. Our Lady appeared to him... I felt very close to the Virgin, closer than many others. I was fascinated by the Croatians and their faith. I was attracted by the Franciscan cowl. I was not alone. I was in communion with many others...”

After his beautiful experience at Medj, John returned to New York, to the stock exchange. He read a passage in the Gospel where Jesus says that one cannot serve both God and Mammon... and he asked himself: do you want money, night clubs, discos, or God? He gave everything to the needy - ”It was an easy decision,” he says. ”I sold everything and gave it to the poor. With two shirts and a pair of pants I went to Medjugorje. I slept wherever I found myself and I told the friars that I would work for bread. I went to Fatima for four months. I had already understood there that I wanted to become a priest. Everything seemed contrary to this decision: the language, the culture... but God took my sterile life and made me His, through the joy of consecration.

4. Pether, who cured alcoholics in America, lived a similar story, but we were not able to speak to him. I asked Fra Mate Dragicevic’, who was in charge of the novitiates, his opinion. ”It was interesting working with them. I put the foreign candidates together with ours right from the beginning, even though it was not an easy thing to do, due to fundamental differences in life style, and try to form a family.. I must say, however, that the past year was a success.” On the most solemn day that they took their vows, the people in the church sang the English hymn ”This is the day” together with the 4 new priests, and the bells of the Basilica of Tomislavgrad rang out loud and long and they could be heard all over the countryside of Duvno.

(Denis Derk - from Vecernji List - Zagabria evening paper)



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