Fr. Stanko Dodig's Story
By Louise Lotze
On my last pilgrimage to Medjugorje, I purchased the book, Medjugorje, Our Lady's Apostles, Vicka's Testimony, ©2016 by Mario Vasilj. Mr. Vasilj interviewed Vicka, her mother Zlata, and her brother Franjo, as well as Fr. Stanko Dodig. The interviews were focused on the early days of the apparitions. I was impressed and in awe of Fr. Stanko's story.
Fr. Stanko was born in Medjugorje in 1949. He was ordained a Franciscan priest on June 26, 1977. Currently he resides in Dubrovnik, after having spent 32 years in Rijeka.
When Fr. Stanko first heard about the apparitions, in June of 1981, he was, of course, surprised and thought perhaps it was a fabrication by the Communists to discredit the Church. He heard about the apparitions from relatives, various publications, and mass media – the latter, of course, in negative context. At first he was in shock and disbelief. But believing that for God everything is possible, he told himself to study all the information, to be open-minded and to have an open heart. His conclusion was – if it is God's work, it shall definitely survive, and if it is human or Satan's work – it shall stop by itself and disappear. He states that the fruits of Medjugorje are evident, and they tell us that Heaven is involved in what is going on. However, the fruits do not guarantee with certainty that Heaven is coming down to earth.
It was merely four days after the first apparition that Fr. Stanko came to Medjugorje. He wanted to find out firsthand what was going on in his birth parish. He talked to the visionaries as well as others who participated in some way in the events. Based on his inquiries, he returned to Rijeka to inform his fellow brothers, other priests, as well as interested lay people of the events in Medjugorje.
On the occasion of his next arrival, during his vacation, on August 17, 1981, Fr. Stanko was with his mother in the morning in the field to pick tobacco and string it up in the shade for the day. This time was during the most violent and brutal repression of the visionaries and believers. As people were passing by, and above their house, they heard voices and crying, and even roars. Father told his mother he was going to see what was going on. The people said that the militia had placed guards around the church and kept them from coming close to the church. They were also convincing people that the apparitions were fabricated and that there would be no evening program anymore in the church. Strong militia forces, armed with automatic weapons and accompanied by trained dogs, surrounded the parish house and church. Father did not see any helicopters, but he found out later that the militia and dogs had been dropped off from helicopters in front of the church, which intimidated the people.
What Fr. Stanko did then, he stated, was definitely God's grace. Something pushed him to come closer to the church to see what was going on. Since he knew there were tobacco fields near the church, he decided to pretend he was picking tobacco. He had brought a "duhanjara" (a linen dress for picking the tobacco) in case the militia would stop and question him. He had to squat down several times, and even lie down, so he would avoid being noticed. Luckily, he found a place which gave him a good view of the whole complex. He noticed a female in militia clothes in a house of nuns. Later he learned that she had strip-searched them. Fr. Stanko also witnessed the arrest of Fr. Jozo Zovko. He saw some kind of turmoil at the stairways in front of the parish office. Fr Jozo was wearing his habit and his hands were tied up on his back. Fr. Stanko saw two local people taking Fr. Jozo. One of those informers even kicked his bottom and Fr. Jozo began to stagger and almost fell over the stairs. They pushed him into the paddy wagon and drove him away, probably to the militia station in Citluk. Then inspectors wanted to come into the parish office in order to search the books and other documents. Fr. Zrinko, who was still there, lay down at the doorstep and said, "Only over my dead body!"
At that time, the church bells sounded. Fr. Stanko found out later who had rung the bells (Fr. Jozo Jolic) and how he had shouted in front of the open window at the house of nuns, "The key?" Then somebody threw the key outside. He immediately unlocked the door of the bell tower and pulled the rope several times to ring the bells. Some people had come on foot from Duvno to Medjugorje. They were kneeling at the barrier, praying and singing. About 6 P.M., a militia car came, and a gentleman stepped out. When the barrier was removed, the people crowded from all sides and soon came in front of the church. After hearing the bells, the other townspeople of Medjugorje hurried to the church. The door was hammered shut, but the men easily broke the boards and set the door free. Women embraced the statue of Our Lady inside the church by loud imploring in prayer.
In those moments, Fr. Stanko said some strong hand which he could not resist was leading him. He felt a huge peace, but with a bit of fear at the beginning. He said he received some additional strength, which enabled him to move. He strongly believes that he was led at that moment by the hand of the Queen of Peace and Her Son.
As Fr. Stanko was crawling towards the sacristy door, he was praying for it to be unlocked. He was thrilled because when he grabbed the door handle, it was indeed unlocked. This made him realize that it was God's work and it gave him the shivers. After entering, he removed the "duhanjara", locked the door, and rolled a wardrobe against the door so the militia could not break in. He then faced a dilemma – how to turn on the lights and loudspeakers, since he was not familiar with the room and its technical equipment. He was pushing all the switches with a shaky hand and testing the loudspeaker, which he found functioning. After washing his hands and face, he dressed for Holy Mass and prepared the wine, water and readings for the Mass. While he was dressing for Mass, he looked through the sacristy window and could see the confusion of the militia and that they were making gestures to one another. Kneeling down, he prayed, "Jesus and Mary, I implore you to show now if this is truly Your work that has been going on! The enemies of Your Church, Christ, have joined their forces against Mary and all of us who believe in You. Now it is the opportunity to break them their wings. And that is why I go to the altar in the name of You and in the name of the Queen of Peace."
The people did not notice Fr. Stanko until he came to the altar and crossed himself. All heads suddenly turned to the altar. He could hear the words of blessings: "Our Lady, thank you! Jesus, praise be with You for sending this priest!" Fr. Stanko remarked that this moment was impressed on his memory and it shall stay there until the end of his life.
Fr. Stanko related that he had butterflies in his stomach and was under great pressure. All this time he was concerned about the conditions outside. In front of the church the militia stood with automatic weapons and ferocious dogs. There was a possibility of their breaking in at any moment. He said he was not so afraid for himself, but for the people.
Fr. Stanko said in this interview that he could not remember his sermon that day, but that he began by saying something like this: "Dear believers, you thought that you would make a short vow, come to kneel down before Jesus and Our Lady and to come back [to] your homes. However, it shall not be the case. Heaven wants the Holy Mass to be celebrated here and now." The militia had told the people that the Bishop of Mostar had forbidden the evening program and the celebration of Mass. Father Stanko told the people that this was not true. "We have nothing to be afraid of."
Towards the end of his interview, Fr. Stanko spoke about the fruits of Medjugorje and that he is happy for Medjugorje to have become a "world chapel" and a "world confessional" where people come and in which they convert and sincerely repent and want to be better persons and believers. He emphasized that Medjugorje is a school of love, of prayer, of kindness, and the school of motherhood. He agreed that he also is an attendant of Her school. "First of all, I am an apostle of Christ. It means, of course, that I am also the apostle of Our Lady because She is a faithful executor of God's will and She does everything what He orders Her to do. We all have to be the apostles of Christ's Gospel. We also need to be the witnesses of Our Lady's apparitions in Fatima, Lourdes and Medjugorje so that we could stimulate the world to become better." He added, "Everybody should be satisfied with what they have. Everybody should express love, kindness…We should thank God every day…and thank Our Lady for not getting tired of us. But our thanks should be expressed rather by our acts than by our words."
Thank you, Fr. Stanko, for sharing your participation in the early days of Medjugorje with your vivid and honest eyewitness account.
Editor's note: Louise is from Ashtabula, OH. She received permission from the author to share this story with our readers.
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