“My survival alone was a miracle.”
Diagnosed in 2002 with a life threatening head and neck cancer, Liam Ryan’s doctors told him he should have never survived. Beating all the odds, today Liam wears an eye-patch as his only reminder.
According to Liam, his book was written by somebody ordinary, to encourage and inspire every cancer patient that will come after him. This is the fifth of nine articles in a series that covers his final chapter, Closure. Click here to read Part IV.
The irony of the two trips then began to dawn on me. Our little group were going out in good spirits on a pilgrimage. We were going to a holy place. We were going to a gentle, kind place that would give people hope and belief. A good place. But in that huge room we were surrounded by an ocean of young men and women who were travelling in a polar opposite direction. They were going into battle. The sense of exuberance in our heart was only matched by the fear in theirs. Fear of the unknown. Fear that they were heading to the end of their young lives. There could not have been a greater contrast in the two journeys that were about to be called from that departure lounge. It was as if this huge room some kind of human sorting office. We were all being funnelled towards just two gates. The sign on one read “God and Life”. The sign on the other read “War and Death”.
Medjugorje is quite simply the most amazing place I have ever been to. Most of my friends would not have been attracted to go somewhere like this so all week I was determined to play devil’s advocate on their behalf. I wanted to make an assessment of the trip that was based on human experience rather than religious persuasion. It was almost as if I wanted to judge it from the starting point of needing to be convinced of its merits.
It is a small town. This was a good start. I liked the scale of the place. Through it’s small size it created a reassuring sense of familiarity and comfort. It reminded me in many ways of the town I had just left, Ballina. They were both about the same size.
Medjugorje is also a town in its own right. It goes about its business, as any town would, regardless of the religious devotion taking place nearby. I liked this too.
The religious aspect of Medjugorje is nicely underplayed. It is not directed to meet you head-on as you arrive. You need to go and find it for yourself. There is no pomp and ceremony here.
This is exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a place where I could be in control of my time there. I could go to it rather than it gushing to meet me. I didn’t want a place where I was going to be herded around in a flock of sheep. I needed it to be a place where I could make my own closure, in my own way.
Medjugorje is the perfect host for each individual who goes there. It lays itself out for you like a passive smorgasbord of sights and activities. It is then entirely up to you to decide what you want to do and where you want to go. Some people just had a holiday. They only participated as if they were in any tourist town, eating in the restaurants, drinking in the bars and happily conversing with whoever happened to come within their company. They barely acknowledged the religious significance of this place. This was perfectly fine too. Medjugorje had room for everybody. It was an unconditional host.
This was a very special place. You knew that by simply being there. It appeared to have a unique ability to bring the very best of the world we know and induce a profound consciousness of the one we don’t.
In the evenings especially it was more than capable of dislocating itself from the surrounding gentile spirituality to socialise like any other town. This I liked too. You can’t pray all day. This wonderful town showed us all that devotion and leisure need not be strangers. It provides a beautiful stage where they both could be performed hand in hand. One minute you were sipping a glass of wine with friends and the next, saying a quiet prayer for a loved one. In Medjugorje, God, or whatever you defined as God, seemed to be just as present in the bars and restaurants as it was in the church.
Some evenings I would just slip away from my company at the bar to light a candle for somebody I had forgotten earlier. Then I would just seamlessly resume my place as if I had been no further than the toilets.
Each day started with morning Mass. Geno, Dolores and I went on the first morning. We didn’t expect we would go every day but these Masses were special. We never missed one all week after that, no matter how late we got to bed. There was something different going on here. You felt it at Mass. You felt it in the bars. You felt it when you were out walking. You couldn’t put your finger on exactly what it was but there was something very special about this place.
Stay tuned as we continue Liam’s story…
Reprinted with permission of the author.