“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 who will come after him. This is the sixth of nine articles in a series that covers his final chapter, Closure.
The religious aspect was equally beautiful for me but that was just for me. Medjugorje does not impose itself on you. There was nobody to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. It is a place where every individual will find what they need for themselves. It knows you have brought more baggage with you than what you have in your suitcase. But no matter who you are it will lift your spirits. It will put your faith back into the fact that this world is an amazing place to be. It will re-convince you that it is filled with many gifted, wonderful people. It will ensure you are carrying less baggage home than what you brought with you.
We did two day trips while we were there. Dolores and I had a lovely day by the sea in Split in Croatia. We just spent the day relaxing at those lovely al-fresco café tables that all Mediterranean cities do so well. We just let the day pass by under the warm sun as we looked on.
Split is a beautiful city. Geno was to come too. Just as we were about to board the bus he realised he had forgotten his passport. He would need it to cross the border between Bosnia and Croatia so we had to go ahead without him.
Our other breakaway was a little more dramatic. On the Sunday, after Mass, we had assembled in Columbo’s for breakfast as usual. Deirdre was with us and needing a seat a Norwegian man, Henning, joined our table. He was stationed in Bosnia as a U.N. diplomat and had come over to Medjugorje on his day off. He was curious to see some of the sights and find out what all the fuss was about. We got chatting to him when he sat down and he asked if we would be happy to show him around. In return he offered to take us in his car to show us the town of Mostar. He was very pleasant company and we were all delighted to take up his offer.
For the next couple of hours we showed him the various religious sights around the church in Medjugorje. Then we all made the picturesque walk through the fields to Apparition Hill. Apparition Hill is where the Virgin Mary appeared to the four visionaries. It is a serenely beautiful place. From there you can view the entire town in the valley below with Krizevac, or Cross Mountain as it is called, rising up beyond it. The sense that you are overlooking a very special part of this planet was very strong. Henning was suitably impressed and on returning to Colombo’s we all piled into his old Mercedes. We were heading for Mostar.
Mostar is less than an hour away from Medjugorje. If any place epitomises the conflict that has ravaged the Balkans throughout the early 1990’s, this is it. When we arrived, over ten years later, the scars of war were still plain to be seen. We found it both breathtakingly beautiful and horribly desecrated in alternate images. The troops in Shannon were heading for the Middle East and we were going to Medjugorje. Little did we realise that just an hour from our destination we would find a scene just as horrific as the one they were destined for.
Before we got to Mostar we were stopped twice on the road at police checkpoints. Henning explained to us that these were normal in this part of the world. They were also not what they seemed. The police would inspect your papers and your car and make up some reason why an on-the-spot fine had to be paid. The driver then would have no choice but to pay up before making any further progress. All U.N. diplomats were immune from these bribes. Henning smugly invited us to observe the disappointed expressions on the policemen’s faces as he showed them his identity card. Welcome to the Balkans!
Up to now our blinkered vista of Bosnia began and ended with the friendly little oasis that is Medjugorje. The wider context of the part of the world that we found ourselves in was now beginning to dawn on us. Having escaped our sanctuary we realised we had only scratched the surface of this uniquely complex region. The entire area was a delicate, simmering fusion of culture, race and religion. It was a part of the globe that was an uneasy balance at the best of times, and a horrific war zone at the worst.
Stay tuned as we continue Liam’s story …
Reprinted with permission of the author.