By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
Photos | COURTESY ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA CHURCH IN LULING
“Now I’m a believer, and, just two days ago, I wasn’t,” said Alayna Smith of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Luling, who traveled for nine days to Medjugorje in August with 17 others on a trip called “Meghan’s Mission.” They stayed at the guest house run by visionary Mirjana Soldo.
The trip was inspired by the experience of Alayna’s godmother, Meghan Schexnayder Greco, who died of cancer in January, shortly after a 2018 Medjugorje trip that she had taken with her mother, Angie Schexnayder.
“(At the apparition site,) I didn’t expect anything to happen to me,” Smith said. “I just expected it to be almost like a placebo effect – people only think the Blessed Mother is here because people say that she is. (When she appeared) I had a lot of physical and also spiritual reaction. From then on, I also got the signs from my nanny (Meghan), and it was just a beautiful thing.”
Moving trip for all
It was on a 2017 Medjugorje pilgrimage that Angie Schexnayder knew she was called to bring her daughter Meghan there. Meghan had been diagnosed with cancer in 2011 at age 24.
Meghan was angry about her illness, but after reading Mirjana Soldo’s autobiography, “My Heart Will Triumph,” she returned to the Catholic Church, and her prayer life deepened.
“I felt like it was the Blessed Mother telling me to bring Meghan back,” Schexnayder said.
In Medjugorje, Meghan formed a bond with Soldo and was invited to kneel with her for an Oct. 2 apparition in which Mary encouraged children to be “apostles of love.”
“It was intense, calming and beautiful,” Greco said in a video produced by Stella Mar Films during her trip. “I felt presence, peace and beauty. I tried to pray the whole time for everyone there.”
Greco also witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun,” in which pilgrims attest to seeing the sun spinning or the host spinning in the center of the sun or hearts or crosses in the sun.
“She had a deep conversion that came when she knelt next to Mirjana,” Schexnayder said. “Meghan said, ‘This has changed my life. I’m doing everything that I need to do to get my spot in heaven.’”
Being on fire with the Blessed Mother gave Greco a new will to live for Jesus. Her mission became praying for everybody, and she was convinced that St. Anthony of Padua had to take its youth there. She inspired parishioners, especially young adults from her parish, with her testimony after the trip.
Her pastor, Father Anthony Odiong, whom Greco considered her spiritual mentor, believes every invitation to Medjugorje is God’s call.
“I said, ‘Let’s go. I’ve been invited back,’” Father Odiong said.
Within eight weeks, parishioners held numerous fundraisers. They sold blessed bread, held a garage sale, sold sweets at the parish’s Cajun Fest, sold water and sodas at a KC fish fry and hosted a “Paint and Praise” by local artist Kelly Bourgeois to raise more than enough money for everyone to go.
“All (the youth) know is the civilization they’re born in in America,” Father Odiong said. “It was necessary for them to see 50,000 other kids praising in the heat, no air conditioning, no comfort, sitting on grass, and still going to church. … They were willing to suffer that and watch other people believe, too. … They’re going back to America very different kids. I couldn’t preach it. I couldn’t just tell them. They had to see it, feel it and know it.”
Father Odiong said these young adults are the best preachers, and the Medjugorje travelers now attend Wednesday evening rosary at St. Anthony.
“The purpose for which we organized this pilgrimage has been fulfilled 200%,” he said. “Now they’re going to go home and tell everybody about it.”
Itinerary in Medjugorje
On the trip, parishioners climbed the rocky Cross Mountain at 4:30 a.m. with Father Odiong and Deacon Mike Fabre, participated in a youth fest, went to a daily Mass celebrated by Father Odiong in Mother’s Village, went to confession and climbed Apparition Hill.
“It’s an amazing trip,” Schexnayder said about Medjugorje. “The feel of the Blessed Mother there is something you can’t describe. Every person who went on this trip wants to go back. … The visionaries tell you the Blessed Mother calls everyone who goes. You see groups of people singing and saying their rosaries there. It is amazing.”
Meghan’s mother believes
Schexnayder and friend Denise Hymel are convinced it is their mission to pray for conversions.
“We are really being called to call our community to prayer, to confession,” Schexnayder said. “I really think Megan’s still praying for our family, praying for nonbelievers and praying for the poor souls in purgatory,” and the parish’s new healing chapel.
Schexnayder will return in 2020 because she believes the Blessed Mother is calling everyone closer to her son.
“These kids are coming out of their shells and are learning,” Schexnayder said. “They are going to lead our church one day. … I have no doubt that every single one of them who came on the trip will be involved, in some aspect, with our church.”
To read more about Meghan’s experience in Medjugorje visit the Stella Mar Films blog stellamarfilms.com/blogs/news/medjugorje-mirjana-apparition.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.