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The guarantee of a long-lasting marriage

Široki Brijeg is a small town in Bosnia and Hercegovina about 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Medjugorje. It wouldn’t appear to have anything in particular to distinguish it — one more town, the same as many others in the Mostar area. However, something unique is happening there.

The guarantee of a long-lasting marriage

The parish registry bears witness to the fact that, since records began, not a single divorce has been recorded among the 13,000 faithful.

These days, when divorce has become the method for “resolving” almost every marital conflict, it seems unlikely. How is it possible? Magic, or an extraordinary matchmaker?

The secret of this unusual phenomenon was discovered by pilgrims going to Medjugorje. It turned out that the miraculous antidote to marital problems is Jesus Christ, who gave His life for us on the cross.

One has to remember that over the course of several centuries the inhabitants of these lands experienced cruel persecution, first from Muslims, and later from communists. Many suffered in the defence of freedom and faith in Jesus Christ, whom the oppressors wanted to wipe once and for all from the map of this part of Europe. These difficult experiences bore fruit in the form of a deep faith that rescue comes neither only through international humanitarian organisations nor through peace treaties, but only in the cross of our Saviour.

They determined to make use of this valuable knowledge in marital life as well. Sister Emmanuel, in a book entitled Medjugorje. 1990. The Triumph of the Heart, explains: “Because they inextricably united their marriages with the cross of Christ. They leaned marriage, which begets human life, on the cross which gives God’s life”. How does this beautiful tradition, which also has followers in other European countries and even in America, look in practice?

It turned out that the miraculous antidote to marital problems is Jesus Christ, who gave His life for us on the cross

Everything starts in the course of preparing the bride and groom for the wedding. During that time, they don’t tell them stories about how they’ve found the ideal husband or ideal wife and that after entering into a sacramental union they’ll live happily ever after … Oh no! In contrast, the priest tells the future spouses: “You have found your cross; the cross that you have to love and carry; the cross that you can’t discard — you have to cherish it”. In Hercegovina, this kind of talk doesn’t cause any distress, because there the cross is the symbol of the greatest love, and the place where it is fixed is the most important.

When Fr Jozo Zovko OFM was still the pastor of the parish in Široki Brijeg, he met with pilgrims and told them about the local wedding ceremony. He told them that the bride and groom bring to the church a cross which will be blessed and is present during the recitation of the matrimonial vows. Then, in the rite for the sacrament of matrimony, first the bride puts her right hand on the crucifix which has been brought in and blessed. Next the groom places his hand over hers. Only then will the priest wrap his stole around their hands and the cross, and both vow love, faithfulness and marital honesty to each other according to the traditional formula. However, through this symbolic gesture, their hands are joined to the cross, which is to become the foundation of their marriage. Then, after swearing their vows, the newlyweds kiss not each other, but the cross.

“If the husband leaves the wife, or the wife the husband, they are actually rejecting the cross. And when a person rejects the cross, he has nothing left; he loses everything, because he is abandoning Jesus” (Sister Emmanuel)

Sister Emmanuel commented: “They know that this way they are kissing the source of love. The witnesses, seeing their hands rested on the cross, understand that if the husband leaves the wife, or the wife the husband, they are actually rejecting the cross. And when a person rejects the cross, he has nothing left; he loses everything, because he is abandoning Jesus”.

After the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds hang the cross in their house in a place of honour, which from that time becomes a place of joint prayer, as well as the place for resolving marital and family problems. When some conflict or argument comes up, the spouses don’t go to a psychologist, lawyer or fortune- teller; they go to the source of their marriage, that is, to the cross, and there, on their knees, they learn to overcome difficulties with Jesus, who is their rescue and example of forgiveness. Thanks to this sort of attitude, the crucified and risen Jesus occupies the most important place also in the lives of their children, becoming the source of love, forgiveness, healing and joy in life.


The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!" in September 2020.

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