Marian conference brings pilgrimage experience closer to home

QUINCY -- According to its organizers, the two people at the heart of the Boston Marian Conference were Jesus and Mary.

Guided by prayerful discernment, the conference held Nov. 13-14 at the Marriott Quincy Hotel was coordinated by Totally Yours Pilgrimages, a company founded by Guy Murphy. The Chicago-based company coordinates pilgrimages to many locations, but, in 2001, they also began holding conferences, which allow more people to participate because they save the time and expense of travel.

Murphy, who served as the conference's master of ceremonies, first visited Medjugorje as a skeptic, but subsequently converted to Catholicism. Speaking to The Pilot following the Boston conference, Murphy said that what people need today is an experience.

"What a pilgrimage or a conference does is it gets you out of the routine and it gives the opportunity to receive a lot of graces," Murphy said in a Nov. 16 interview.

Totally Yours has held 26 Marian conferences in the Chicago area. At one point, Artie Boyle and Tony Nader were guest speakers, and they suggested bringing a conference to Boston.

The weekend at the Marriott Quincy Hotel included witness talks from various speakers and opportunities for Mass, confessions, praying the rosary, and Eucharistic Adoration. The conference director, Colleen Willard, said they prayerfully selected the speakers and had a spiritual director for the entire conference.

"Everything about the conference is done in prayer, following what our Blessed Mother would like us to do," she said.

On Nov. 13, Masses were celebrated by Father Dan Reehil in the morning and by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley in the evening. The next day, Sunday Mass was celebrated by Father Jozo Grbes, the superior for the Croatian Franciscan Fathers in the United States and Canada, who has attended all the Marian conferences and served as their spiritual director. Anna Nuzzo and Mark Carey provided music for the Masses and adoration.

On the first day of the conference, Willard shared her own story of healing. In the early 2000s, she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor as well as numerous other diseases that made it difficult for her to walk or even eat solid food. A priest, Father Aniello Salicone, received indication in prayer that God wanted her to go to Medjugorje, though her doctors were not sure she would even survive the trip.

While Willard was in Medjugorje, one of the visionaries, Vicka Ivankovic-Mijatovic, prayed over her, and she then heard the Blessed Mother speaking to her during the consecration of the Eucharist at Mass. Upon receiving Communion, Willard regained the strength to stand and even climb the apparition hill. When she returned to the United States and had tests done, her tumor and diseases were gone. Her doctor revealed that hers was the third miracle they had seen from Medjugorje.

After her return, Father Salicone asked the Lord in prayer why Willard had to go so far away to be healed. The answer he received was that the Lord wanted to make his presence in the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother's presence in the world known, because people had forgotten.

"That's what the conference is all about. It is to draw that awareness to humanity of what we have present in the Church," Willard said.

In addition to the Chicago-area visitors like Willard and Murphy, attendees also heard from Boston area natives, such as Ki Morrissey, an adoption advocate and pro-life speaker, and Artie and Judy Boyle, who shared the story of his miraculous healing after visiting Medjugorje.

The Boyles strongly encouraged everyone to receive the Sacrament of Confession, which was available to conference attendees throughout the weekend. Some said they had not received the sacrament in over 40 years.

Other speakers during the weekend included Ivan Dragicevic, one of the six visionaries from Medjugorje; Jim Wahlberg, the executive director of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, who works in addiction recovery; Kathleen McCarthy, president of In His Sign Catholic Radio Network, who leads a healing apostolate; and Tim Francis, who gives presentations on miracles. Father Reehil, who converted after a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, also gave a talk.

"It was almost like a message was coming through, but at different angles, so no matter where you were coming from, it wasn't like hearing the same thing over again, it had a new light to it," Murphy said.

Willard said the key to the conference is evangelization.

"It is a way of extending what our Blessed Mother has always asked all of us to do, and that is to spread the Good News, to invite other people to come to know the heart of her son," she said.

Murphy said they were pleased with how the conference went.

"You could tell the attendees were all really touched in a powerful, peaceful, joyful way. That's how we look at the success of a conference," he said.

One attendee, Rita Campoli, a music teacher from Bedford, said she heard about the conference from a friend and ended up attending part of the weekend with four others.

"What most impressed me was each talk that I've heard really reflects God's love and light and peace," Campoli said.

She had read about the visionaries of Medjugorje in the 1990s, and she made the pilgrimage there after her brother died of esophageal cancer in 2018.

"I think when you have an experience like a pilgrimage, it is so healing, and we all need healing in our lives, whether it be physical or spiritual. And coming to this conference, it buoys your spirit. You listen to the talks and realize that there are other people that are carrying crosses and things have happened in their lives like our lives, and how Jesus wants to heal us in the present day," she said.

Willard said that, as the conference was wrapping up, people told her they did not want it to end. Her response was, "Don't let it end."

They closed by telling everyone to share the Good News.

"Now it's up to every person that attended to go ahead and evangelize and bear fruit," she said.