It was on June 24, 1981, the Feast of St. John the Baptist, that Our Lady was first seen, on that now famous small mountain, known as Podbrdo, overlooking the parish of Medjugorje. Two young friends, Ivanka Ivankovic, 15 years old, and Mirjana Dragicevic, 16 years old, were the first to see her.
Ivanka was born in the small hamlet at the foot of Podbrdo, but was living in Mostar at the time, and Mirjana’s family was from Sarajevo, but was visiting her grandparents who lived in Medjugorje.
Ivanka describes the event as it began:
“We were together in my house, Mirjana and myself, and we went for a walk. When we were returning home, for some reason I looked toward the hill and saw a bright figure. I said, ‘Mirjana, look, the Madonna!’ Mirjana waved her hand and said, ‘Come on! You think the Madonna would appear to us!’ And we continued on our way home.”
Both had been frightened; Ivanka by what she had seen, Mirjana by the look on Ivanka’s face and her claim to have seen the Blessed Mother. As they approached the houses in the village, they ran into Milka Pavlovic, 12 years old, who asked their help in getting her sheep and bringing them home. This meant the girls would have to return to where they had just been.
“The time was between 5 and 6 pm. When they reached the spot where Ivanka had looked up and seen the mysterious figure, the girl again cried, ‘Look, there she is.’ Mirjana and Milka, following her pointing finger to a distance of 656 ft (200 meters) or so, saw a young woman in gray, holding something in her hand which she seemed to be protecting. ‘She was a long way away,’ says Ivanka. ‘We couldn’t see her close … just the outline of her body.’ ‘We couldn’t see her face,’ confirms Mirjana, ‘and anyway, we didn’t know what the Madonna would really look like! But something inside us insisted that it was the Madonna. We knew it was her, but we felt confused, and just stood there looking at her.’ Ivanka agrees: ‘We didn’t know what to do, where to put ourselves. We felt a mixture of joy and fear. So much joy, yet so much fear, it’s impossible to describe it.
Earlier in the day, Mirjana and Ivanka had gone to Vicka Ivankovic’s house to invite her to join them on their walk. Vicka, 17 years old, was resting, but her mother told the two friends that she would give Vicka the message to join them later. Vicka recounted what happened next.
“I went to look for Ivanka and Mirjana, because every summer we are together all the time. When I reached the road where they were, I noticed they were waving with their hands and calling me to come. I was wearing slippers. When I got to where they were, Mirjana said: ‘Look up there. The Madonna!’ I said: ‘What do you mean, the Madonna? What is the matter with you?’ I did not even look—did not take the time to bother to look.
“I kicked off my slippers and ran barefooted toward (the village)…On my way back, I met Ivan Dragicevic and Ivan Ivankovic. They were picking apples, and asked me if I wanted some. I said no, and then I said: ‘Ivan (Dragicevic), the Madonna…they said that the Madonna has appeared up there. Let’s go there you and me. I’m afraid.’ Ivan said: ‘Of course we’ll go, but why are you afraid?’ I thought: He’s not afraid. But when we got there, I turned toward Ivan and asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ He was gone. I saw him running away.
“Then I asked Ivan Ivankovic: ‘Do you see anything?’ He said: ‘I see something completely white, turning.’
“The little sister of Marija (Milka), was with us then, and I asked her if she saw anything. She said: ‘I see the Madonna.’
“When I went up there the first time, I stood a little distance from them. I was afraid. But when I went the second time, I said to myself: If they are not running away, I will not run away either.
“I saw it…and what I saw was very white. I saw a gown, dark hair. All the time, She was covering and uncovering something She held in Her left hand. I was not able to see what else She was doing, but it looked like She was showing something. Then She called to us to come closer…but who was going to get any closer? We were saying to each other: ‘She is calling us, but who is going to go?
Coming home that night, they recounted their experience to family and friends, though few believed them and many laughed.
Vicka said, “There was real commotion. Some perhaps believed, some wondered, some explained it away as some kind of ‘flying saucer.’ And the like. Why, everything conceivable was said.” She added later, “How could they be expected to believe us? In their place, I wouldn’t have believed us either.
Mirjana’s experience was the same. She said,
“There was incredible light. The Blessed Mother held baby Jesus in Her arms, covering and uncovering Him as She called to us. It was overwhelming! We are from a small village, not like young people from America or Europe. The girls here have never been anywhere away from home. Home, school, family-this is our life.
When asked how did she know it was the Madonna, Mirjana replied,
“My whole being knew without a doubt that this Lady of unexplainable beauty was the Mother of God. That is why I had such fear.
The next day the children were expected to be up at dawn to help harvest the leaves from the large tobacco plants in their fields, so all went to bed. But to those who had seen the vision, sleep did not come easily. And so ended the first day.