WHO: Ann Meservey, 36, of Shrewsbury
WHERE: The Balkans and Greece
WHEN: Three weeks in July and August
WHY: Meservey was planning to visit a friend in Greece and decided to add a visit to the Balkans in order to make a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, an ethnically Croatian village in rural Bosnia-Herzegovina. ''I had heard about Medjugorje as the most recent place where the Virgin Mary had appeared. I was raised in a Catholic family and went to Catholic schools, and I have a relationship with the Virgin Mary," said Meservey.
A PILGRIM: Meservey booked her visit to Medjugorje with 206 Tours, a group that assists with pilgrimages and spiritual travel. ''I told them I wanted to be picked up in Split, driven to Medjugorje and to visit Dubrovnik. It was a very miraculous and spiritual journey for me," said Meservey, who is inspired by the story of six children who in 1981 said they saw the Virgin Mary on a mountainside. The Vatican has not pronounced the authenticity of the visions, but the site is visited by millions of pilgrims from around the world.
HER FIRST MIRACLE: ''I had no big itinerary," she said. ''A huge group of Italian tourists were there and everything was in Italian. They were all pushing me out of the way and, anyway, I don't speak Italian. I walked two blocks away and this cab driver was there." She told him she was from Massachusetts. ''He said, 'I have a client from there I drive around when he's here.' " It turned out it was a priest she knew of from St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Fitchburg. ''People had told me to look him up." The priest wasn't in town, ''but his taxi driver became my personal tour guide there. He was very sweet." One place she requested they visit was nearby Kravica Falls. ''I thought it looked like paradise, with cold, fresh water just coming out through the mountains -- and you can swim."
SMALL SOUVENIR: ''When the driver brought me back that afternoon, I went to a bronze crucifix that people pray at behind the church 24/7. People are always there," she said. ''I was there at 3 or 4 in the afternoon and there was only one woman there and she said, 'Quick, come here.' It was leaking water but it hadn't rained. I was able to take a drop and make the [sign of the cross] and bring some home on a napkin in hopes it will help me in healing."
CONFIRMATION DAY: ''Another day I went to where they have this big cross, like in Brazil, on what's called Cross Mountain. I had bought new Tevas for the trip, but since my luggage was lost I had to wear flip-flops," Meservey said. ''I was tired and alone and other people were all in groups. I started to cry, my stress relief. Then I heard a voice in my mind, saying, 'Look for a special rock.' I looked down and I see a perfectly heart-shaped rock. Now, every time I show it to someone else, they see something, like a distinct profile of one side is Christ's face, and somebody recently saw a lamb. It's my most valuable possession. I know it was the Virgin Mary; to me this rock was a direct sign. My faith has been thoroughly confirmed."
WHAT WAS LEFT: Meservey took day trips to Prague and Dubrovnik before flying to Athens, again a few days ahead of her luggage. With her Greek friend she visited several islands, including Paros in the Aegean Sea and the Ionian islands of Zakynthos and Kefalonia. But nothing compared to her time in Medjugorje, she said. ''I'd like to go back again. I'm not a holy-roller churchgoer, but it was just amazing."