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35 Years of Medjugorje Pilgrimages: Interview with Penny Abbruzzese
Penny Abbruzzese is a dedicated Group Leader for 206 Tours who has helped thousands of people find God through Pilgrimage. Since 1984, Penny has been working alongside 206 Tours, and this year made her 103rd Pilgrimage to Medjugorje. In addition to Medjugorje, Penny has visited countless Catholic Holy sites around the world. She is an inspiring author, filmmaker, wife, mother, and grandmother, who has converted so many hearts through sharing her story and her ministry. Below enjoy a special interview with Penny on the significance of Pilgrimage.
“I always say, in Medjugorje you just have to stand still – it’s like there a huge chest board up in Heaven and Our Lady puts you where she needs you to be, to be taught by someone else or to minister to the person in the group who is totally alone”
How did you first get involved in Pilgrimage? What originally called you to Medjugorje?
I was an absolute pagan from 14 to 33 years old, when my younger brother, who was my best friend, committed suicide by jumping off the Bayonne Bridge the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1982 at the age of 31. Being brought to my knees, I knew I needed to pray for his soul. I asked my sister-in-law how to pray and she gave me her rosary and showed me how to pray one decade a day. Six months later I was still committed to the hour it took me to pray a decade amidst heart-rendering tears and so much pain. It was then that I first heard of Medjugorje. Just nine months later, on March 5, 1984, I accompanied my brother-in-law and his son, David, age 2½, born without a brain stem, to Medjugorje searching for a miracle.
Penny’s first day in Medjugorje with Sr. Janja – March 7, 1984
When did you first connect with 206 Tours?
Nearly a year after my first visit, I went back to Medjugorje in February 1985 by myself to give thanks to God for my newfound faith. I was still taking baby steps holding onto Our Lady’s hand, but I knew I needed to go back to this special village where Heaven and Earth met every day at 5:40 PM.
In December of 1985, I returned accompanied by a few friends. In the fall of 1986 several friends and I were instructed to take the love that we had for Our Lady & Medjugorje and center it on the Eucharist! Our little prayer group formed into a non-profit organization named, Our Lady Queen of Peace Prayer Group. We initiated a newsletter called, Mary’s Mantle, and one of our goals was to take people to Medjugorje. My responsibility in our little core group was to find a travel agency before we were to publish the first edition of our monthly newsletter. I made some phone calls, and feeling kind of burdened by selecting an agency, I was exhausted and ended up taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon. Our Lady answered my prayers because, when I awoke, there was a message from Milanka, the President of 206 Tours, offering to meet with me to help answer the questions I had. That was it – I never went to any other agency in all these 33 years of traveling!
Penny with Sister Janja in 2018 on her 100th Medjugorje Pilgrimage
What continues to call you back to Medjugorje?
In my heart, there is NO PLACE like Medjugorje. The peace is absolutely tangible. Our Lady’s presence feels almost like you can reach out and touch the graces that flow from the Mass, Sacraments, Adoration and Oneness of just about everyone there. Searching for that time alone with God is overwhelming in Medjugorje.
What is your favorite part of watching a Pilgrim experience Medjugorje for the first time?
My favorite part is watching someone grow on their first journey to Medjugorje. To struggle together as we climb the hills, pray and encourage one another to find their alone time with God, but most importantly to bring them closer through the sacrament of reconciliation. Sharing during our meals and feeling one another’s pain of different life experiences happens like a continuous stream that just isn’t the same here in New York – we are all enveloped in a hustle and bustle environment. I always say, in Medjugorje you just have to stand still – it’s like there a huge chest board up in Heaven and Our Lady puts you where she needs you to be, to be taught by someone else or to minister to the person in the group who is totally alone, which is where I typically gravitate.
Besides Medjugorje, what is your favorite Pilgrimage destination and why?
When the war was going on in Medjugorje we started going to other pilgrim sites and I love them all. Most dear to me is Garabandal – we travel yearly to Fatima, Compostela, Garabandal, Loyola, and Lourdes. I am very blessed to have been able to call Conchita from Garabandal a dear friend for over 30 years. Although we never speak of the 2,000 times that she saw Our Lady, our gift of praying together 2-3 times a week for priests and families is one of my greatest treasures from Our Lady – it’s like being on pilgrimage 52 weeks a year. To me, Garabandal is like a mini-Medjugorje!
Penny with Fr. Benedict Croell in Garabandal
How have you tried to spread the message of Medjugorje?
Well, that is all in a book about my conversion, that Fr. Svet, from Medjugorje, asked me to write back in 1987. I wrote with hardly any understanding of what it takes to publish a book and no more than a high school education. I did send out my manuscript in 1988 but the market was flooded with books on Medjugorje and I was just as happy to put it on a shelf for my children and grandchildren to read one day.
In 1999, when our benefactors could no longer help us to publish to our 7,000 readers of Mary’s Mantle, it came into my heart to produce a documentary on Medjugorje called, “God Exists….The Queen of Peace Speaks from Medjugorje.” With no experience in media, but a yearning I couldn’t contain, after 4 years in the making and over $80,000 I borrowed from my husband, we completed the film. Our team was comprised of Mate Vaslij, from the family that I live with in Medjugorje, along with Peter Powell and Rita Gam. I couldn’t be more pleased with how professionally this film was produced. It’s marketing that I am totally lacking in….but…. God is large and in charge. I know it will be in His time, not mine that this film will be a means of grace for many to learn of Medjugorje.
In starting four prayer groups with Steven McDonald and incredible priests like Fr. David Farley and Fr. James Moyna, OP, we were a team who wanted nothing more but to bring more people closer to Jesus through the Sacraments, via Our Lady of Medjugorje. Before Steven was called Home by God, I promised him I would finish my book, entitled, “Medjugorje….My 35 Year Journey with Our Lady.” With your prayers and the guidance of the Holy Spirit I pray that also in God’s Time, this sharing of finding my faith, with Our Lady as my teacher and my celestial mother, I could possibly help others, through my personal pain and suffering.
Penny and Pilgrims in the Holy Land 2019
What are some of your favorite memories with 206 Tours?
I could write a whole book of my travels with 206 Tours…but I simply share a few thoughts with you….. In the hundreds of pilgrimages that I was blessed to take with 206 Tours I am still amazed how everything flows so smoothly with the tremendous staff that I have worked alongside of since 1987. Going to Rome on a Pilgrimage to the Beatification of St. Padre Pio, as well as the Canonizations of St. Padre Pio, Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Pope John XXIII, and St. Pope John Paul II. Also, over a dozen…to the Holy Land, & countless other pilgrimage sites like Poland, Turkey, Greece, Mexico, I always experience a deeper appreciation of how 206 Tours is continuously giving more and more to offer, not only in quality but in the first class company that started from its grassroots, thanks to Milanka Lachman and the way that God works through Milanka and her 206 Family!
For a full listing of all Our Lady Queen of Peace Pilgrimages, visit:
Judith Weible on Medjugorje & the Future of Pilgrimage
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St. Helena: First Christian Pilgrim
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“To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself” – Pope Benedict XVI
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