Excerpts from shocking testimonies of former members of Caritas of Birmingham 'under the sole dictates' of self-styled „A Friend of Medjugorje“ (Terry Colafrancesco)
regarding scandalous fleecing of gullible people and money related deceptions
Other languages: English, Italiano
Date: October 16, 2010 , Last update October 18, 2010
Category: Caritas of Birmingham and "A Friend of Medjugorje" Terry Colafrancesco, Sterrett (AL), Alabama
"On our pilgrimages to Medjugorje, Terry would have us try to find out who in the group had lots of money. Then we or Terry, if he was there, would try to focus on them specifically to get large donations. Terry would try to get them into an apparition. (Obviously with the permission of a Franciscan). On the pilgrimage in June 1998, Terry got a business owner and his wife aside and convinced them to give him $50,000.00 to buy land in Medjugorje. On that same trip, Terry got another wealthy man into an apparition and then on Paolo and Marija's back Porch, tried to get the money to buy the lot next to Marija's house."
"One wealthy couple from Houston were on one of Caritas' pilgrimages. Shortly after, Terry and I flew to see them. Terry asked them for $389,000.00. He said that if they gave the money, the couple could come and live next door to Caritas to survive the chaos that was coming in January 1st of 2000. - Y2K"
"In 1997, Terry sent Steve and me to Seattle to ask another wealthy couple for $165,000.00 to build a shop on Caritas land to repair old damaged statues."
"In early 1997, Terry, Joan and I flew to Tucson, Arizona to ask yet another rich couple for $3,000,000.00 to clear up all Caritas' debts and set us up in a good position to "evangelize"."
"After Marija came to Alabama in 1988, Terry purchased all the real-estate that included the field and all the land for Caritas and then put it all (over 100 acres) in his own name. It is now all paid for. How did he pay for it? Very interesting question."
"Steve and Kathy, two of the sweetest people you could ever meet, came into the group in April 1998. They had a good amount of money when they came (about $80,000.00). They gave it to Terry. He promised them a cabin to live in. When over a year and a half passed, they expressed a desire to have their cabin which they paid for and Terry promised them. Terry refused to give it to them."
"When Paolo and Marija and their family were visiting in 1998, I was told to participate in a deception to get them to stay longer. Prior to this visit, tens of thousands of dollars were spent to impress Paolo and Marija so that they would commit to live in the community for a certain about of time each year. This was another way Terry Colafrancesco manipulated the visionary to control the apparition."
"In 1996, Terry accepted $15,000.00 from a woman in Miami on the condition that when Marija visited Caritas, this woman would be able to talk to her privately. When Marija was planning to come back for the dedication in 1999, this woman called and asked us would she now be able to talk to Marija. We asked Terry and he said, 'Forget it, people can't expect these kind of privileges.' She felt cheated, lied to and used. Terry had her $15,000.00 and that's what he wanted. His promise to her meant nothing."
"Many times during the nine years I was there, Terry needed money for certain things. We were told the money was needed to pay property tax on Terry's acreage. The way they would handle this was that Ruth McDonald would give us a Caritas check for a certain amount. This check was then deposited in our checking accounts and we then wrote a personal check to Terry for the amount. I and my bank have proof of all these transactions and copies which totaled more than $33,000 in 1996 and 1997 alone. And mine was only one of the checking accounts being used to funnel money to Terry."
"The last two shipments of humanitarian aid to the Medjugorje region were bogus. We used the guise of charity to smuggle without tariffs our own goods and building materials for our own purposes. We placed at the last two feet of the container things such as blankets, clothing, and other relief supplies that make it appear as though the entire container was filled with these things. On the last shipment, Terry had me design a large poster with an illustration of our Lady on it. The poster was taped to the dummy supplies so it would be stark and visible when border guards opened the container for inspection. On the Poster, in Croatian, it stated that this was all relief materials to help the poor victims of the devastating war and to rebuild their bombed Churches. This was a total lie. The container was filled with all products to build a cabin for us to use on the property Terry Colafrancesco recently bought in Medjugorje and antique furniture to furnish it and our mission house. The lie that it was all humanitarian aid was a good disguise to smuggle our stiff into Medjugorje and avoid high tariffs that merchants normally had to pay. On one of the shipments, Terry Colafrancesco smuggled a pick-up truck cleverly hidden in a container. When Gojko Jerkovic, (he helped Terry with the shipments), saw the truck, he became very angry and expressed outrage over the fact that he could be imprisoned over this."
"I used to work there for about two years and this man literally ripped my brother and I apart and convinced him that he was weak for staying in close contact with his family. I witnessed large amounts of money being taken in and used for other things than what they were supposed to be. This man has laundered money through those poor, and I mean POOR IN EVERY WAY, PEOPLE'S accounts and has them write checks back to him for his own use. I have black and white proof of this."
"Marija, in Medjugorje, has been notified by those who left about all of Terry's lies and deception, even including her. Yet, she is only human and from what I've noticed through meeting her, she feels obligated to Terry for decorating her house, etc....and let's not forget the part he played to help her brother..(yet, no one knows that Terry was given over $50,000 to bring her here). People have even given her money in order that they might meet her when she has come to the U.S. However, we have proof that he never intends to make good on those promises as they never happen! We know, because someone who left, told us they had to keep making excuses why they could never meet with Marija and coincidently more money was even requested from these people in hopes that next time the meeting may be possible. Terry was heard saying that would never happen. He is purely evil for doing this to innocent people with good intentions......His pocketbook was the only thing that has gotten satisfaction."
But former residents believe Colafrancesco has succeeded in duping a lot of well-intentioned Catholics. "There's no connection between Caritas and Medjugorje," said Mike O'Neill, 62, an Ohio native who lived at Caritas from 1991 to 1999. "That's not happening. This guy is using Medjugorje to make money."
Flynn, who now lives in Michigan with his wife and seven children, provided bank statements that show he wrote more than $45,000 in checks to Colafrancesco over the course of several years.
Flynn and Littiken said they and several other residents would occasionally receive checks written out to them from Caritas of Birmingham, which they would deposit in their checking accounts. Soon after the money was deposited, they said, they would be told by a high-ranking resident of Caritas to write a check, usually the same amount they had deposited, to Colafrancesco.
"The first couple times we did that we were told it was for the property tax that had to be paid on the land," said Flynn, 41. "(We were told that) since Caritas used all of the land it was only right, so that Terry was not paying the property taxes out of his pocket."
Eventually, Flynn said, no reason was given for why the checks to Colafrancesco were needed. They also were told the practice was legal, he said. Flynn also said he and other residents were each given a check to deposit several days before New Year's Eve 1999, when pre-millennium fears were at a peak. They were instructed to cash the checks and bring the money to one of the high-ranking members of Caritas, he said.
They were told they had to do this because Caritas needed to withdraw its money from the bank in case the economy collapsed at midnight, Flynn said. His bank statement from January 2000 shows that on Dec. 28 he deposited a $10,000 check from Caritas and then cashed a check in the same amount on Dec. 31. After cashing the check, Flynn said he brought the cash back to Caritas. Ritchey said he couldn't comment on the statements made by Flynn regarding the checks.
Caritas has a board of directors, but only Colafrancesco and Birmingham resident Sam Gagliano sit on the board. Gagliano declined to be quoted for this article.
Board decisions made by fewer than three people wouldn't meet the standards for nonprofit corporations laid out by the Philanthropic Advisory Service, a national charity watchdog, said Bennett Weiner, a vice president at the Philanthropy Advisory Service, based in Arlington, Va.
Bigger charities should have bigger boards "to ensure that the charity is carried out properly. It's common sense." Of Caritas, Weiner said, "I'd certainly hope they'd expand their board."
From the field, Colafrancesco's home is visible through the trees. Although Caritas occupies about 168 acres, 144 of those acres, valued at more than $500,000, are in Colafrancesco's name, according to Shelby County records. In 1998, Colafrancesco told The Associated Press that all of the land is for Caritas and he just had not deeded it over yet. In the article he said, "If I give it over to the nonprofit, the federal government could come in in five years ... and try to change the way we operate."
Several buildings are located on the main compound, the most impressive of which is the $2 million Tabernacle of Our Lady's Messages, a stone and wooden building containing a worship area, statues, offices and a printing press. Next to the Tabernacle sits the gift shop. In the distance, the five or six trailers the families and single adults who live at Caritas call home dot the landscape.
Much of the donations that pour into Caritas, former residents said, were used to purchase expensive equipment for the property. A lot of the heavy equipment has been purchased in the past couple of years, neighbors and former residents said. The inventory, according to neighbors and people who once lived at Caritas, includes a sawmill, a tractor-trailer, a Caterpillar loader and horse trailers.
"In the mid-80's, Jack Sacco was very active in the Medjugorje movement in Birmingham. In mid-July, I talked to him at length regarding his association with Terry. He said that in 1986 when Terry became involved in the Medjugorje movement, he (Terry) was looking for another source of income since his landscaping business was going bankrupt. Jack said that, it was his impression that when Terry was in Medjugorje, he also saw dollar signs. A disturbing point in the interview was when Jack told me that in the summer of 1987 Terry took him to the pine tree in the field. Terry told Jack: "Someday Marija will have an apparition at this pine tree. I haven't figured it out yet how I'm going to do it, but I will. You know who comes after Our Lady? Satan and chaos!" Jack said that Terry was very excited about the part of Satan and chaos and from that point on, he wanted nothing to do with Terry."
"The two interviews are only two of the several that I have done convincing me that Terry has very cleverly and carefully lied about the mission of Caritas from the very beginning for the purpose of control and money. I present these facts to you in order for you to have the most complete picture possible in order to carry out your pastoral obligations regarding Caritas."
Additional detailed information on Caritas of Birmingham and self-styled "A Friend of Medjugorje" (Terry Colafrancesco) are available in English and Italian languages online at: