Interview: Hubert Liebherr, Initiator of the “Peace March”
Other languages: English, Hrvatski
Date: July 27, 2005 , Originally published August 2, 2002
Content of the article
On the 21st anniversary of Our Lady’s apparitions, we spoke in Medjugorje with Hubert Liebherr, the man who, in 1992 – with about 300 friends from all over the world – initiated the “Peace March”, which has become, in the meantime, one of the symbols of this shrine.
Until 1988, Hubert was co-proprietor of a German company “Liebherr-Werke”, which employs 20,000 people in different countries of the world. In 1988, he renounced his inheritance and put himself totally at the service of God – the service of spreading Our Lady’s messages: he organises pilgrimages, publishes the magazine “Medjugorje Aktuell”, is responsible for the website www.medjugorje.de, gives witnesses publicly and gives lectures, helps the Church in the countries of the ex-communist block…
We asked him to talk about the beginning of the “Peace March” and about his life, because he has become a part of the history of Medjugorje, and is a very known and public personality.
About the “Peace March”
Lidija Paris: Hubert, we are glad that you came to Medjugorje also this year for the anniversary of the apparitions. You have participated in the “Peace March”, and we know that you played the decisive role in the initiation of this prayerful walk from Humac to Medjugorje. Would you be so kind as to tell us how the “Peace March” came about?
Hubert Liebherr: I came to Medjugorje for the first time in 1987. In 1989, 1990 and 1991, we used to come to Medjugorje on foot. In 1991, it was for the anniversary itself. On these pilgrimages through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, we came to know people. They were wonderful. On June 26th, 1991, the shooting started here. The border was closed, we could not go back. We had to go through Hungary. By Easter 1991, we already experienced war conditions at Plitvice, when the Chetniks shot at our bus. From the very beginning, we felt this tough war that broke out in the heart of Europe, and nobody seemed to care much about it…
From the very beginning, we brought help to Medjugorje: medicaments and other things. In April 1992, we came on pilgrimage with a bus full of food. My friend Axel Weidinger was with us.
It was as though Medjugorje were dead: families were evacuated to Makarska and to Tucepi; only men remained. Everything was closed and barricaded… The church was locked; Holy Mass was celebrated in the basement of the Parish House. At night, nobody was allowed to go out of the house. There was no electricity and no telephone connection. Chetniks were 4 kilometres from here, at the river Neretva.
When we came here in April 1992, we met Dragan Kozina, who was in charge of the defence of Medjugorje. He showed us the arms that he had for the defence: 2 MG 42 from the Wold War II, about 12 guns, 7 hunting guns and about 7 hand grenades. You would not believe without seeing with your own eyes! He took us to the river Neretva. At the other side, there was the Yugoslav Army, having the weapons of an army at its disposition. While we were standing there, a rocket flew towards Capljina… We could only count the number of times they shot towards us. We had nothing to defend ourselves.
Marisa Baldisari, Axel Weidinger and myself understood: a war broke out in the heart of Europe. David is standing helpless in front of Goliath. We have the strongest possible weapon: we have the rosary. How to give the good direction of this weapon to obtain the best effect? This was the beginning, this is how the idea came about: we have to do something with the rosary, here, where it happens, walking. All of the conversations with people showed us how they were disappointed: with the first shot, all the tourists were gone, and the politicians of the world did not even react, or – worse than this – they supported the Serbs! People were in despair: how it is possible that – in front of the eyes of the world – something like that can be permitted? Nobody intervenes, everybody runs away… This is why we said that it has to take place here. We shared a lot, we phoned a lot, especially with Fr. Leonard Orec who, at that time, was in Tucepi with the families: we said that we want to initiate a Peace March. Our problem was: is it prudent? Can we answer for something of the kind in the situation when Medjugorje was in the reach of Serbian artillery? The Yugoslav Army had shown that they wait for people to come together to shoot on them… Then, I had learned that we should not have a blind confidence in the situation when the reason obliges something else! After many conversations, we agreed to the following: we would walk - praying the rosary - in direction of Medjugorje. In the beginning, we did not think about a Eucharistic procession, this came later.
On June 10th, 1992, the Croatian Council for Defence (HVO) pushed the Serbians to Stolac. On June 24th, 1992, Medjugorje was no longer in the reach of enemy’s weapons. The question remained how to come into Herzegovina? The road along the Adriatic was not safe. We decided to take a boat from Ancona and see how the situation would develop. If they told us that it is too dangerous, we would stop. If they let us go, we would continue. We wanted to be obedient to the indications that we would receive, because God can act only through obedience. At that time, we sent faxes to the Medjugorje centres all over the world. About 250 or 300 people from all over the world came together. At Ancona, we received the blessing from Bishop Hnilica. We hired a boat and took it in the direction of Split. There, we were magnificently received: the parish priest of Medjugorje and the visionaries, the representatives of the city of Split, radio, television… They told us that we were a living sign of Medjugorje, because now, in this situation, we have the courage to come here. With us, many families came back to Medjugorje, because someone had to take care of us, pilgrims! From ten onwards, normal life came back to Medjugorje.
Lidija Paris: Was the idea of a Eucharistic procession born on that boat?
Hubert Liebherr: Yes! In the beginning, we did not think of something like that! Looking from Germany, everything seemed insecure; we did not know how the situation would develop… Some priests from Germany, Austria and Australia were with us on that boat, and we had Holy Mass. By mistake, we consecrated more hosts than necessary, and we took them with us. At that moment, our pilgrimage became a Eucharistic procession, which was not planned in the beginning.
After the solemn reception in Split, we took buses to go to Humac, where we spread hundreds of flags… every country had its flag! After the blessing at Humac, we walked to Medjugorje praying the Rosary, singing and playing. There were several guitars and other instruments. His first “Peace March” was transmitted by television and broadcasted all over the country.
Lidija Paris: At what time of the day did you take off?
Hubert Liebherr: I do not remember exactly the time, but I know that it was in the middle of the day, in the heat! I think it was in the early afternoon. It was hot, but there was such a wonderful atmosphere! And the families came back!
We did not know if there was enough food in Medjugorje for all of us, and we also brought a truck with 20 tons of food. We left that truck here, for the needs of the population…
After this “Peace March”, we thought that we have done what we had to do. We gave a sign. The parish has recognised this sign and took over the organisation of the “Peace March”.
Lidija Paris: Have you participated in every “Peace March”?
Hubert Liebherr: Yes, every time! This has become a part of the history of Medjugorje…
Lidija Paris: Fr. Slavko carried all of these events in his heart. He is not any more among us, Fr. Leonard Orec neither… This is why it is important to hear the witnesses, so not to forget…
Hubert Liebherr: Both of them are no longer among us. We had regular contacts with Fr. Leonard, because we could get him on the phone. He coordinated all of the convoys with humanitarian help. During three years, we had our own 40-ton truck for this purpose, which travelled up and down… In Split, the friars had a storage where we used to leave our aid. People used to come from central Bosnia to Split and take what they needed. They had vehicles which would not be allowed on the street in Germany… in such terrible technical conditions! They could not be better under the rockets and bullets… Once, I went with them to Tuzla through central Bosnia: through narrow mountain and forest roads, avoiding main roads, to avoid Serbian regions… For 400 kilometres, we needed two and a half days! In Tuzla, we distributed food: only 1 or 2 kilograms of food per person… we did not have more then this. At that time, we again met so many wonderful people, who were involved with their whole heart, so that help really reaches those who needed it. It was important for us, to be able to witness in front of the donors. We wrote about it in our magazine “Medjugorje Aktuell”.
Lidija Paris: This means that you are not alone, that there are others with you? How did it come about?
Hubert Liebherr: In Germany, I am the president of an association called “Medjugorje Deutschland E.V.”, founded in 1987. Five people work for the association now, and I am a volunteer. Different prayer groups gather around the association. The association also organises pilgrimages, different venues in Germany, lectures and witnesses. I have personally between 20 ad 30 lectures every year. I speak about Medjugorje.