Interview: Rita Falsetto, Fr. Slavko Barbarić’s Co-worker Over the Many Years
Date: July 27, 2005 , Originally published December 11, 2001
Rita Falsetto, Fr. Slavko Barbarić’s co-worker over the many years, left Medjugorje and went home to the USA after many years spent at the service of the Shrine. Fr. Dario Dodig spoke with her a few days before she left.
Fr. Dario Dodig: The reason for this conversation, Rita, is your stay in Medjugorje and the help you have given to the Parish Community and the Shrine, and in a special way to Fr. Slavko Barbarić, whom you have assisted. In the beginning, Rita, can you tell us how you have heard about Medjugorje and what happened in your life the?
Rita Falsetto: I heard about Medjugorje in the early 80’s and – knowing that my mother always wanted to come on a pilgrimage – I decided to ask her and to send her here. I, off course, didn’t think I needed to come here; it was only my mother that should come. So, she came to Medjugorje and she brought me a rosary and some prayer books.
I began praying, and then I heard about the war starting here. I decided, since I was working in social work at the time, that I could possibly try and help the people here that were suffering. So, I got in touch with an organisation that was possibly coming here to work with rape victims. We were going to come, but the money for this organisation we should have had from the government ran out. So, I decided to come on my own anyway. And I did come, and there were several humanitarian aid organisations here, based in Medjugorje. So I spoke with them and started to volunteer my time with them. We drove convoys up to Sarajevo and medical aid and food to Bosnia.
At the time, I thought I would only be here about six months. During that time, I met Milona von Habsburg, who was working with Fr. Slavko Barbarić. She had asked me if I could possibly help Fr. Slavko with some of his new projects. Milona had met a young man and was thinking about getting married and leaving Medjugorje, and she knew that Fr. Slavko needed some help. So I said: Sure, why not. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I said I would try to do whatever I could for Fr. Slavko. So, that is how it began here in Medjugorje for me. It was in 1993/94.
Fr. Dario Dodig: Does it mean that the help you came to offer to Medjugorje was directly linked to the events of Medjugorje and to what your mother brought to you from her pilgrimage?
Rita Falsetto: At the time, I didn’t think so, but this is probably it. Yes.
Fr. Dario Dodig: God’s Providence?
Rita Falsetto: Probably, but I didn’t think like that at the time.
Fr. Dario Dodig: You remained in Medjugorje? Was it difficult?
Rita Falsetto: Yes, I decided to remain here and as I said, I started to help Fr. Slavko with his new project for Mother’s Village. At the beginning, it was difficult, off course, because I didn’t know what Fr. Slavko wanted. He told me about the Mothers’ Village and I had some vague ideas.
Fr. Dario Dodig: What could you say about your experience of Medjugorje through your stay here?
Rita Falsetto: When I first came here, it was more to work with humanitarian aid. As I begun to work with Fr. Slavko I begun to pray more, to go the evening programme, the rosary, Podbrdo, Križevac. As the time was going, my spiritual life was opening up, getting better, I was learning more about my Catholic faith. I was learning a lot from Fr. Slavko by basically watching him, observing him, being here during his Adorations and in general just praying more. Fr. Slavko, as we all know, lived everything he spoke about the messages of Our Lady. He lived fasting, prayer, conversion; he was a living example how to live the messages of Our Lady. Through that, I felt myself getting to know God and Our Lady and the beautiful traditions of the Catholic faith. My life in Medjugorje in this past 8 years, 7 years with Fr. Slavko, was a lot of work, and through that work, I began to work with pilgrims as well.
Fr. Dario Dodig: Is there any personal experience or an experience of a pilgrim you would like to share?
Rita Falsetto: Over these many years I came to realise that the most beautiful fruit of Medjugorje is the confession. Ispovijed. There was one special encounter with a pilgrim. There was a man from America who was 99 years old. He had come to Medjugorje specifically to go to confession. He had seen a programme about Medjugorje in America. He was very ill, but he decided to come to Medjugorje for confession. The lady that brought him came to me and asked if Fr. Slavko could come to the house where he was staying to hear his confession. He was too weak to come to the church. With Fr. Slavko, we were sitting in the room with this man and Fr. Slavko spoke with him. It was wonderful to see how this man fell in love with Medjugorje just because he had heard how wonderful the confession could be. Fr. Slavko heard his confession; he returned back to the States and died a few days, a few weeks later. As the years go by, I see the beauty and the importance of confession here in Medjugorje. Many people continue to tell me that they have come to Medjugorje and have gone for confession after 30 or 40 years. This has basically changed their entire life.
Fr. Dario Dodig: Rita, we could say that in a certain sense you were Fr. Slavko’s right hand. God took Fr. Slavko to himself. How did you experience that?
Rita Falsetto: I was there when Fr. Slavko died. I have seen him slowly sitting down on the ground. I ran over to him and was watching him gasping for breath. I didn’t know what to do except that I knew that he was probably having a heart attack. Off course, I started yelling for help and screaming to ask somebody to give some help. Fr. Slavko died very quickly; it took between 30 and 35 seconds. At the moment he died, I was saying to myself that I should be crying, very sad. But it is very difficult to explain. At that moment, there was such a deep intense peace that came over me in the depth of my being, and I knew at that moment that everything was going to be OK. I just knew that this is the way that it supposed to happen. As Fr. Slavko laid there, a doctor came and was checking for his pulse. He said that he was gone. All of a sudden, Fr. Slavko raised his head, opened his eyes, gasped his last breath, and then fell back. And I looked at the doctor, he looked at me, I was surprised, and we knew that it was finished. We were carrying him down the mountain. It was very slippery. We got down I guess an hour later. Fr. Svetozar met us at the 4th Station. He gave the last rights to Fr. Slavko. Then, we took him into the ambulance.
Fr. Dario Dodig: What was your perception of Fr. Slavko while working with him? And now, more than a year after his passing away, what would you say?
Rita Falsetto: Working with Fr. Slavko I observed many things about him. He was given a very special gift by Our Lady: If a person was in his presence, she felt that she was the only one there. It is like in adoration, you are there with Jesus and you feel that you are the most special, the most important person, it doesn’t’ matter if there are hundreds of others around. He could be speaking to 5, 6 other people, but with one glance, with one word, you had the idea that you were the only one. He also had the gift to be speaking to a lot of people but giving that specific person what he needed at the moment. He would be the mother, the father, the brother, the sister, if that is what that person needed for the healing. I really believe that Fr. Slavko was an example, a true disciple of Our Lady. He gave himself to her and she used him as the instrument for salvation of souls. It really amazed me how Fr. Slavko was so constant, so balanced in every way. Everything he did was done with love. Even if he was angry with someone or reprimanded someone, it was in love. I really believe that people who touched Fr Slavko here in Medjugorje got something of God’s love, of heaven. I thank God and Our Lady every day for the gift of Fr. Slavko in my life. I didn’t realise it those years; it was a great gift.
Fr. Dario Dodig: Do you have a message to give?
Rita Falsetto: I would just like to encourage people to come to Medjugorje, to open up their hearts, to God’s Love, to Our Lady. Even though they may feel that they are not worthy enough, that they are in problems… I wish to thank everybody here in Medjugorje and throughout this country for giving me the time and the chance to share in a part of this wonderful country and this wonderful place. And don’t give up on God, because he will never give up on you! Thank you.
Fr. Dario Dodig: Rita, thank you for your generosity at the school of Our Lady. You told that soon you will be returning home. I wish you a good journey and may the intercession of our heavenly Mother, the Queen of Peace, accompany you.