Thousands gather at Catholic retreat to see visionary

Thousands of pilgrims have gathered at Caritas of Birmingham, located in Sterrett, to witness as a visionary relays messages from the Virgin Mary.

Marija Lunetti, 43, from Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has claimed to see daily visions of the Virgin Mary since she was a teenager.

Between 7,000-15,000 people are in Sterrett for a special Independence Day spiritual program that began Wednesday and will last until Sunday. During the five days, the pilgrims relax with others, take prayer and reflection time and wait for Lunetti’s messages from the Virgin Mary.

Lunetti, a slim woman with a heavily-accented voice, said she travels all over the world to spread her message.

“I go to many different spots. I go to make testimony,” she said. “It’s a gift that Our Lady gives to me for other people.”

Caritas leader Terry Colafrancesco said this week is about changing individuals in a quest to change the nation.

“Our nation is very important to my heart. When I started praying for our country, I began to realize that the nation can’t be healed until the individual is healed and the family is healed,” Colafrancesco said. “Our Lady showed me that I wanted to change the nation, but I had to change me.”

He said he considers it a miracle that a place like Caritas can succeed here and change lives in such a largely Protestant area.

“The most unlikely place in the United States would be here, because it’s so Protestant,” he said. “For the fruit of that to grow in an unlikely place, it must be God.”

After Lunetti spoke to the crowd Thursday morning, dozens of people swarmed around her, touching her and asking for her intercession with the Virgin Mary. Some whispered into her ears.

“All of these people come and ask me for help,” Lunetti said.

She said she knows not everyone believes in her visions, but she has to continue to do her work.

“Everybody has free will,” she said. “I give my testimony, but the people choose whether to accept it or not.”

For a schedule of events, including when the apparition should appear to Lunetti, or more information on Caritas, call 672-2000.