The Conversion Story of Hilda Campman
By Mary-Sue Eck, Medjugorje Magazine
The First Fruits of Medjugorje in Curaçao
It was in December of 1994 when, spending some time in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, I noticed a bookstore that I hadn’t seen before, although I’d been in Atlanta several times and had passed that mall on countless occasions. I decided to visit St. Mary’s Book and Gift Store and see what I could find. It was the first of many visits.
I realize now it must have been our Blessed Mother inviting me because the minute I entered the store a beautiful picture of Our Lady, Queen of Peace caught my attention. [It was a picture of the face of the statue at Tihaljina, which would ultimately play an important role in my future and that of my family.] I have been “in love” with Our Lady ever since. I had heard about the apparition of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje and I believed in them, but I hadn’t paid any attention to the messages or read any books on the events. The first thing I learned was that the beautiful picture that greeted me was related to the apparition in Medjugorje. Next, in the Medjugorje section, I found Wayne Weible’s books. I bought ‘The Message” and “The Mission” and couldn’t wait to start reading. I couldn’t put them down. I read them one after the other. I was very touched by the message of Our Lady. I cried a lot, but I was also excited to learn about the apparitions, about our Blessed Mother, and about my faith. I began to know Jesus more and more each day.
My parents had baptized me Catholic and I went to Catholic schools. I had also gone to Charismatic prayer group meetings. However, at that stage of my life I was going to Mass only on special occasions. I wasn’t practicing my faith on a regular basis and I was doing nothing to learn more about it or make it grow deeper.
Now a whole new world opened before me. I started to read all I could get my hands on, and not only about Medjugorje. I also read the lives of the saints and books about my newly discovered Catholic faith.
I must tell you something about my mother, Carmen. She always made sure that we, my two sisters and I, would carry a medal, a holy card, or a booklet of prayers with us. When packing my suitcase for my trip to Atlanta, she told me to take some prayer books with me, just in case I felt lonely or didn’t have anything to do. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings so I packed them, but I had no intention of reading them. However, now that I had learned that Our Lady was asking us to pray the rosary, I started to read the prayer books. I wanted to pray but didn’t know how. I had never learned to pray the rosary.
I had included a booklet by Reverend Albert Shamon; “Our Lady Teaches about Prayer at Medjugorje,” which Auntie Babsie Bleasdell, from Trinidad, had given to me in 1990. On the inside of the cover was written, “To dearest Hilda from Aunty Babsy, with love and prayers. May the love Mary, freshly discovered, fill you with joy and put you in touch with God’s purpose for your life. October, 1990, Feast of the Holy Rosary.
I also found a small and very old booklet in Dutch on how to pray the rosary. I was on my way.
I learned about the other four “stones” in addition to prayer and rosary, which our Blessed Mother teaches us about: going to confession, Holy Mass, reading the Bible and fasting. Wow, I still had a lot to learn. But it was so great to see how Our Lady takes us by the hand and shows us, step by step, what we have to do.
I still remember that first confession, after not having gone for more than 20 years. I can recall going to confession only two or three times in my whole previous life. I asked about the hours of confession at a particular parish and learned they were heard from three to five on Saturday afternoons. It was March 29, my father’s birthday. I arrived at the Church exactly at three. More than an hour passed, however, before I had the courage to go into the reconciliation room. I was so scared I just sat there crying. Finally, I told myself I either had to go in or leave because I was making a fool of myself.
I went into the room. To my surprise, I could sit on a chair right next to the priest. After greeting me, the priest asked when my last confession had been. With some hesitation, I told him it must have been 20 years or more. I was completely surprised when he embraced me and welcomed me back into the Church. I thought I had cried a lot earlier, sitting in Church, but when Father embraced me I really sobbed hard. We spoke for a long time and as I left I was so happy, so relieved. How foolish I had been to be afraid.
There is one more event that took place during my time in Atlanta that is worth mentioning. Going to Mass one afternoon, I felt an urge to go to a particular parish that was about 30-45 minutes drive away. At the entrance to the Church, on a small table, were about 10 copies of a newsletter called “Queen of Peace,” published by the Pittsburgh Centre for Peace. They were free of charge and I took a few. They looked very interesting and I wanted to have some extras when I returned home to Curaçao.
Back at the apartment where I was staying, I started to read and I didn’t sleep that night, reading the articles over and over. They told of different apparitions and the Blessed Mother’s urgent messages that she had been giving for many years already. Why weren’t we hearing about these? I asked myself.
Again I cried a lot. Then I decided I would help Our Lady spread her messages. My trips to the bookstore increased. I needed as much material as possible before returning home
I came back completely on fire for Our Lady, wanting to spread the messages of Medjugorje and tell all who were interested what was happening there. I started by getting the articles translated into our Papiamento language, then photocopying them and distributing them through different prayer groups. As a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Foundation, I informed the other members about what was going on in Medjugorje. Our work at the foundation is about helping those in need, not only materially but also spiritually. I suggested bringing back the devotion to our Blessed Mother. Everyone agreed without hesitation.
From that day on, many leaflets were published. The one on how to say the rosary was most successful. We went to all the Catholic elementary schools and distributed this pamphlet on the rosary, in Papiamento language. In all, 20,000 pamphlets were distributed and in the year since, thousands and thousands more copies have been made and distributed. Until this very day people come and ask for the pamphlet.
We also organized a contest for the students of the Catholic primary schools, during the month of May, asking the children to write a prayer, poem, or short story for or about our Blessed Mother. The reactions were great. A priest working at the Catholic schools commented later that he had never seen such a large and positive reaction to a project organized from outside the schools.
Going to Medjugorje was not number one on my list. I felt I already knew Medjugorje through all the books and magazines I was reading and the different Marian Conferences I was attending in Miami, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. I could never spend enough time listening to the different speakers at those Marian Conferences. I found a whole new family there also. I even got to meet those people I was reading about or reading the books they had written. I was so excited to meet Father Albert Shannon., Father Stephen Barham, Wayne Weible and Rita Klaus in person.
I even flew to Puerto Rico when I learned Father Jozo was giving a talk on that island. Afterwards, I really felt part of a large Marian family. When I called, those in charge of organizing Father Jozo’s trip, offered to pick me up at the airport and arrange a place for me to stay. I didn’t know anybody in Puerto Rico, but through our Blessed Mother, we became one big family.
At one of those conferences, I subscribed to Medjugorje Magazine and Wayne Weible’s newsletter. In the newsletter I saw an ad for a pilgrimage he was taking to Medjugorje and suddenly I wanted to go. In the magazine I saw an ad about Sister Emmanuel’s TV programs, which you could get if you wanted to show them on your local TV station.
I had no experience with TV shows or how to go about airing a show, but just the idea of being able to share with others what was going on in Medjugorje and Our Lay’s messages, was enough to make me want to do it. I wrote Denis Nolan a letter telling him about my conversion and that I was interested in the TV programs. I hadn’t met Sister Emmanuel or heard her speak but the fact that she wanted to share her Medjugorje experience with the whole world spoke to me. I wrote my letter to Dennis Nolan in August of 1996.
I signed up for the November, 1996 pilgrimage to Medjugorje. It was an exciting time as the departure day approached but I also felt disappointed that I hadn’t heard from Denis Nolan in all those months. Finally I thought to myself, why would he write to me? I’m just some person in the Caribbean, with no big company behind me.
My pilgrimage to Medjugorje was a wonderful experience. The group was very large, about 200 persons. For the majority of us, it was our first trip to Medjugorje. The talks by the priests, visionaries and Wayne Weible were all very touching. The group was divided among several houses and those pilgrims in my house became a united family from the beginning. It was very cold and rainy at that time in Medjugorje, but every evening eight to ten of us would reunite around the candles next to the Church to pray the rosary. Afterward, we would go for hot chocolate and we’d each share how we first learned about Medjugorje and how it had changed our lives.
The most difficult part came when we had to say goodbye. We didn’t want to leave Medjugorje nor did we want to separate from each other. I remember very clearly the moment when the desire was born in my heart to bring people from Curaçao to Medjugorje. At the same time, I figured this was an impossible dream and this would be my first and last trip to Medjugorje. Little did I know then that this was Our Lady’s plan, not mine, and her plans always come to fruition.
Back in Curaçao I realized I had changed even more. I wasn’t happy anymore doing my job, which previously had been my “everything” for as long as I could remember. I often worked 16 hours a day. I took my work home, and I worked on Sundays and holidays. I don’t have anything against hard work, but there was no time for God in my life. I decided to give up my job and dedicate all my time to being an instrument of Our Lady.
The first year wasn’t easy. Not for one minute did I regret making this decision, but I had a difficult time explaining it to others, who didn’t understand why I had taken this action.
One day after our pilgrimage, in late November, 1996 I received a letter from Denis Nolan, telling me how excited he was to send me those TV shows. Imagine my excitement when the first seven shows arrived. Denis had included the first tape on VHS and I kept playing it over and over again. I was reliving my pilgrimage to Medjugorje and I cried a lot watching it. Four months later, on the feast of St. Joseph, March 17, 1997, the first TV program aired.
We received many reactions, many questions. One was, “Why don’t you interview those people from Curaçao who have been to Medjugorje already?” There were only a few such people but they were willing to share their experience on TV. That show was a big success and it was the beginning of our own programs which interchanged with Sister Emmanuel’s TV programs that had been airing weekly on two local TV stations.
Together with a friend, Enid, and Our Lady’s cameraman (the nickname we gave our cameraman) we went to Medjugorje in September of 1997 to attend a conference organized by the Florida Center for Peace. We filmed all the talks given by priests, visionaries, as well as testimonies that pilgrims shared with us. The highlight was our interview with Sister Emmanuel. Although I had met her and Dennis Nolan earlier that year at the Marian Conference at Notre Dame, we did not have time to talk. After the interview in Medjugorje with her, we felt like small children who had just received a wonderful gift.
The funniest part of this trip was making do when the tripod for the camera didn’t arrive. We used a newly invented tripod of three empty plastic bottle crates, with a piece of wood on top. It worked.
The desire that was born on my first pilgrimage to bring more people from Curaçao to Medjugorje was made reality in July, 1998, when a group of 42 people, more than half young people, traveled to Medjugorje with me to attend the Youth Conference. In 1999, another group of about the same size, this time with even more young people, traveled to the holy village. The beautiful testimonies were numerous. We went a third time, during Holy Week, April 2000, with a smaller group. Holy Week is a very special time to be in Medjugorje and each of us was touched in a special way.
The fruit of my conversion, closest to my heart, is what happened to my father. After seeing what Medjugorje had done to completely change my life, he decided to combine a business trip to Frankfurt with a trip to Medjugorje. He went all by himself. He returned a completely different person. He wanted to bring the whole island of Curaçao to Medjugorje. Realizing that was impossible, he felt inspired to bring Medjugorje to Curaçao. The result is a huge Cross, a Chapel, a rosary garden and a Guest and Retreat House. The project, called SERU DI ORASHON is a place of prayer and is our response to Our Lady’s urgent call in Medjugorje. My father jokes sometimes and says, “I built this to give Hilda something to do.” Medjugorje meant so much to him. “I went there in 1997, and I was profoundly impressed by the peaceful atmosphere on that spot, “he says. Everybody who arrives there has the same experience. It’s not a question of seeing Our Lady. It’s the peace that you don’t find anywhere else. There is something there you can’t explain. And that is where it became clear to me, that a Cross should be placed on my terrain. I really had a small Cross in mind. Then I got the idea of something bigger, greater.”
My father received many reactions to his construction, but it made little difference to him. He laughs when he tells you, “Some people think I have gone crazy. Others react with enthusiasm; I believe it is my task to build this. The Lord has given me the means to perform it. Everybody receives the means needed for his task from Him. In my case, it’s money. Money has always come to me by itself. A carpenter who is able to make something that I can’t has received other means from the Lord. But to bear in mind; nothing is ours. Indeed, we have only the loan of it. We can’t take it with us. He who has money and only buys himself big houses and nice cars and yacht, is not following the right path.”
Someone gave my father a rock from Medjugorje and he placed it in the Cross when it was being constructed. We did not know until afterwards that the Cross stands almost exactly in the middle of the island here. The monument has been placed under the guardianship of the Catholic Church, so it won’t be labeled as a sect.
During his daily walk to the hill, my father says he walks “hand in hand with God.” If you could witness his happiness at that time, you would agree.
We pray that many come here from beyond the shores of our small island. We invite our Marian family from the United States and around the world to join us here on retreat. You can also include some hours swimming at our numerous and beautiful beaches. People love to ride around the island experiencing the wonderful scenery.
I have precious memories of saying the rosary with Larry and Mary Sue Eck as we drove one night. Write to them if you are interested in making a retreat here in English or Spanish. They are speaking with others about such plans. How wonderful it would be to share the decades of a rosary with each of you.