Rita Falsett was a co-worker of Father Slavko Barbaric. She assisted him with some of his projects from 1993 until his death in 2000. After that she spent some time in Medjugorje in a hidden but effective ministry.
The reason of our interview, Rita, is your stay in Medjugorje and your help to the Parish community and especially to the late Father Slavko Barbaric, whom you assisted. First of all, can you tell us how you learned about Medjugorje and what was going on in your life at that time?
R.F. : I heard about Medjugorje in the early eighties and since I knew that my mother always liked to go on pilgrimages, I decided to suggest to her that she should visit this place. I didn’t think I should go, but that she should go. So she went to Medjugorje and brought me a rosary and some prayers.
I started to pray. Then I heard that a war had broken out here. Since I worked in the social field, I decided to help the people who were suffering here. I got in touch with an organization that was going to come here and work with rape victims. We were getting ready to come, but it turned out that we would not get the money we were supposed to receive from the state. So I decided to come here on my own. And I really did come. A number of humanitarian organizations were based in Medjugorje. After speaking with them, I started to work as a volunteer. We were transporting convoys of medicine and food to Sarajevo and Bosnia.
I thought I would stay here for some six months. At that time I met Milona von Habsburg, who was working with Father Slavko. She asked me if I could help Father Slavko with some new projects. Milona was preparing for a wedding and knew that Father Slavko needed help. I told her: Why not?! I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I told myself that I would do everything I could for Father Slavko. That’s how it all started. It was in 1993/94.
How would you describe your experience of Medjugorje during your stay here?
R.F. : When I came here, it was purely for humanitarian reasons. When I started working with Father Slavko, I started praying more, going to the evening program, to the Rosary, to Podbrdo and to Križevac. Over time, my spiritual life opened up and was renewed. I was learning about my Catholic faith. I learned a lot from Father Slavko, especially by watching him, observing him, being present at adoration. In general, I can say I started to pray more. As we all know, he lived out everything he said about Our Lady’s messages. He lived fasting, prayer, conversion, he was a living example of how to live Our Lady’s messages. Through that, I came to know God and Our Lady and the wonderful traditions of the Catholic faith. My life in Medjugorje during those eight years, and seven with Father Slavko, meant a lot of work and a lot of work with pilgrims.
Rita, we can say that in some way you were the right hand of Father Slavko. The Lord called him home. How did you handle that moment?
R.F. : I was there when Father Slavko passed away. I saw him slowly falling to the ground. I ran to him and saw him gasping for air. I didn’t know what to do, but it was clear to me that it was surely a heart attack. Of course, I started screaming and calling for help. Father Slavko died very quickly, it probably only took 30 or 35 seconds. When he passed away, I had to tell myself that now I should cry and be very sad. It’s hard to explain, but at that moment I was filled with such a deep and strong peace. I knew that everything was going to be all right. I just knew it was meant to be that way. While Father Slavko was lying there, a physician came running and tried to feel his pulse. He said he had passed away. Suddenly, Father Slavko raised his head, opened his eyes, breathed his last, and bowed his head. The doctor and I looked at each other in surprise and knew it was over. We carried him down from Križevec. The road was very slippery. I think it took us an hour to climb down. Father Svetozar met us at the fourth Station of the Cross. He gave Father Slavko the last rites and we loaded him into the Ambulance.
How did you feel working with Father Slavko? What does the experience of assisting him mean to you?
R.F. : I noticed many things while working with Father Slavko. I think that Our Lady gave him one very special gift. When someone was near him, he had the impression that he was the only one in the world. I would compare it to the Adoration: you are there with Jesus and you feel that you are very special, the most important person, even though there may be hundreds around you. Father Slavko could talk to five or six people, but with one look he would tell you that you were the only one. He had the gift of talking to so many people and at the same time giving everyone what they needed at that very moment. He knew how to be a mother, a father, a brother, a sister if that person needed it to be healed. I truly believe that Father Slavko was an example, a true disciple of Our Lady. He was committed to Her, and She used him as an instrument for the salvation of souls. I was impressed by how steadfast and even-tempered Fr. Slavko was in all things. Everything he did, he did with love. Even when he was angry with someone, when he rebuked someone, it was with love. I truly believe that those who were close to Father Slavko here in Medjugorje received something from God’s love, from Heaven. Every day I thank God and Our Lady for the gift of Father Slavko in my life. During those years of working with him, I did not realize what a gift it was.