10-Aug-87 19:46 MST Sb: APms 08/10 0211 Medjugorje Trips NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Pilgrimages to

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10-Aug-87 19:46 MST Sb: APms 08/10 0211 Medjugorje Trips NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Pilgrimages to the Yugoslavian village of Medjugorje are a small, but lucrative, slice of new business, travel agents here say, adding it's more than a flash in the pan. "I believe Medjugorje is here to stay. It's another Fatima," said Yugoslavian-born Klara Cvitanovich, a partner in a suburban Metairie travel agency, who has also worked as a translator for a number of tours to Yugoslavia. Residents of New Orleans and south Louisiania have spent an estimated $6.6 million a year to be transported, sheltered and fed in Medjugorje, according to estimates from travel agents. Of that, travel agencies will get 10 percent, or $660,000. While the agents say they can't advertise this tourist destination too brashly, because of its strong religious overtones, every month between 500-to-600 people travel from South Louisiana to the village where, six years ago, a group of children say they witnessed an appearance of the Virgin Mary. "There's much demand for Medjugorje trips. It's become a popular destination," said Maria Spraul, a travel consultant with another Metairie agency. "A group of 20 of us went," said Jan Thomas, co-owner of a New Orleans travel agency, "and there were at least 300, maybe 500, New Orleans people there." Since the first sightings, some five million people worldwide have visited Medjugorge. According to a conservative estimate, 500,000 went in the first half of this year. Since the business of travel agents is to sell lots of tours in volume, even a small cut of the Medjugorje trade helps. The lure of the village of 1,500 is the chance to experience a series of paranormal occurrences that have included: -- A dancing, pulsating sun that many visitors say can be viewed for 15 minutes without eye damage. -- Lightning-like flashes that have illuminated a 30-foot-high, mountain-top cross -- Rosaries that have turned gold- and rose-colored. In Louisiana, Medjugorje fever began spreading faster this year, making the state one of the country's biggest sources of pilgrims. The interest in Mejugorje began first in New England, then spread to the South (now the biggest sources of tours), and now flares as far away as Alaska, said Cvitanovich, who speaks Croatian, the village's regional tongue. Organizing tours to an Eastern European, Soviet bloc nation that traditionally hasn't lured crowds of tourists may seem intimidating. But Cvitanovich said it shouldn't be. There's good access to knowledgeable Yugoslavian tour operators and ample transportation available. Since Medjugorje has no hotel, visitors usually stay at the homes of villagers. The going rate is $20 a person per night. But large houses that will accommodate 30 or 40 tourists are being built in Medjugorje, travel agents report. And with the millions of visitors, the people of Medjugorje are enjoying a measure of prosperity, the agents said. Copyright 1987 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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