JUST a few years ago Mark Lenaghan was a committed member of the IRA, prepared to kill and maim for what he believed to be "the cause". Today you are more likely to find him in Medjugorge, helping organise groups of pilgrims visiting the site of the alleged apparitions of Our Lady.
I discovered the story of this 29-year-old Belfast man from a leaflet containing an interview he had given to a Yugoslavian Franciscan priests left at the back of St Andrew's cathedral in Glasgow.
It seemed almost too fantastic to be true. There was only one way I could be convinced, and that was by talking to Mark himself. I managed to trace him to a flat in Dublin, where he was only too happy to tell me of his remarkable and wonderful conversion.
Mark joined the IRA in 1978, and in one action had critically injured a civilian. But in 1982 he and a colleague stumbled upon an army roadblock while Mark was carrying a folded-down rifle on his back. He was arrested and interrogated, and later sentenced to 12 years in jail.
At that time Mark believed he was fighting for peace, justice and freedom. "I now realise I was deeply wounded in spirit. God had no part in my life," he told me. "In the H-Blocks at the Maze prison we would go to Sunday mass to meet each other, distribute leaflets and get news. Not to pray.
But it was a Mill Hill missionary who sowed the first seeds of conversion for Mark. Fr Paddy Kelly, who had just returned from a visit to Medjugorge, spoke passionately and convincingly about the message of repentence and forgiveness to be found there.
Mark was sceptical, but he did read the books he was sent by Fr Kelly. To him christians still seemed weak — betrayers of his revolution and his struggle.
But soon Mark began to notice that he no longer felt pleasure when he heard of soldiers, policemen or civilians being killed by terrorists. He started going to mass, then confession and communion. He no longer attended IRA courses, and finally told his "superiors" that he could morally justify the armed struggle and the murders no more. "Life for me has become valuable," he told them. "I cannot destroy it".
Mark was released from the Maze prison in 1988, after serving just over half his sentence. One of his first acts was to visit Medjugorge, where he claims he received spiritual comfort and healing. He was, and is, fully convinced by the testimonies of the visionaries there.
On his second trip to Yugoslavia the following Easter, a friend told him of someone he wanted mark to meet. It was a British soldier who had served in Belfast. They met, talked of how their lives were being transformed, and wished peace each upon the other.