Wisonsin Pilgrims Endure Trip to Catholic Shrine in Bosnia Despite Bus Crash

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Bruised but in good spirits, a group of Wisconsin pilgrims who were injured in a bus accident this week continued their trip to a Catholic shrine Thursday, praying for two passengers who remain hospitalized.

The bus carrying the 34 Americans to the Medjugorje shrine collided with a truck on a wet road Monday evening 12 miles south of Sarajevo, plunged down a ravine, and ended up sideways in a shallow river.

"My husband was buried under the bus. My three children were unharmed. I climbed out and people stopped their cars jumped out and formed a chain, pulling us one by one up the hill," said Elisabeth Meier of Hartland, Wis.

Twenty-seven passengers were injured. Meier's husband, Andy, remains in critical condition due to a spinal injury. The Rev. Rick Wendell, associate pastor at Holy Angels Parish of West Bend, Wis., also remains hospitalized for multiple fractures that are not life-threatening.

"Andy is paralyzed," Elisabeth Meier said. "But we keep praying and we want everybody at home to pray for him."

Their three children — Sam, 14, Madeleine, 12, and Frank, 4, — proceeded Thursday with the group to Medjugorje, while Elisabeth Meier stayed in Sarajevo to be with her husband.

"He wanted us to come here. It's a tribute to him that the kids are going," she added.

Medjugorje has drawn millions of pilgrims since 1981, when six Bosnian Croats said they began seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

Most of the injured Americans were released a day after the accident and stayed in a nearby hotel. The group praised hospital staff, saying doctors and nurses did everything they could and even collected clothes for the group whose luggage got soaked with diesel fuel in the crash. The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo provided direct phone connections so they could call home.

"I want to win a lottery and give it all to the Kosevo hospital," said Ann Casper, 73, of West Bend. Despite a fracture in her neck and a cast that does not allow her to move her head, she decided to travel to Medjugorje Thursday.

"People took good care of us here. We were even visited by the head of the Muslim community in Bosnia and his wife. They were great, they brought us flowers," said Jessie Hietpas, 56, of Little Chute, Wis.

Many Bosnians, particularly Muslims, still feel very grateful to the United States for initiating a military intervention in 1995 that ended the Bosnian war and lifted the siege of Sarajevo.

"We had no clue they like Americans here so much, but later it was explained to us that we helped them more than anyone else during the war," Hietpas said.