“Listen, my brothers: If the Blessed Virgin is so honored, as it is right, since she carried Him in her most holy womb; if the blessed Baptist trembled and did not dare to touch the holy head of God; if the tomb in which He lay for some time is so venerated, how holy, just, and worthy must be the person who touches Him with his hands, receives Him in his heart and mouth, and offers Him to others to be received. This is He Who is now not about to die, but Who is eternally victorious and glorified, upon Whom the angels desire to gaze (1 Pet 1:12).”
- St. Francis of Assisi
This is a quote from St. Francis on the power of priests, and this week’s piece is dedicated to one of the holiest, peaceful and prayerful priests I know - Fra Jozo Grubisic, OFM and his Franciscan (Order of Friars Minor) brother priests. Fra Jozo served at our home parish, Queen of Peace in Norval for the last 2 years as an Associate Pastor and today we bid him farewell as he moves to St. Leopold Mandic Parish in London where he will take over as Pastor.
Fra Jozo, Queen of Peace Pastor Fra Marko Puljic, along with all of their Croatian Franciscan brother priests across North America are heroes for their commitment, sacrifices and the love they spread in their priestly vocation. They have given their lives in service of the Church, building the Kingdom of God, preaching the Word, and bringing the Sacraments to the faithful. This is what all priests do when they answer The Call. These Franciscans however, with their vows of chastity, poverty and obedience are a different breed of priests. Almost all these men (some homegrown in North America) were born and raised in their respective cities and villages in Croatia and Bosnia & Hercegovina. They went through their priestly formation in seminaries in the Motherland (the WWII generation completed their studies in the US), then came across the Atlantic to service in parishes across this continent (Norval, London, Windsor, Montreal, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee and others) carrying out The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19).
Some of these ‘mission’ parishes have been around for over 100 years, with many priests coming here for decades and decades, serving the Church until their last breath. They leave their families, friends, home parishes, and everything they know to embark on a journey West, truly missionary territory in these days, to evangelize their fellow Croatians in the Catholic faith.
These priests live simple and humble lives, bringing joy and hope to everyone they cross. And just when you think a Fra Nikola, Fra Stipe, Fra Tomislav or most recently Fra Jozo, feels settled and at ‘home’, they are called to pack their bags and move on to the next parish in need of their leadership, gifts and charisms. They learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. They willfully depart, landing in new territory, always embracing the sons and daughters of God that are placed in their care.
The patron saint of priests, St. John Vianney (the Curé d'Ars) said, “a priest’s complete identification is with his ministry. A good pastor, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure the good Lord can give a parish.” These God-loving priests are such a gift to our Croatian Diaspora. Surely, we can get spiritually fed and join our neighborhood diocesan parishes… getting the same Gospel, same Eucharist, et cetera… BUT there is something truly unique about cultural parishes with their missionary priests at the helm, as I can attest with our Croatian church community.
There are many challenges, especially when it comes to logistics and planning with us “hard headed Hercovgci” (we come from the Land of Rock). However the pros outweigh the cons 100 times. First of all - family. Sometimes it feels like we are all related, somehow! Our parents and grandparents have their blood and neighborly connections from their home villages that remain strong while living in these parts far away from the land they knew. And there are new waves of Croatians immigrants arriving year by year. Those common ancestral roots run deep. Further, Croatians are a people that have suffered through centuries of persecution, occupation and war - especially via Socialism/Communism - hence our collective disdain for those godless ideologies that only brought emptiness, pain and death and why we so strongly clutch our Catholic faith. All Croatians have someone in their family or close circles that went through these horrific periods in our history with countless having lost their lives for not just our Independence, but more importantly our Faith. It is this shared hallowed history, that gives us our fortitude, our passion, our fearless attitudes and it is what unites us and gives us hope for a brighter tomorrow...
St. Pope John Paul II on his trip to Croatia in October 1998 said: “With all my heart I hope that the people of Croatia will remain faithful to Christ also in the future. This faithfulness holds the secret of true freedom: it is Christ, in fact, who “for freedom . . . has set us free” (Gal 5:1). And this freedom, as one of your poets sings, “is a gift in which God Most High has given us every treasure” (I. Gundulic, Dubravka).”
Croatian priests also build community and make the church grounds the hub for all kinds of action with their commitment to helping facilitate Croatian school, folklore dancing and musical acts (kolo and tambura) and soccer on their grounds or nearby to ensure that our age-old language, traditions and pastimes are not lost. Our kolo groups practice and have performances throughout the year and also sing at Feast Days and Christmas & Easter. Our soccer club is on our grounds almost every night during the summer, and sat in the front rows today as we welcomed the World Cup Finalist Croatian National Soccer Team Coach, Zlatko Dalic at Mass today, who is a great man of faith that inspired Catholics all around the world with his devotion to the Rosary:
“Everything I have done in my life and in my professional career I owe to my faith, and I am grateful to my Lord. I can be very happy with my life, without strong faith and that motivation, it would be very difficult to achieve it. When a man loses any hope, then he must depend on our merciful God and on our faith. I always carry a rosary with me and when I feel that I am going through a difficult time I put my hand in my pocket, I cling to it and then everything is easier”.
It was a packed house with this guest of honor… and also for the going-away luncheon for our beloved Fra Jozo, who so eloquently and cheerfully said his farewell, talking about the beauty and importance of Queen of Peace Norval holding true to what their founders envisioned 40 years ago when the ‘Centar’ began as a ‘Mala Hrvatska’: video here.
To the young ones in our community and beyond, you sons and daughters that are the future of our Church. I urge you to not look at these priests and religious as if they came off an assembly line from Heaven, plopped in our parishes as needed. No - look at them as common folk like yourself, as young Catholics who studied their faith, who fell in love with Jesus Christ, who built a prayerful relationship with Him and felt compelled to spend the rest of their lives serving him and bringing others like YOU to the Truths of the Gospel and the Light of Eternal Life. These men couldn’t serve God if they didn’t love Him, and couldn’t love God if they didn’t know Him, and they couldn’t know Him if they didn’t open their minds and hearts to the possibility that we are more than flesh and bones, but made for more...
We need more of our faithful to be open, to be bold and to answer The Call. (Matthew 22:14)
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI motivated us amidst this vocation crisis in many countries, especially here in Canada, "The low numbers of priestly ordinations in some countries not only must not discourage us, it should stimulate us to dedicate greater space to silence and to listening to the Word, to improving spiritual guidance and the Sacrament of Confession, so that the voice of God, which always continues to call and to confirm, may be heard and followed by many young people." Fra Jozo, I hope many youth are inspired by you, and all your brother priests that have graced us at Queen of Peace and Croatian Franciscan parishes across the continent. Godspeed on your next chapter. We thank you and love you. Pax et Bonum!
Mission Statement of our Franciscans:
We, the friars of the Holy Family Custody, have been chosen by God to live our Christian calling in Franciscan fraternity, simplicity and prayerfulness. We share this charism with the Croatian immigrants, their descendants and all others in whose lives we share through the generosity of God. We do this specifically through our parish ministry, publications, educational programs, evangelization efforts and through others forms of ministry appropriate to our calling.
We journey with others as pilgrims making our way to the eternal kingdom in which God’s rule will be fully established. Bog i hrvati! - Ante