I just received my diploma and framed it this week. Six years in the making. Now I really have to get to work. Other than an ongoing student of life, I’m not a student anymore, unless I sign up for another degree (not!).
On May 2nd I attended the diaconate ordinations of twenty of my Legionary brothers. They’d all been my students the year before, and some of them I’d worked with as far back as 2003, so I am proud to have helped them reach this important moment in their lives. Please keep them in our prayers along with the twenty-four other Legionary brothers who will be ordained deacons over the next month and a half all over the world. God-willing all 44 of them will be ordained priests in Rome on December 12th.
Pope John Paul II in an address to permanent deacons said that their contribution to the Church was that they “sacramentalized” the Church’s service: deacons are a sign of Christ, who became the servant of all, and a reminder that we are all called to serve others. In the case of the Legionary deacons, who’ll exercise this sacred ministry for a few months before becoming priests, it is a perfect introduction into sacred ministry. As priests and bishops we never stop serving in imitation of Christ, and it’s poignant reminder of that whenever we work with deacons and remember our own diaconate ordination.
The deacons were ordained by a Legionary bishop, Brian Farrell, who works in the Vatican, so in this photo we have all three degrees of Holy Orders represented (our General Director, Fr. Eduardo Robles-Gil, is in the photo to the bishop’s right.
Each one of these men is an answer to a prayer, so let’s keep praying for vocations.
Sometimes my Roman Catholic experiences become Roaming Catholic experiences. Last weekend (April 24-27) I crossed the Adriatic in Croatian Airlines and arrived in Split, Croatia to spend a few days with my family. My parents emigrated from Croatia in the 50’s and 60’s, so I still have aunts, uncles, and cousins in the “old country”. It was my first visit since 2006, a few days after my priestly ordination. The visit prior to that had been the summer of 1977. When I visited in 2006 I was struck by what you could describe as European culture after having lived in Italy off and on for five years: I could contrast two European countries and see what they had in common and what differed. I felt at home in the old country and it made me realize I had more European roots that I’d thought, which is probably why the transition to living in Italy wasn’t as hard as it can be for Americans. A tourist just doesn’t have the time and immersion to really experience another culture; he takes a few snapshots, tries some new meals, and then heads home. In the U.S. many people qualify their American heritage: they’re Croatian-American, Italian-American, Mexican-American, etc., but they are all Americans. For me being Croatian-American will always mean that I still have some Croatian, and therefore some European, in me. Living in Europe brings that home.
The first part of my trip I spent with family on my mother’s side. On Saturday morning, after a private Mass at the parish of Sveti Ivan Krstitelj (St. John the Baptist), we walked to downtown Split, on the waterfront, and relaxed with a coffee as we waited for the rest of the family to meet with us. On Saturdays the cafes are full of people sitting, watching the water and the ferries and other ships coming and going, and chatting. I soon realized that you would sit at a free table (we had to wait) to establish a beachhead: family would come and go, but someone was always manning the table, ordering something to eat or drink. We started with two chairs and by the end there were four. One of my cousins told me that all the cousins hadn’t gotten together in a while, so it was nice to see that my visit had brought family together (as it does when I visit California). My Croatian is not very good, but we managed to communicate just fine, some in English, others in Italian, but all “speaking” family.
We then walked over to the Cathedral, not far from the cafe. The Katedrala Svetog Duje (Cathedral of St. Domnius) in Split is built inside of what was Diocletian’s palace, a complex built in the late third to early fourth century AD. The complex is so big that is filled with shops and other buildings, so we walked around for a while before a long lunch with all the family together in the city.
My time in Croatia was brief, so on Saturday afternoon I said goodbye to my family on my mother’s side and met with my cousin on my father’s side to take the 50-minute car ferry to the island of Brač, where I had family in the little town of Pučišća from both sides of the family.
Pučišća is a little bit of Heaven. The blue waters and the way the sun reflects off the white stone buildings is unforgettable. On Sunday morning I concelebrated at the local parish, Sv. Jeronime (St. Jerome) with the bishop, who was administering the sacrament of Confirmation. It was the first time I ever concelebrated in Croatian and my cousins, who’d coached me on pronunciation before Mass, said I did well. In the morning, before Mass, I went for a walk with my cousin and we visited the cemetery where generations of my family were buried; all my grandparents were there and I prayed at their graves. Then after lunch we toured the island by car to see some of the sights and concluded the day with a delicious dinner with my cousins.
The following day I said Mass privately in the Church and two or three locals sat and listened to me pray in English while they responded in Croatian. The beautiful thing about Catholic Mass is that no matter what language you celebrate it in, those attending are able to follow from the well known gestures and moments of Mass and respond in their own language. It was time to return to Rome, so I headed back to Split by ferry and after reuniting with my mother’s side of the family for a quick lunch I headed back across the Adriatic to Rome.
In the pulp fiction at the turn of the century I discovered that there was a villain called Doctor Nikola. I hope in this century that I (Father Nikola) make a more positive impact on the Church and the world (I am a doctor of theology…).
It’s only fitting that I make my first post on the website on May 1st. Not only is it the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, to whom I entrusted the blog while it was still under development on my PC (see my post on March 19th), but also the first day of the Marian month of Mary. I look forward to sharing my experiences in Rome as a Catholic priest and simply as a Catholic priest, as I did for ten years with my family and friends by e-mail. I am also starting a daily reflection on the liturgy of the day: Today’s Liturgy.
May Jesus, Mary, and Joseph watch over this blog and all its readers (since it’s May 1st, St. Joseph gets to hold the baby; Mary’s going to get the rest of the month). Count on my prayers for you all and I hope my experiences of Roman Catholic life help you in your journey toward Christ as well.
God-willing this’ll be the last blog post on a lonely little folder of my PC. The website is going online soon!
Yesterday I went to the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square with Pope Francis and a lot of people (see the photos). I had a special mission (something for my family) that has to stay top secret for now, but it had also been a while since I’d gone to a General Audience. One of the dangers of Rome is that you can take these things for granted. The audience takes a little longer than just reading it afterwards, but you don’t have the same visible experience of communion as the Holy Father teaches, and greets, and blesses in various languages and the participants respond enthusiastically.
Due to time constraints I couldn’t adopt the optimal audience strategy: come early, get in line, and stake out a good spot for when the Popemobile passes by; I had to leave as soon as he was finished with the spoken part of the audience. Due to a slight train delay I arrived just after the audience started: the Gospel being meditated on is read to the crowds in the most representative languages of those attending. The Square was full, with a little space near the entrance.
The Holy Father continued his catecheses on the family by speaking about the need for communion in man and a reciprocity between man in woman, in addition to the complementarity between the sexes that he had spoken about the previous week (where he questioned the wisdom of gender theory and attempts to ignore the legitimate differences between men and women). Men and women needed each other and society needs good marriages to help good families: “The social devaluation of the stable and generative alliance of man and woman is certainly a loss for all.”
Pope Francis is a pope you have to see, if not in person, at least in video. By his smile and his presence you just feel a grandfatherly warmth as he speaks. At the end of the audience all those participating received his blessing, which he extended to our family members as well (so everyone in my family who reads this: you received a Papal blessing).