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.