A visit to Croatia

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.

split harborcafesplit

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.

split cathedraldiocletian palace

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.

ferry to puciscaferry_supetar

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.


Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, bless this blog

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.

St JosephBVM

General Audience with Pope Francis

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)20150422_100119 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.

20150422_100204The 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.20150422_111051 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).


Garbage trucks, Presidential visits, and reserved altars

This blog is still on a folder in my PC, but experiences do not wait for a website to go online.

This morning I went to St. Peter’s to celebrate Mass for a small group coming from the South (and they were heading afterwards to a jambalaya cook-off in Austria–I kid you not). Another father from my Center also had a Mass there, or so he thought, and we headed there by car. Living in Rome is full of unique experiences; whenever you think you know the rhythm of things something new presents itself. We turned onto a small street a few blocks away from St. Peter’s Square and ran into a garbage truck emptying dumpsters. Since it was a narrow street, we had to wait as they wheeled four dumpsters, one by one, to the back of the truck, and then hooked them up to a mechanism to lift them up and empty them into the truck. It was fascinating.



motorino (moped rider) pulled up right behind one of the netturbini (sanitation worker) and she had to move out of the way to let him zip by 20150418_073833(our car was small, but not small enough). Some tourists approached too on foot and hesitated briefly, probably out of fear of getting trash dumped on them, and then walked by. A few minutes later we were on our way and when we arrived at the Square it was closed. Completely. That doesn’t happen. I met up with the group outside the Square and we headed to the entrance into Vatican City that’s usually for going to Paul VI Hall for a Papal Audience. Once there we discovered that they were only letting in groups that had made a reservation down in the crypt beneath the Basilica. The President of Italy (Sergio Mattarella) was coming that morning to visit Pope Francis and the Basilica was closed.

Fortunately my group had a reservation, but the other father wasn’t so fortunate: his reservation had never been confirmed. Combining groups wasn’t an option (he was celebrating for Spanish speakers), and he took it all in stride and went with his group to a nearby parish and they let him say Mass there. After passing two security checks they allowed us into the Basilica by a side entrance and it was amazing to see the Basilica so empty and everything cleared from the middle. It was the photo op of a lifetime. We made it down to the crypt for Mass only to find someone else had taken our chapel. Fortunately a nearby chapel was empty so we had a beautiful Mass. Afterwards there was no security pressure so the group stayed inside  a while and took some great photos as I headed back to the Center.


Wrinkles in our plans? Unexpected setbacks? Certainly. But nobody complained and everything worked out and in some ways even better that we could have imagined.

Return from Switzerland

Driving down to MontreuxThis blog post is still on a lonely folder of my PC, but within a few weeks I hope to bring this blog online and there’s no reason to not start blogging now knowing the posts will appear online eventually. Over the last few weeks it’s been more of a “Roaming” Catholic experience. Yesterday I returned to Rome after spending Holy Week and the Easter Octave in Les Avants, Switzerland as chaplain for a group of chaperons and students visiting from Woodlands Academy, Ireland. On my last day we headed down into Montreux so that I could catch the train to the Geneva Airport.

I had one last opportunity to see Lake Geneva, surround by beautiful French and Swiss mountains before a quick lunch and off to thLake Geneva from Montreuxe train station. My time in Switzerland was restful and productive (this website being one of the productive things I worked on). My first impression back in the house was that we really went all out to decorate the center with flowers to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord. The driveway immediately in front of the entrance was lined with flowers in addition to the flowers planted in the gardens. The bloom of spring had already begun in Rome; Switzerland was a little behind in terms of temperature, but not by much.

Geneva Airport

Just another beautiful Easter reminder that spring shows us how something seemingly dead can veritably explode back to life.

CES Easter Flowers 1CES Easter Flowers 2