By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook
Croatians are passionate Catholics with a dramatic history shaped by 1100 years of Catholicism. Instead of flying for more than 20 hours, step into Blacktown’s Croatian Catholic Centre to experience Croatian faith, food, language, dancing and sport.
The large grounds contain the Church of Our Lady of the Grand Covenant, football field, bocce court and a multi-storey community centre with classrooms, dining rooms and a giant hall.
Beautiful large oil paintings of Croatia adorn the Centre. The images of world heritage waterfalls, lakes, stunning churches and fortified cities, reflect a strong attachment to their land, defended from Ottoman and Communist oppression. The Centre is a way to maintain Croatian culture and faith after thousands of Croatians migrated to Australia after WWII.
Fr Josip Anthony Kesina OFM is the Rector of the Croatian Catholic Centre, Blacktown. The Centre is in the care of the Croatian Franciscans, which Fr Josip joined as a young man from a Croatian family in Canberra.
“God is the foundation of everything here: community participation, culture: life, truth and beauty,” he said.
The Croatian Catholic community is well integrated into Australian society and works to preserve its distinct heritage.
“I can’t say I’ve heard of any Croatian migrant that isn’t grateful to Australia, for having a home, education and opportunities,” Fr Josip said.
The Croatian Catholic language school bridges generations with classes for primary school children, high schoolers and adults. The school has seen significant growth over the last five years with over 250 students.
The senior generation built for the future and now over 100 seniors lunch on traditional Croatian dishes each month. The sturdy buildings reflect the Croatian love of construction.
The large outdoor cafeteria is also well built, with plenty of steel appliances. There is a dedicated booth for the popular Croatian ćevapi sausages.
Croatian culture places a strong emphasis on faith, which is shaped by their history. “What characterises Croatian Catholicism is not adventurous Saints who died but people who have a reputation for holiness, every day faith,” Fr Josip said.
Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, the Cardinal Archbishop of Zagreb, is one such hero to the faith, who persevered in faith while imprisoned by the Communist government occupying Croatia. He endured a show trial, imprisonment and house arrest until dying in 1960.
Pope St John Paul II beatified Bl. Aloysius Stepinac in the Church of Marija Bistrica in 1998, the main Marian Shrine of Croatia. The shrine to Bl. Aloysius is in Zagreb Cathedral, Croatia’s tallest building. There are paintings of these places at the Blacktown Church.
The Church has regular Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in addition to daily Mass and regular prayer of the Rosary.
Picnics are a feature of the Croatian Catholic Centre’s calendar, attracting up to a thousand people on the Feast of Our Lady of the Grand Covenant on Sunday 10 September and the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, 15 August. Croatian Catholics have a strong devotion to Our Lady.
Fr Josip believes being oppressed by several non-Catholic powers strengthened Croatia’s Catholic devotion. Victory in the 1995 Homeland War was the peak of the fight for freedom, when Croatia reclaimed its territory from Yugoslav forces. Croatian soldiers wore Rosary beads, reminiscent of the famous Battle of Lepanto (1571), where the Holy League, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, defended Catholic Europe from Islamic Ottoman forces.
Croatians also defeated Ottoman forces while praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Battle of Sinj (1715). Victory was achieved on the Feast of the Assumption.
Interest in Croatian heritage and culture is increasing again and the community is strong. The Croatian Catholic Youth Retreat at the beautiful Benedict XVI Retreat Centre in Grose Vale had close to 100 people in early February, Fr Josip said.