Nova Topola Parish House in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Rebuilding the parish house in Nova Topola destroyed during the war
From 1992 to 1995, following the break-up of Yugoslavia, war raged in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some 243,000 people lost their lives, while around two million were made refugees as a result of the war and the redrawing of the map of the republic. Among them were many priests and religious. Many were abducted and brutally tortured, yet managed to survive, while others were murdered. Of some no trace was ever found again.
This in fact was the fate of the parish priest of Nova Topola, Father Ratko Grgic. On 16 June he was arrested by soldiers and taken away. Since then nothing was ever heard of him again. His parishioners could not even give him a grave in the churchyard, since his body was never found. His presbytery was likewise not spared. Only in 1991 it had been completely renovated, but just a year later it was burned down, thus sharing the fate of innumerable churches, convents and presbyteries throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Now the Catholics of Nova Topola want to rebuild their parish house, so that despite all the painful experiences of the past the life of the parish can be revived once more. Such a thriving parish is equally important for those people who were forced to flee abroad during the war and are now deliberating whether to return again. It will be easier for them to make the decision to return if they can have a feeling of hope for the future in their former homes. In Nova Topola in fact, the Catholic community already numbers around 500 faithful. The country has become an old people's home
Bishop Komarica of Banja Luka, in whose diocese Nova Topola is situated, has for years been loudly and tirelessly calling for help and support for the Croat war refugees who now wish to return to their former homes. The country has become an old people's home, he complains, for today, some 14 years since the war, only a handful of the Catholic Croats have returned home and most of those who remained in their homes are now elderly. Many indeed have already died, so that today there are fewer Catholics in Bosnia then there were immediately after the end of the war. Again and again the bishop has deplored the lack of political will on the part of the Bosnian government and the international community to help the returning refugees. Just 2% of the total aid given has come to the Catholic Croats, he maintains.
"The refugees have no houses left, and when they do return, they often have to live without water and electricity. They can find no work and in the surrounding society it is often made clear to them that they are not wanted", Bishop Komarica reports. Tireless in speaking up for his people and against injustice, he still hopes that the politicians responsible will finally keep their promises, but more often than not people are left waiting in vain. And so the Church herself must act, since otherwise it will in all probability be too late. And so too, ACN is trying to help the Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina to heal the wounds of the war and look with hope towards the future once more.
A thriving parish can provide a new sense of belonging to people whose homes have been left in ruins. And so we have helped Father Anto Pelivan with €20,000. Father Anton Pelivan is the new parish priest and successor to Father Ratko Grgic, who disappeared without trace during the war. Father Anto Pelivan can now live among his people in Nova Topola, where there is still much to do - a new request reached us some days ago to continue our help for the renovation of the church of Novo Topola.
Even though religious freedom is enshrined in the 1995 constitution (Article 2), there are alarming cases of discrimination and violence. Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Serbs have all reported many cases of aggression and religious intolerance. Religious practice is relatively low but there are some areas where religion is taken very seriously. Examples of this include the Croatian Catholic communities in Bosnia, where they are a minority. They find themselves in a difficult position, fighting for survival in an environment which is becoming increasingly Islamic.
During 2007, attacks on religious buildings, symbols, and ministers rose. The Catholic Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Protestant and the Muslim communities were all victim to aggression and vandalism. The judiciary continue to be unhelpful, and police rarely arrest those responsible for vandalism against religious buildings or for attacks on ministers.
Current legislation states that, with the support of at least 300 faithful, Christian leaders can apply to build a new church by writing to the Ministry of Justice. A decision is required within 30 days and appeals against the ruling can be made to the Council of Ministers.
Parents have the right to enrol their children in private schools for religious reasons. Many towns and cities have faith-based schools - Muslim, Catholic and Serbian Orthodox. Church-funded Catholic schools, under diocesan control, work towards religious and social reconciliation.
For some time, the four largest religious communities have requested the return of buildings confiscated by the communist regime. Failing that, they have asked for compensation. The State Commission for Restitution is drafting a national law on this issue. Until then such issues are decided at a local level.
To tackle areas of conflict or disagreement, the leaders of the main religions continue to meet at the Interreligious Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Catholic and Orthodox churches meet regularly to discuss common issues and ideas, which many hope will lead towards greater cooperation. During a week of ecumenical dialogue in April 2007, Bosnia and Herzegovina's Cardinal Vinko Puljic, Archbishop of Vrhbosna, presided at a religious service in the Orthodox cathedral of Sarajevo. Elsewhere in the city, Metropolitan Nikolai, Bishop of Dabar Bosna and leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church of Bosnia and Herzegovina, held a service in the Catholic cathedral.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Help for the congregation of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Banja Luka
The diocese of Banja Luka in northwest Bosnia still suffers today from the consequences of the Balkan war in the 1990s. Some 98% of the churches and convents in the diocese were damaged or destroyed. The bishop of the diocese, Bishop Franjo Komarica, reports that in many parts of the country there were scarcely any Catholics left, almost all of them having fled or been expelled. Out of 220,000 Catholics formerly, just 37,797 remain, including those who have returned since the war. Even during the communist era under Tito, oppression and persecution were present everywhere, and the objective of the communists was to destroy the Catholic community. The communist regime was immediately followed by the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars, in which thousands died or were uprooted. Even after the end of the war, many hesitated to return home, since conditions were very insecure and the new rulers did little to create the conditions for these refugees to return to their former homes.
ACN has helped the diocese of Banja Luka with numerous projects, including the renovation of the convent of the congregation, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, and the construction of its Holy Family Centre in Nova Topola. For many decades these sisters worked here, helping the people in the area in numerous different ways, through teaching, giving private music lessons, tilling and sowing the fields, caring for the poor and leading a whole range of different groups of people - including preparation courses for the Sacraments, women's prayer groups and altar servers. The first wave of persecution struck in 1946, when the communists came to power. They confiscated the convent school and banned the sisters from working in it any more. The second wave of repression came with the war in Bosnia. Sister Cecilija, the superior, recalls, "During the war the sisters were very badly treated and forced to abandon the convent, which was used for Serbian refugees and the Serbian army. The building was finally returned to us on 5 July 2002, by the NATO-supervised authorities. But it was in a terrible state". Indeed, this once lovingly maintained convent was utterly devastated; everything usable had been looted and the outbuildings had been burnt down. The whole place looked like one big rubbish tip, with wrecked and rusting cars.
Thanks to the generosity of the benefactors of ACN, the convent was renovated, and on 16 October 2002 the first small group of sisters was able to move in. In 2005 ACN contributed another €25,000, and in 2007 a third instalment of €50,000. With this aid the convent has now been completely renovated, including the sanitary and heating systems, and at the same time it has been possible, with help from other sources, to establish a dispensary, a host baking plant and a family and drug addiction counselling centre. In a final instalment, ACN recently helped again with €7,000 for the final finishing work on the exterior. Bishop Franjo Komarica replied immediately in response to this aid. "Once again I wish to thank you most sincerely for your solidarity with my diocese, which has suffered in many respects. May God reward you, and likewise all those generous benefactors of ACN, for all that you have done for us". And Sister Cecilia, the superior adds, "May the good Lord be with you and bless all your efforts and your work on behalf of others who are in great need".
The centre is intended to be a meeting place for Catholics in the region of Banja Luka, and above all for the Croat minority. People come here to pray and take part in the seminars and retreats. Says Mother Cecilia, "We want this place, where our sisters live and which suffered at the hands of the Serbian army and its hatred towards the Croats, to be a place of peace, reconciliation and love for everyone". And the sisters themselves, with their return to Nova Topola, their quiet presence and their commitment to all around them, are a symbol of reconciliation. A neighbour put it like this: "You Catholic nuns live a life that points to something higher, and you show love to all who come here". Regardless of their denomination, people come to the sisters to talk about their personal problems, and for many the sisters have become almost like "mother confessors" to them.
On October 3, 2009 the fully renovated building was formally consecrated by Bishop Franjo Komarica. "Without your support for this project, we would never have been able to finish it", the superior says in her letter of thanks to ACN. And yet there is still a great deal to do in the diocese. "We continue to wait and hope for help from near and far", says Bishop Komarica. "So far we have only been able to repair a fraction of the ruined buildings. We need people here who can think constructively and are ready to help the people generously."
Five martyred Bosnian nuns killed by chetniks in Bosnia in 1941, beatified in 2011
Martyred nuns beatified in Bosnia and Herzegovina
ROME, ITALY, September 26 (CNA/EWTN News) - The prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, presided at the beatification of five Bosnian nuns who were kidnapped and later killed in December 1941.
Maria Jula Ivanišević, Maria Berchmana Leidenix, Maria Krizina Bojanc, Maria Antonija Fabjan and Maria Bernadeta Banja were all members of the Daughters of Divine Charity.
In 1911, the nuns lived in a convent near Sarajevo in the town of Pale. They ran an elementary school until it was closed in 1919. In 1927 they began teaching catechism at the region's schools. “Their selfless commitment to the people in need was known by all the inhabitants of the region,” earning them the respect of the Orthodox community as well, Sister Maria Ozana Krajacic of the Daughters of Divine Charity recounted in the Sept. 24 edition of L’Osservatore Romano.
On Dec. 11, 1941, a group of Serbian militants attacked the convent where the nuns were living. They were kidnapped together with a Slovenian priest. The convent was sacked and burned.
The militants forced them to walk 40 miles in the freezing snow over four days, without adequate clothing. They were continually insulted and subjected to intense interrogation. “None of them complained, they didn’t ask for any concessions. They were silent and in constant prayer,” Sr. Krajacic wrote.
Half way through their journey, the Serbs abandoned 76-year-old Sr. Maria Berchmana Leidenix. She was later murdered on Dec. 23.
The other four sisters were taken to an outpost in Gorazde. On Dec. 15, a group of militants attempted to rape them “but none gave in despite being threatened with death. According to author Fr. Anto Bakovic, the sisters shouted, ‘We prefer death over what you want!’”
The attempted sexual assault continued for over an hour.
“When the Serbs began to get violent, the sisters tried to flee. They prayed to Jesus and one by one jumped out of a window (on the second floor of the barracks). Injured and exhausted after the jump, they tried to stand up and flee but they were stabbed and dragged to the banks of the Drina River,” Sr. Krajacic recounted.
In the Spring of 1942, two sisters of the congregation in Sarajevo attempted to locate the tomb of Sr. Maria Berchmana, but they were unable to find it.
“The news of the deaths of the five sisters spread quickly in Sarajevo. Even though it was a time of war, the people remembered them and prayed to the martyrs of Drina, as they were called, for their intercession,” Sr. Krajacic recalled.
Their story is recounted in the book, “The Martyrs of Drina,” written by Fr. Bakovic.