Local peace activists plan trip to Croatia
Court House in Pakrac
ENGLEWOOD -- Local residents who helped raise more than $30,000 to clear a mine field in Pakrac, Croatia, now have the opportunity to see the fruits of their labor.
In September, Mario Spalatin, president of the Croatian-American Society of Sarasota, will volunteer as tour guide on a two-week trip to the former Yugoslavian republic. The cost of the trip, which will include no fees to any travel agencies, will be approximately $2,100 per person.
Besides visiting the 3.5-acre defused mine field adjacent to Pakrac's only hospital, the group will also travel to Preko, Croatia, the birthplace of the Rev. Sebastian Loncar, former pastor of Englewood's St. Raphael's Catholic Church.
At Preko, located on the island of Ugljan in the Adriatic Sea, the group will dedicate a memorial plaque in honor of Loncar. Ordained a priest in 1937, Loncar moved to the United States in 1940. He served as administrator at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Port Charlotte and Epiphany Cathedral in Venice before taking over as St. Raphael's second pastor from 1970 to 1977.
Loncar moved back to Croatia in 1999. There, he died of cancer in February 2001.
"He was a great believer in peace," Spalatin said. "During the war, he put a lot of monetary support toward helping the refugees in Croatia."
Peter Duisberg, a longtime member of the Florida Southwest Peace Education Coalition, said the Croatian trip would appeal to "people who are interested in a vacation with a purpose."
"We're hoping they will come back with ideas on how we can have a sister-type relationship with that city (Pakrac)," Duisberg said. "We hope to follow through. We don't expect this to stop with this trip."
The Englewood community's involvement with Pakrac began on New Year's Day 2001, the 15th annual World Day of Prayer for Peace. That day, Jo Williams of the Sarasota-Manatee chapter of United Nations Association-USA appeared at St. Raphael's to talk about the land mine clearing project.
At the time, Duisberg said that chapter's fund raising effort was stalled at about $8,000. Within months, the group had the $30,240 necessary to clear the mine field, including $8,000 in contributions from the Englewood area.
"The whole thing picked up steam again because of that," Duisberg said. "It showed the power of prayer and dedication."
A British firm hired by the Croatian government cleared the Pakrac field in late 2001. On January 1, 2002, the 16th annual World Peace Day, Pakrac Mayor Damir Spancic and his wife, Dubravka, traveled to Englewood United Methodist Church to thank the community.
Spalatin has also made several trips to Pakrac and has toured the mine field.
"I noticed when I was there, that there were several other areas of the city that were being de-mined," he said.
During his visits, city officials told Spalatin that 114 people in the city suffered fatal injuries from mines and other unexploded munitions, with one out of five victims less than 18 years old. He said that, prior to clearing, the mine field was also covered with other unexploded munitions, many of which were World War II vintage.
Before the fighting between Croatia and Serbia broke out, Pakrac had a population of more than 27,000 people. By 1995, the population had shrunk to 4,700.
Now the town is working to rebuild. Duisberg said that United States Ambassador to Croatia Lawrence G. Rossin wrote in a letter that the U.S. planned to give a grant to the city to build a factory, contingent on that both Serbians and Croatians be employed there. The trip to Croatia will also include a visit with Rossin in Zagreb.
For more information on the trip, call Peter Duisberg at (941) 474-5204.
You can e-mail Chris Curry at firstname.lastname@example.org
By CHRIS CURRY
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