35th Anniversary of Croatian language ministry
in the Diocese of Brooklyn
2006 marks the 35th Anniversary of Croatian language ministry in the Diocese of Brooklyn. It is an event worthy of recognition because it set the foundation for the development of today’s Croatian Apostolate, a vibrant and active community of faith in the diocese. This anniversary is a celebration of all Croats who are drawn to the apostolate by virtue of their faith and cultural heritage, as well as to the Diocese of Brooklyn itself, which truly is the diocese of immigrants.
The pastoral care of immigrants has always been well demonstrated in the Diocese of Brooklyn by bishops of the past, as well as our current bishop, Nicholas Di Marzio. From its inception, the Diocese of Brooklyn reflected the great diversity of the Catholic Church, thus making the church in Brooklyn and Queens truly universal. Today in the diocese, Mass is said every Sunday in twenty-six different languages. The Catholic Migration Office, headed by Msgr. Ronald Marino, has been responsive to the spiritual needs of immigrants in the diocese for over thirty-five years. Many ethnic groups, like the Croats, are organized into apostolates which are ministered by priests of the same native group, enabling immigrants to worship in their native languages. As we commemorate this anniversary, our hearts fill with gratitude for the motherly concern and solicitude expressed by the Diocese of Brooklyn in welcoming the newcomers in her midst, in the past, as well as today.
Croats started arriving in large numbers in the area of Brooklyn and Queens in the 1960’s. The Croatian cultural heritage, deeply rooted in the Catholic faith, is a valuable treasure they brought with them to their new homeland. At Most Precious Blood Church, in the Diocese of Brooklyn, Croats found a spiritual home where they could share this faith and culture. Over the years, many Croats have found solace within this community; they found a part of their homeland, a place where they can continue to nurture and strengthen their faith. Many would witness that this community of faith is the backbone of their spiritual existence. This legacy of a deep faith, steeped in Croatian culture, is their contribution to the larger multi-cultural society in which they live. Today, it is lovingly being passed on to the next generation of Croatian-Americans.
As we commemorate this 35th anniversary, our hearts fill with pride and gratitude for the wisdom and vision of the Catholic Church in Croatia for sending pastoral leaders to minister to Croatian immigrants living in New York City. With the presence of a Croatian priest, Croatian immigrants were able to fully participate in the sacramental life of the church; it strengthened their faith and established a living community of believers. The Croatian Apostate today is indebted to all the priests who have ministered to this community over the last thirty-five years, in particular to Father Andrea Niccoli whose ministry to the Croats of Most Precious Blood Church spanned forty years. Many celebrating this anniversary personally remember the countless baptisms and marriages Father Niccoli celebrated in this parish. His dedication to his people has left an indelible impression upon the hearts of all those who knew him.
Father Runje, OFM, who arrived in Most Precious Blood in 1971, was the first priest to be officially appointed by the Diocese of Brooklyn to minister to the Croatian people. His pastoral work with Croats, who were arriving in large numbers at that time, set up a solid foundation for today’s Croatian Apostolate. The priests that ministered to the community after him, Father Anton Zec, Father Anton Bozanic and Father Robert Zubovic, have all been from the Diocese of Krk in Croatia. The Diocese of Krk, together with Bishop Zupan, and the bishops of the past, has been at the forefront in fostering the spiritual growth of the community by continuing to send priests to serve the Croatian Apostolate. Each of these priests has made a unique contribution to the spiritual well being of the community.
Over the years, the support of the pastors of Most Precious Blood Parish has been invaluable for the spiritual development of the Croatian Apostolate. Last year, the community was deeply saddened by the death of Msgr. Stafford who, as the shepherd of this great church, was compassionate and understanding towards the needs of the Croatian community. We are thankful for his life of service and for God’s divine providence in sending Father Marcelo Latona to lead the faithful of Most Precious Blood. He has shown kindness, strength, and courage and, like his predecessors, is committed to the community’s spiritual growth. For this, we are very grateful.
Today we commemorate an ongoing journey of a community that has found strength in its beliefs as it continues to seek God. It is a celebration of the faith and dedication to God and Church that has been manifested over the last thirty-five years by countless individuals; may their example serve as an inspiration for all of us to continue our own personal walk with the Lord. In this way, the spirit of tonight’s celebration will persevere long after the event is over.