PONCHATOULA - The warmth and friendship of citizens in a small city thousands of miles from his homeland make him feel at home, the Rev. Harvey Blaschko said.
A native of Croatia, he has been in the United States for 17 years and for 17 months at St. Joseph Catholic Church, where he now serves as an associate pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church.
In an interview Thursday, he recalled his journey from Croatia, one of the republics that made up the former Yugoslavia. Croatia lies along the coast of the Adriatic Sea across from Italy.
Blaschko worked in Germany in a Croatian Catholic mission in Hamburg and in the German parish of St. Elizabeth before heading to Chicago to help his brother in 1986, he said. He worked with two Franciscan and two Dominican parishes during his tenure in Chicago. And although he enjoyed his job, he still had a problem with Chicago.
"What was the problem? The Chicago climate," he said.
He asked to be relocated to a place where the climate was more agreeable, Blaschko said. An opening was found at St. Joseph and head pastor the Rev. Justin Kauchak agreed to have him at the church in 2002.
"Oh yeah, I'm enjoying seeing all these flowers and everything," he said peering outside a window. "In Chicago, it's still cold."
Although he does not have a satellite dish to watch television programs in Croatia, he still manages to talk to his friends in Chicago on a regular basis, Blaschko said.
He has traveled to Croatian communities from Slidell to Lafayette to conduct masses and was preparing to go to Belle Chasse and Port Sulphur to conduct more, Blaschko said. The lifestyles the immigrants had at home is similar to that in south Louisiana.
"They had the fishermen and the oysters," he said. "Same thing here."
Even though some have studied English and adapted using it, Blaschko said, some older immigrants are still having problems with the language. He wrote a letter to Diocese of Baton Rouge Bishop Robert Muench seeking help for those older immigrants and he is waiting for a response.
He talked about his homeland's history after World War II and Yugoslavia's disintegration in 1991.
"Yugoslavia was an artificial state nobody liked. Finally she died," he said.
When the communists came into Yugoslavia after World War II, they killed all the Croatian Muslim elite and did not allow them to open any learning centers in Sarajevo, Serbia, Blaschko said. The ruling party told them to send their young clerics to Cairo to learn. The clerics returned to the country with a different understanding of Islam.
"In Syria or Turkey, they really can live with other people and don't have ideas about jihad," he said. "These young clerics going to Cairo, they took everything negative out of Islam. Now we have a country with Taliban. Fundamentalists and faith fanatics, we cannot live with them."
He saw similarities between the current war in Iraq and the wars in his homeland of the 1990s, Blaschko said. He believed Iraq, like the former Yugoslavia, is an artificial state created after war. The Kurds along with the Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims are killing each other for territory. That version of tribal warfare reminds him of the fighting in regions such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
"They cannot live together," he said, "but if everyone had his piece of the cake, I think there can be peace."