3,000 Flock toCroatian Priest
Thousands seeking to meet the man they believe may be a futuresaint.
The Rev. Zlatko Sudac, also known as the "stigmata priest," greets overflow crowd out side St. Athanasius Church Wednesday night.
3,000 flock to stigmata priest Crowd overflows Bensonhurst church (froma Front Page)
By Patrick Callahue
The Brooklyn Papers
Alaimo Rosario sat in the first row of folding chairs set up beside the pews at the St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church,
21 st Avenue at 61th Street in Bensonhurst, Wednesday night, alongside her daughter Joanne, who suffers from multiple
sclerosis. A few seats down, Tina Lubrano-Scarpati, suffering from lung cancer, was also among the worshipers.
Both women were among the throngs, well over 3,000, that came to see the Rev. Zlatco Sudac, a Croatian priest believes to bear signs of the stigma, a mystical phenomenon which wounds of Christ on the cross appear, or are felt, on a person's body.
Along with the stigmata, some—Sudac among them—are also believed to be endowed with supernatural gifts, such as healing powers, psychicabilities and bilocation.
On March 13, Sudac celebrated Mass at St. Athanasiusas part of his five-month tour through the metropolitan area., In previous appearances he has attracted thousands seeking to meet the man they believe may be a future saint, and this evening in Bensonhurst was no different.
The church prepared facilities for 3,000 to attend. Besides the main chapel, the lower hall downstairs and the gymnasium across the street were equipped with monitors where the Mass wouldsimulcast.
Well, before the service began, however, all of the facilities were packed to the gills with worshippers who came for reason varying from the pedestrian to the mystical.Diana Juliano of Park Slope said she was simply interested to see who the man was, as she waited on line in the cold rain in front of the gymnasium."If there is any kind of blessing or healing from someone's presence, then I'm open to that," she said, but added that she did not comewith a set of expectations
"I think people just want to be in his presence," said Monsignor David Cassato pastor of the St.Athanasiusas Church" (After)
the events of Sept. 11, people have first of all reawakened in themselves a need for God and the supernatural. Someone like Father Sudac coming to a church really makes you aware of the supernatural and God."
Sudac, 31, is from the town of Vrbnik, on Krk Island in Croatia. He began studying for the priesthood in 1993, and was ordained on June 29, 1998.
Almost a year after his ordination a cross was said to have appeared on his forehead, and it was determined by the Gemell Clinic in Rome, not to be of human origin. On Oct. 4, 200O, he reportedly bore markings on his side,wrists and feet, which he claims spontaneously bleed.
The first marking on his forehead reportedly appeared the Friday after the beatification of St. Padre Pio and the second, on the day of the feast of St. Francis Assisi—both of whom are believed to have borne the stigmata.
Traditionally, the Vatican has been slow to recognize or acknowledge such claims, though the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens has been positive but cautious about Sudac's visit to Bensonhurst.
"He certainly appears to be a priest in good standing," said Frank DeRosa, the Brooklyn diocese spokesman. "There's been no position taken on the question of the stigmata, [but] if he helps people grow in their spiritual life, that's positive."
In recent years, Sudac has generally kept a low profile, choosing to express himself to the public at Mass rather than in the pages of the media or on television.
Shortly after 7 PM, Wednesday, before a church filled with more than 1,000 people, Sudac took to the altar to deliver theservice, the cross on his forehead faintly visible. Speaking in Croatian, with a translator beside him, Sudac celebrated a standard Mass, passionately speaking of the need for unity, faith and love."We live in such times, that we must awaken the consciousness of unity," he said through a translator.
Many, such as Rosario, had come with hopes that Sudac would be able to heal their loved ones, but that was an expected ambition that Sudac seemed to deflect toward the personal faith of hose in attendance.
"Do you see sick people in this church?" Sudac asked, adding faith for those who have faith, "Jesus would touch their hearts, butonly by his holy will." While the service may not have been out of theordinary the audience responded to the slight, soft-spoken Sudac with moreemotion than at regular Masses. Rosario frequently burst into tears as did manyparishioners in the church.
As the Mass neared its end, Sudac knelt at the altar and closedhis eyes. He offered prayers for people in attendance - for a mother to havepatience with her depressed teenage daughter, for a child having trouble movinghis arms and legs, for people with psychological problems and for a girl withlung cancer that had spread to her liver
Lubrano-Scarpati, who is suffering from breast cancer thatmetastasized to her liver, watched on. When asked if she thought he might bereferring to her, she simply smiled and said, "I hope so"
Sudac lifted the gold crucifix from the altar and slowly walkeddown the aisles and stopped before the pews to offer his blessings. Some peoplelifted photographs and others brought their ailing loved ones to stand closer tohim as he approached. Some trembled as they clasped their hands together in hispresence.
The cliché that people would rise from their wheelchair, theblind would see and the sick be cured, did not occur. Instead they wiped theireyes of tears as he passed.
"It was beautiful," Rosario said. "I feel no illness,no sadness," but then added, "I hope my daughter gets better."
Lubrano-Scarpati, 30 sat calmly following the Mass. She wasalready grateful for the time she had lived and that she was alive,"because of God." After all she noted, when she was diagnosed fouryears ago, doctors told her that she had two months to live.
"It was very uplifting and spiritual," she said of theMass. "It made you think of your life and what he wants for you. And weshould be asking God more what he wants from you."