Saint John Paul II: relics on Hvar!

Published in Highlights

In an event of huge significance to the Catholic population of the island, relics of St. John Paul II were brought to the parishes of Vrisnik and Pitve in September 2021, thanks to parish priest Don Robert Bartoszek.

Dedicating the Reliquary in the Pitve parish church Dedicating the Reliquary in the Pitve parish church Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Pope John Paul II was naturally a much-loved hero in his native Poland. When he visited the UK in 1982 - the first Pope to do so - he held a special Mass for the Polish community at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in London, on Sunday May 30th, which was Pentecost (Whitsunday). The mass was attended by some 24,000 Polish Catholics, including all the senior members of the Polish community in exile and the President-in-exile Edward Bernard Raczynski (1881-1993, President from April 8th 1979 to April 8th 1986).

Images from the Papal visit, 1982. Photos: Vivian Grisogono

The Pope's visit was not a state visit but purely pastoral, funded by the Catholic Church. In the various UK cities he visited, his sermons steered clear of politics. The Crystal Palace event was very different. There was a stand selling items in support of Solidarnost, the freedom movement led by Lech Walesa, who was to become Poland's President on 22nd December 1990, after the fall of Communism.

The Popemobile at Crystal Palace, 1982. Photos: Vivian Grisogono

The Pope's sermon to his fellow-countrymen in 1982 was highly charged, with a moving tribute to the contribution of the exiles in keeping their religious and cultural traditions alive, outside of the restrictions of their Communist-ruled homeland. Journalists were not invited to the Crystal Palace event at the time. You can read a translation of the Pope's speech in English on this link; at the end of the transcript is a recording of the original in Polish.

Greeting the Polish faithful, 1982. Photos: Vivian Grisogono

Karol Józef Wojtyla was born on May 18th 1920 in Wadowice. When he took up the Papacy as John Paul II in 1978, he was the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. He made his mark on the world stage at a time when change was sweeping across the political divisions. He was certainly influential in the fall of Communism across Europe and the breaking down of the 'Iron Curtain' which separated Communist and non-Communist countries. He died in Vatican City on April 2nd 2005. He was beatified on May 1st 2011 and canonized on April 27th 2014. His feast day is celebrated on October 22nd.

Festive welcome for St. John Paul II's reliquary at the Pitve Church. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Pope John Paul II was equally revered in Croatia: the Vatican was one of the first external authorities to recognize Croatia as an independent country on January 13th 1992, following a formal decision by Pope John Paul II on December 18th 1991. The Pope visited Croatia on three occasions during his Papacy: in 1994, when the visit was designated as a pilgrimage for peace, celebrated in front of a huge crowd in Zagreb; in 1998, when he was in Marija Bistrica, Solin and Split; and in 2003, when he went to Dubrovnik, Osijek, Đakovo, Zadar and Rijeka.

Brass band leading the Reliquary procession up to the Pitve Church. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Poland and Croatia are both Catholic countries, and Polish priests are welcome recruits when there is a shortfall of local priests in Croatia. Don Robert Bartoszek, who had already spent time in Croatia, was appointed to Hvar in 2018 on a one-year contract, which was extended in 2019 when he was given responsibility for the parish of Sveta Nedjelja besides those of Vrisnik and Pitve by Hvar's then-Bishop Petar Palić. Aged 33 when he came to Hvar, Don Robert very quickly established an excellent rapport with his local parishioners as well as Polish visitors and residents. His services have also been in demand on the mainland, especially for weddings in Polish in Split. He has done much to bring together Poland and Croatia: his summertime Masses in Polish in Vrisnik attracted around 100 Polish worshippers each time, sometimes even more; he also organised a trip for his Croatian parishioners to visit his native Poland and its historic shrines. While the Covid pandemic restrictions halted many community activities as from 2020, hopefully they will be resumed once the pandemic is over.

Procession in Vrisnik. Photo: Mirko Crnčević

In 2021 Don Robert used his Polish connexions to achieve a special honour for his Hvar parishes: locks of hair as relics of Pope John Paul II were brought to Vrisnik and Pitve in specially designed reliquaries, to serve as venerated reminders of Saint John Paul's lasting services to our communities.

The Archbishop's decree authorizing the relics, in Latin

Prior to the arrival of the relics, the Polish Secretary of State Wojciech Kolarski sent a warm letter of congratulations and support in the name of Polish President Andrzej Duda to the organisers of the event.

The letter from the Polish President's Office

The ceremony held on September 21st 2021 to celebrate the arrival of the two reliquaries on Hvar was extremely well organised and very moving. The relics were brought to Hvar by Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, Metropolitan of Lviv in Ukraine as from October 21st 2008, who was the Pope's personal secretary during the last nine years of his life. The Archbishop carried the first reliquary in procession from the Vrisnik clergy house to the Church of St. Anthony the Abbot, where he led the Mass of dedication, which was concelebrated by Bishop Ranko Vidović and several priests.

Procession heading up towards the Pitve Church of St.James. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The guest list for the occasion was impressive, and included Monsignor Ranko Vidović, Bishop of the Hvar-Brač-Vis Diocese, on his first official visit to these parishes; Hvar's Vicar-General Mons. Stanko Jerčić; Dean of the Hvar Decanate Don Toni Plenković; the Hvar Diocese Chancellor Don Ivan Jurin; Archbishop Mokrzycki's Secretary Andrzej Legowicz; the Split-Dalmatian County Prefect (Župan) Blaženko Boban, representing Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenković; the Polish Ambassador to Croatia Andrzej Jasionowski with his wife; Polish Consul Dagmar Luković; Honorary Polish Consul Josip Roglić; Jelsa Mayor Nikša Peronja; Hvar Police Chief Juraj Tadić; and the Polish Cultural Groups 'Mikolaj Kopernik' from Zagreb and 'Polonez' from Split.

Archbishop Mokrzycki and Bishop Vidović in the Pitve Church. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The Mass in Vrisnik was introduced by parish priest Don Robert, who thanked all the guests and everyone who had helped to make the occasion possible. At the end of the Mass, Monsignor Vidović also expressed his gratitude for the great honour being bestowed on the parishes within his Diocese, and paid tribute to the notable guests in attendance. In his sermon, Archbishop Mokrzycki spoke of how Pope John Paul II had held Croatia dear to his heart, and stressed that the Pope had used prayer and meditation as the foundation of all his daily activities and official duties. His relics would help all the faithful who focussed their prayers on Saint John Paul II to benefit from his intercession, and the love and care which had informed his life.

Bishop Vidović, Archbishop Mokrzycki and Don Robert praying before the Reliquary. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Following the Mass and dedication ceremony in Vrisnik, the second reliquary was carried in procession to Pitve's Parish Church of St. James, where it too was blessed and dedicated by the Archbishop.

Bishop Vidović, Archbishop Mokrzycki and Don Robert in the Pitve Church. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

In Pitve, where Mass was not celebrated, Bishop Vidović, Vicar-General Mons. Stanko Jerčić and the other local prelates put aside their vestments. The Archbishop's message of dedication was read out in Croatian by Don Ivan Jurin.

The Archbishop's Dedication, and English translation

Andro Duboković, President of the Pitve Village Committee, thanked the Archbishop and everyone who had contributed to this momentous occasion in the history of the parish, especially of course Parish Priest Don Robert.

Andro Duboković giving thanks on behalf of the Pitve parishioners. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Children from the parish, including two of Andro Duboković's daughters, then presented the guests with gifts, as is the custom.

Don Robert expressing his gratitude. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Don Robert said final words of gratitude, made the more poignant when he could not hold back his tears of joy and relief at the successful conclusion to the months of effort he had expended in the organisation of this deeply meaningful event.

The 'Wisla' choir in the Pitve church. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Music is an important part of all celebrations on Hvar, and this occasion was no exception. The local choirs and their Polish counterparts enhanced the religious rituals, while the Stari Grad brass band provided rousing rhythms to help the processions to advance, especially up the long lines of steps leading to the parish churches.

The Pitve and Polish choirs. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

At the completion of the formal ceremonies, the Pitve singers and the Polish 'Wisla' choir directed by Janina Welle sang in tandem the popular hymn 'Krist jednom stade na žalu' (see the video below).

Singing in joy and praise. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

It was a delight to see the Archbishop and Don Robert happily joining in the singing with gusto, after what must have been an exhausting day for both of them. Afterwards there were refreshments for all participants, with a special meal laid on for the eminent guests at Pitve's renowned restaurant 'Dvor Duboković'.

© Vivian Grisogono 2021

 

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'Krist jednom stade na žalu' Vivian Grisogono
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