A different kind of tourist attraction

Published in Highlights

On Tuesday 16th July, the Ultra festival descended on Hvar, whose long-suffering citizens braced themselves for the event. Further east on the island there was unfolding a very different kind of attraction for visitors, which could show the way towards safeguarding peaceful tourism on the island.  

A Catholic Mass celebrated in the Polish language is probably the antithesis of the drug-and-alcohol-fuelled riotous antics of a large number of Hvar's party tourists, known locally as 'partijaneri'. Hvar Town's more moderate citizens have long been battling against the summer influx of uninhibited revellers, citing unacceptable mess and noise and indecent dress and behaviour among their complaints. The Ultra Europe event held in the 'Park Mladeži' in Split over three days and nights from the 14th of July 2019 was, by some accounts, a success with very few adverse incidents, welcomed and praised by politicians and tourist directors. However, another side to the picture also received attention in the Croatian press: public places blighted by drug- or alcohol-fuelled licentious behaviour, urination and defecation even before the Festival had begun (Slobodna Dalmacija, 12.07.2019.); horrendous mess after Ultra's first day in Split (IndexHR, 13.07.2019); and the drugs which were, it seemed, the partygoers' mainstay during the Split leg of the Festival (Slobodna Dalmacija 15.07.2019.). The event certainly draws in large numbers of visitors (Slobodna Dalmacija 13.07.2019.), but how much (if any) benefit it brings to a city whose centre is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List is debatable.

Don Robert conducted Sara Pirč's wedding to Roman Radonić in October 2018. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Dalmatian tourism has traditionally been based on warm hospitality and long-term friendships nurtured between private renters and their guests. The difficulties created by the 1991-95 Homeland War caused a break in these relationships. While some regular visitors came back after the war, many didn't. Many changes have taken place since then, and Dalmatian tourism has of necessity developed in different directions, including offering large-scale music festivals aimed at young adults. Dalmatia has an incredibly wide range of tourist attractions, and depends on tourism for its economic wellbeing. It is perhaps surprising how little is advertised specifically for foreign guests. So a Mass in Polish is a great departure, and very welcome.

Don Robert blessing the Pitve graveyard, All Saints 2018. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

It is the inspired brainchild of Don Robert Bartoszek, who is conducting the Mass every Sunday throughout July and August in the Vrisnik Parish Church, at 12:15. All credit to him, as he and his colleagues are under tremendous pressures of work, due to an acute shortage of priests on the island because of relocation, illness and retirement. Don Robert was brought in to be parish priest for Vrisnik and Pitve last year, and quickly settled in, gaining an admiring appreciation from his parishioners for his ability to fit into local customs. He has also introduced some charming customs from his home country to Hvar, most notably the distribution of small gifts from the 'Easter bunny' to the local children after the Easter Sunday Mass.

Don Robert and Roman Radonić with the Pasqual Candle, April 2019. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Don Robert's duties have recently been expanded, so his dedication is all the more admirable. The Polish residents and visitors on Hvar have responded enthusiastically, with some 54 of them attending their first special Mass, over 100 a couple of weeks later, then some 150, so many they couldn't all fit into the church! It is probably not surprising, as Poland is a very Catholic country, also a very close-knit community, and Don Robert has been unstinting in his pastoral care for those of his compatriots in need of help.

Distributing gifts to the children, Easter Sunday 2019. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

So, quietly and discreetly, a small but invaluable new element has been added to Hvar's tourist attractions, one which shows a special kind of care and consideration towards a group of the island's guests. Don Robert's appointment on Hvar was supposed to be temporary, lasting for just one year. Let's hope his stay is extended, and equally that his initiative in providing spiritual support for his fellow-Poles becomes a lasting tradition - and maybe 'tourist Masses' in other languages might just come into being?

Eye-catching, fully informative posters were distributed by Don Robert personally

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) July 2019.

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