Like so many of the priests of this region of the world, gleaning biographical material is not easy for most of these Franciscans feel the message, not the messenger is important and the spotlight should be on the Gospel not on the one conveying it. This is a philosophy that evolved from the founder of the Franciscans Saint Francis of Assisi. In fact, that spirit is what has endeared the Friars to the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina. This dates back to late in the century Francis established the Order of Friars Minor. The Franciscans first arrived around 1298 in the area known then as Dalmatia. This area is bordered by the rampart of four mountains (Cabula, Cvrsnica, Lipa, and Vran) on the north, the Neretva river on the east, and the Dalmatian mountain range to the southwest. The Franciscans roots here evolved from the heroic missionary efforts of those friars who had traveled with the Crusades, preaching to the Croats during their land journeys, with many of the friars staying and establishing missions.
This was the case early in the 14th century when a group of Franciscans decided to stay in this tiny mountain village during the persecuted reign of Pope Boniface VIII and the territorial and political influence of the Catholic Austrian Hapsburg which had become a major territorial power. Though other missionaries had tried to convert the Dalmatian mountain lands, it was the simplicity of the Franciscans, mirroring the ideals of their founder from Assisi, that endeared the friars to the people. These men of St. Francis instilled in the people a strong spirituality, a special "courage under fire." The Franciscans were revered because they related to the people from the beginning. They came in poverty, wearing only their robes and, like St. Francis, carried only sacks of bibles and bread to share. They never asked for anything more. The people could see their sincerity and thus was established a holy love affair between the people and the Franciscans that lasts to this day.
Into this environment Slavko Barbaric was born in 1946 in the village of Dragicini. Growing up with the influence of the Franciscans and dreaming of someday wearing the brown tunic and cowl and reach out to others for God in the footsteps of St. Francis, Saint Anthony and many others, young Slavko matriculated to the seminary in Visoko where he studied Theology, then Novitiate and on to Sarajevo for Major Seminary studies. He was ordained in 1971, ten years before the Blessed Mother would choose his little corner of the world to impart a message he had been ingrained with from birth and throughout his seminary training.
After various pastoral assignments by the Minister Provincial of the Order, he was asked to return to school to achieve his Doctorate in Religious Pedagogy, which, in effect, means a specialist in teaching the faith to children. He accomplished this in 1982 and was subsequently assigned to the parish of St. James in Medjugorje, an agricultural valley in the shadow of Mt. Krizevac, about 75 miles from the Dalmatian Coast and the Adriatic Sea.
His education was an excellent preparation for him and his fellow Franciscans for Our Lady would refer to mankind as "her little children," even choosing six children to appear to in this mountain valley which the Gospa affectionately refers to as her special "Oasis of Peace." When he first arrived at St. James the purported apparitions were well-known in this village that included the section Bijakovici where Our Lady first appeared on Apparition Hill near the blue cross and on the side of town where most of the visionaries lived.
Other than Father Jozo Zovko, OFM who was pastor of St. James at the time the apparitions began in 1981, he has been at Medjugorje the longest. He also has traveled the world in fulfilling Our Lady's message of August 16, 1984 in which the Blessed Mother imparted to the visionaries, "I beg of you...to live my messages and relate them to whomever you meet." For this past decade he has been a frequent speaker at Marian and Eucharistic Conferences all over the globe, but especially here in the United States, often accompanying a visionary. He speaks fluent English as well as French, Spanish and his native Croatian language. He has written numerous books on the Gospel and what Our Lady has been conveying for eighteen and a half years. Some of his books still in print are "The Way of the Cross; With Jesus and Mary from Golgotha to the Resurrection"; "Pray with the Heart", a small pocket-size book which has become an excellent guidebook for learning how to pray better; "Fasting", which outlines the various ways the Gospa and Gospel show how we can fulfill the cleansing of our bodies and souls through mortifications of the flesh; "Celebrate Mass with your heart" in which Fr. Slavko reveals the essence of the Holy Sacrifice and how we can grow closer to Jesus each and every day; and "In the School of Love" in which he shows the progress of God's love and how we must reciprocate to Him and to our fellow man, all His children. He has also written two books in Spanish.
His words are best known from his monthly commentaries of the monthly message in which he imparts inspired meditations on Our Lady's message and how it applies to us in our daily life. For all of his commentaries as well as his most recent one for September, you can go to www.medjugorje.org.
In the early nineties Fr. Slavko marshalled a fax campaign to all the Medjugorje and Marian centers of the world keeping them up abreast of the atrocities going on in Bosnia and he, along with Father Svetozar Kraljivec, OFM, helped alert the United Nations to the extermination and destruction of so many Catholic churches in Bosnia. Many of the Catholic community of Konjic, nearly 11,000, were being systematically exterminated and the UN and Red Cross were not permitted to intervene. He wrote, "They have absolutely no communications with the outside world and cannot give their own report about events in Konjic. They have been imprisoned in their own home. In their name and in the name of all Croatians in the county of Konjic, who are in a more than hopeless situation, we implore your help." All throughout the conflict and war in the former Yugoslavia, Fr. Slavko was there for the people, helping them, relating with them, suffering with them. This "courage under fire" is, as we said earlier, a trait of the Franciscans in the area and this virtue and perseverance shined through brilliantly during the dark times of this decade just as it had in earlier centuries when the Diocesans turned tail and ran at the sign of trouble, forsaking the people.
This same scenario pervades the area today as diocesan priests sought shelter in safe areas rather than staying with the people while the Franciscans stuck it out in the bunkers with the people. This is another reason the people have opposed the Diocesan bishops of Mostar who have tried to discredit and break up the Franciscans. Too often, sadly, the Ordinary of Mostar whether it was Bishop Zanic who was reprimanded by Rome for his actions against Medjugorje and the Franciscans, or the current Bishop Peric, both have exhibited a superiority complex towards the Franciscans, partly out of resentment and partly from jealousy of their popularity. Adding to this is the element out to destroy Medjugorje who spread false rumors and denigrate the Franciscan priests at Medjugorje.
This includes Fr. Slavko who accepts the hate and persecution as just another opportunity to practice love for all and bear the tribulations that have come his way and the way of the people he is shepherd to, which includes not only the teeming parish of St. James but also countless pilgrims who have come from all over the world on a pilgrimage to this special Oasis of Peace. They have come to be touched by the Queen of Peace in a special way and experience conversion of heart - the kind of conversion the Gospa bids all her children to live in the same way Fr. Slavko lives his life every day. Father Slavko Barbaric, OFM is a shining example of all St. Francis taught and all the Queen of Peace imparts.
The Church is our Mother, with God as our Father. She's there to clean us up, and comfort us when we 'fall off our bikes'. But there's a number of people who would call that being a 'goody, goody'. She doesn't say we can't, but rather to do so responsibly, recalling and following the rules set down by God, our Father.
G. K. Chesterton wrote: "The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden." (Illustrated London News; 1-3-20)
Money, sexuality, food, etc. are all good, when used properly as God intended. But this freedom is called slavery by some, claiming that their's is the better way, exchanging hope for despair, the truth for a lie, and calling THAT freedom.
On one of the cable channels (C-Span I think), there was a press conference concerning some people who claimed to have left the homosexual lifestyle. They didn't attack homosexuals, didn't condemn them to eternal damnation, nor advocate their deaths, just reported that they, and others, have been able to change. Immediately following that press conference, another was held, in the same room. The rebuttal by various gay and lesbian groups. Their conference seemed intent on attacking those who had just finished holding their press conference. The labels flew fast and furious. Homophobic, ignorant, etc. Now I'm not going to get into which group was right but what I noticed was difference in attitude. One offered hope, the other, despair.
Sin can affect various people in various ways. Mother Angelica wrote about the difference between the saint, the sinner, and the average person. The sinner, falling into a mud puddle (sin) relishes in it. He can't think of anything better, wallowing around and thoroughly enjoying themselves. The average person sits in the mud puddle, bemoaning his fate. They're upset with falling into it, wondering what they could have done to avoid it. They sit there, brooding over it. The saint, seeing himself in the mud puddle, picks himself up (or asks for help getting up), gets themselves cleaned up, and resolves to try and avoid that puddle in the future.
Let's expound on this a bit. The sinner, seeing the average person visibly upset, goes over and tried to convince him that there's nothing wrong. That they shouldn't upset themselves, but should enjoy themselves. The saint, seeing the same thing, goes over and tries to help the person get up from the mud. Whereupon he is set on for making the person feel bad, for not letting him remain in the mud.
Now, let's go back to that press conference. A number of people, many associated with Courage (the Catholic homosexual support organization) have stated that they have given up the homosexual lifestyle. Or at least have controlled it, to live according to the Church's teachings. But immediately, groups such as Dignity, go on the offensive. They claim there's nothing wrong with engaging in homosexuality, those who feel guilt for doing so should throw off their guilt, their conscience, and embrace it.
Courage offered hope that it may be possible for at least some to put off their sexual compulsion, or at least live with their sexuality in accordance to God's law. The other offered despair, that there was nothing they could do about it.
Those who have 'conquered' their sins (through God's help) have been some of the greatest saints in our history. St. Augustine was very happy within the Gnostics. His mother, St. Monica, prayed for his conversion. And he even noted, in a prayer (of sorts), that he wanted to know and love God, just not right away. The sexual excesses of the Gnostics were well known and St. Augustine was enjoying them. However, upon coming to faith, he knew the lie behind their 'knowledge', having been a party to it. He was the perfect instrument to expose them to the faithful.
St. Paul himself was such an instrument. Seeing Christianity as a threat, he set out to end it by force. We can presume from the Scriptures that he had, at least, a hand in the martyrdom of Stephen. And since he was noted as a strong enemy of the Church, we can also presume that he was at least partially responsible for the deaths of many other martyrs.
But; "For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, 'He is the Son of God.' And all who heard him were amazed, and said, 'Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests.' But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ" (Acts 9:19-22).
Now that had to be some witness. The person who actively attacked the Church was now one of it's staunchest supporters.
St. Francis of Assisi was renown for his being a party animal. He was often declared the 'king of the revels' by his friends. No one could throw a party, or have a great time as much as Francis Bernadone. Yet, he knew he was missing the truth. Many think that St. Francis' conversion came when our Lord spoke to him through the cross at San Damiano. But from his biographies, we see that Christ brought him about slowly. Over time, everything that he once held dear and enjoyable became unbearable to him.
The person who, only a short time before, sought glory in battle and commerce, who lived a life of eat, drink, and be merry, was now extolling the virtues of penance and conversion; calling for all people to turn back to God.
None of the three who I've touched on, as well as countless others, were instantly accepted. St. Paul, St. Augustine, and St. Francis were all called traitors, mad, etc. They were reviled and hated. In some cases, they sought to even kill them. "If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on My account, because they do not know Him who sent Me" (John 15:18-21).
Now many may tell you that this is not true, not wise. That the wise way is the popular way. To say homosexuality, gluttony, lust, and greed are sins is hateful, ignorance. We're just not with it they say. Self control and sacrifice are outmoded and ignorant ways of thinking. To that we say: "Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their craftiness,' and again, 'The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.' So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Corinthians 3: 18-23)
Holding to the truth has never been popular, nor easy. It isn't hate to call a sin a sin. We all sin, we've all fallen short of the glory of God. We can either bemoan our fate, and wallow in guilt, or we can turn to a merciful God, knowing His love and trusting in His mercy to forgive us our inadequacies. We can relish in our sin and refuse to answer God's call to repentance (guilt), or we can joyfully go to our Heavenly Father, to be cleaned of our failings and rejoice in His love.
The Church offers us Christ's hope and love, the world offers us doom and despair. Which would you choose?
Pax Christi, Pat
Pope John Paul II beatifies Blessed Enrique de Osso y Cervello nearly one year into his pontificate.