Croatian Catholics Celebrate 50 Years of ‘Home Away From Home’ in Queens
ASTORIA – Traveling across the tri-state region to attend Mass in their “mother tongue” does not seem to confuse a loyal congregation of 200 Croatian-speaking Catholics.
Their homeland, after all, is about 4,300 miles east, but these distinguished, gray-haired members have been attending services at Most Precious Blood Parish in Astoria, Queens, since 1971.
In that year, the parish formed what is today known as the Croatian apostolate of Blessed Ivan Merz to serve a massive wave of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia.
Fifty years later, members rejoiced with a Mass on May 2 celebrated by the bishop Ivica Petanjak from the Diocese of Krk in Croatia. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn presided.
Many of its original members have since moved from Astoria to Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and other New York boroughs. Yet Most Precious Blood is their home parish.
“I got married in this church – 1973,” said Željko Maračić.
“I baptized my two children here, my son and my daughter,” added Antone Zic.
Maračić said the community cherished the opportunity to celebrate Mass “in our mother tongue”.
“You can go to any church,” he added, “but somehow we like to go in the mother tongue for mass.”
Ahead of the event, Bishop DiMarzio said Astoria had already welcomed many Croats, drawn by the relaxation of restrictive immigration laws to the United States in 1965.
More than half a century ago, the Diocese of Brooklyn had already earned its nickname of Diocese of Immigrants. The newcomers, who started in the late 1960s, have bolstered this reputation.
“We had once again become a country of immigrants and a diocese,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “In the early 1970s we saw new immigration from Croatia, Italy, other European countries, but mostly Latin America, which was almost nil before.”
Many Croats eventually left Astoria to seek better housing and career opportunities across the region.
“But they are coming back to mass,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “It’s a gathering point. The community is very dynamic. “
For example, the apostolate has a bilingual CCD program that helps future generations to be rooted in the devout heritage of their ancestors. They learn folk dances, but also hymns and prayers in Croatian.
“It is a real need of immigrants,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “People want to preserve their language and their culture. It’s related to their faith, and you can’t separate it.
The bishop congratulated the ward leaders for having fueled the dynamism of the apostolate.
He noted that Father Vedran Kirinčić, the pastor, and Father Sasa Ilijic, parish vicar, are both “on loan” from the diocese of Krk. He praised the bishop Petanjak for deploying them to Queens.
“We are so happy that we have two native speakers who take care of the people,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “Both were secretaries to the bishop, so he sends us his best men.
For Father Kirinčić, this is a long-term mission. He is approaching his ninth birthday with the Diocese of Brooklyn, while Father Ilijic arrived recently.
Father Kirinčić said that the Diocese of Krk had shared priests with the parish of Most Precious Blood since the beginning of the Croatian apostolate in 1971. He said that his predecessors had prepared the way for him.
He described how Father Robert Zubovic organized relief campaigns in Queens to help victims of the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990s. Parishioners dispatched numerous containers of food and clothing to the area of war.
When an earthquake hit Croatia in January, the apostolate reacted again, raising some $ 30,000 in relief funds, Father Kirinčić said.
Most Precious Blood Parish serves several cultural groups, with Masses celebrated every Sunday in English, Croatian, Spanish and Tagalog. The parish will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022.
Sunday’s event was themed “Our Home Away From Home”.
Father Kirinčić explained that the theme is intended to honor the parish of Most Precious Blood and the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“Both have accepted our language and our liturgy,” he said. “Many people have left their parents; have left their traditions. But when they came here, they found their home away from home.