If I could take away one thing from this experience, it would be the reminder that Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. Except for a few toddling monkeys roaming around, Catholic Croatian Holy Trinity Parish had a milieu of sombre fatigue. A heaviness seemed to weigh on the priest’s heart, mind and body. Nearly everyone wore black. The sanctuary’s focal point was a life-sized crucifix complete with a dying, outstretched Christ. It appeared that sorrow resided here.
This was most exemplified in the permanently placed bronze panels around the sanctuary depicting the Fourteen Stations of the Cross. These illustrated Jesus’ journey from his death sentence to his burial.
The morning, lead by the priest and a few nuns, was about ritual. Afterwards Marion, my companion who grew up in a High Anglican Church, said that she could have recited most of the service from memory. The prescribed Lectionary texts were read, creeds and pre-written prayers were methodically recounted. The Eucharist wafers were served. The sermon was about three minutes long. Not many people stayed to talk to each other after the half hour long service was completed.
It begged the question in our little group of three: Why do people come?
Since this encounter, I’ve done some research on Croatian history in an attempt to understand the spiritual climate of this congregation. Things seemed to have settled down now for the country but Croatia has had a tumultuous last 75 years. Perhaps these rituals in this space are a way for Croatians to work out their pain together.
Something beautiful about old traditions like Catholicism is that there’s nothing they haven’t dealt with before within the human condition. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the sun: …A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4) Perhaps we had stumbled upon this community’s time to mourn.
After the service, we walked around. There were statues of saints in the back of the sanctuary. They reminded my other companion, Pearl, of Hindu statues of gods.
We sensed that we did not belong there. The thing is though, that’s okay. Being neither Catholic nor Croatian, we were not meant to belong there. The building was not built for us. The service was not held for us. We were intruding upon another culture’s sense of the sacred and there was much that we didn’t understand.