Sunday, April 5, 2009

God and Croatia

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy week on the Christian calendar. Instead of traditional palm branches being distributed to parishioners on Palm Sunday, Croatians - at least in Dalmacija - get olive branches. While we do have lots of palm trees here, it doesn't even come close to the number of olive trees. So...olive branches, we get.

When you enter the church, there is a box with hundreds of these olive branches. Each parishioner is meant to take one olive branch. However, rather than one olive branch, it's a common sight to see people taking 5-6-7 branches or more...and rifling through the box to find the biggest and best branches like they're picking through potatoes.

I've lived here long enough to know the thought process:

My {husband, sister, son, daughter...etc..} doesn't go to church but because they are my kin, they are still very good Catholics. I will take branches for {so and so} and it's just as good as if they went to church.

or possibly,

I'm having the entire family over to my house for Easter next weekend and I want everyone to see how Holy I am...
Whatever the thinking, we saw old bags who looked they were hauling entire olive trees around with them!

The Pope once called Croatia the ˝Bulwark of Catholicism˝ - meaning, Croatians throughout history have lived and regularly died in defense of the faith - through invasions, conquests, etc... More recently, Croatia went from the scandal and persecution of being openly Catholic under the communists to it being a sign - perhaps THE sign - of Croatian patriotism. I say, with no doubt, that TV cameras will all point towards whomever is running for office in the local elections next

Nowadays, I often here that Croatia is culturally Catholic and people nod their head, like that actually means something. In fact, you're either Catholic or your not Catholic. You can't sit in church on Sunday morning and then take bribes on Monday and still call yourself a Catholic.

So, I see the old bags dragging their blessed olive trees and I wonder where the Bulwarks of Catholicism all went. Maybe these are the same people who's families stopped going to church the very second that the Communists came into power so that they could still get the good jobs...the big apartments that would be denied the openly faithful for their defiance of the party. Maybe now, in their twilight years, they regret their own cowardice and want God and all of us to be witnesses to the fact that they were really Catholic all along.

I don't know. I do know that, this year and from now on, we will quietly cut branches from our own olive trees.