On occasion of 20th anniversary of death of Croatian missionary and member of Franciscan province of Bosna Srebrena, OFM Vjeko Ćurić, in Žepče and his birth parish Osova on February 3rd and 4th, a ceremonial academy was held and a Holy mass was celebrated.
Words of OFM Vjeko Ćurić: Nobody can take away my life, I myself give it, were the moto of ceremonial academy held on February 3rd in the Cultural home of Žepče. Of OFM Vjeko’s life and sacrifice for love for those close to him, OFM Antun Perković, parish priest of Osova, ex Provincial of Franciscan province of Bosna Srebrena OFM Lovro Gavran, ex parish priest of Osova OFM Drago Perković and current provincial OFM Jozo Marinčić, spoke before the gathered audience.
At the beginning of the ceremonial academy, a documentary about OFM Vjeko, Witness of faith, made by Marina Knežević, editor in chief of religious programme on the Federal television, was shown.
OFM Antun Perković greeted the present and thanked the management of the Province for organising the academy. He reminded of the words of St. John Paul II.: „OFM Vjeko is yet another victim added to the long list of missionaries that proved their love of Christ and African people, by sacrificing their own life.“
Central lecture, OFM Vjeko Ćurić missionary and Franciscan of Catholic church, was held by general assistant of Albanian Franciscan custody OFM Lovro Gavran, who emphasized that understanding of OFM Vjeko’s work, visit to Rwanda where terrible conflicts happened in 1994. was extremely important. „OFM Vjeko relied only on God, and scared people relied on him. OFM Vjeko saved every threatened person. In the beginning he saved people of the tribe Tutsi (for they were fighting for overtaking the authority in Rwanda) that were persecuted by major tribe Hutu. When the war luck changed and Tutsi gained power he had to save the Hutu from terrible retaliation and terror of the well armed minority…“, pointed out OFM Lovro, emphasising that remaining human in that kind of situation was something grand. „Heroism. Heroic act. But it was not just one act. There were years of heroic acts. Because every week, OFM Vjeko made his way to Burundi from where he imported food for the refugees from one tribe, then from the other. And every travel was death danger…“, said OFM Lovro pointing out that OFM Vjeko was Christ’s witness to the end and his life was heroic.
He also recalled a resume of a missionary who, as a student, had reported to the Africa Project, and after ordination in 1982., he went to Paris to prepare for missions, and in 1983. he arrived in Rwanda, where OFM Vjeko’s activity was marked by parish pastoral, building of a community of believers, but also work in the economic-educational field. He built a water system in his parish, first in Africa he invented terraces for land farming, creating granaries and warehouses, opening schools, and his successors continued to work on these foundations… He could have come out of Rwanda at the time of genocide, but he did not want to do it. He survived the war and then several assassinations. During his last visit to Rome, OFM Lovro said, OFM Vjeko was advised not to return, which he refused – he wanted to serve his friends till his death…
“Nobody asked him to give up on faith, but he did not want to give up love either. Faith and hope as much as they are worth will pass, but love remains forever, as it says in the Holy Scripture in the First epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 13. Besides, Brother Vjeko knew that he would, like all other, be judged solely on the basis of his love for his neighbour. That’s why he never wanted to give up in any way on his close ones. May God give, with the intercession of his faithful servant, the late OFM Vjeko, that His Church comes to a conclusion as soon as possible that he can be placed as a model of fidelity to God and love of our neighbour, by placing him into the list of our Blessed”, said OFM Lovro.
Bridge between Bosnia and Rwanda
OFM Drago Perković, parish vicar in Kiseljak and ex parish priest in Osova at the time of OFM Vjeko’s death, said that OFM Vjeko was a man whose living all the way to his death was secluded, but his death built a bridge between Bosnia and Rwanda, telling people of great life deeds of this Franciscan.
“We know that OFM Vjeko was unusual and brave. In him we see that positive spite that is in people of Žepče area, who love and defend their own and that are ready to help others, if needed even to give their life while doing so. That characteristic he had in common with his brothers Ivo, Niko, Antun and Dragan, who with thousands of courageous defenders on both sides of Karaula defended their families, their homeland, at the same time OFM Vjeko defended people in Rwanda… On all our advices to go to some other country, he replied with a smile: ‘If I leave, who is going to help these people?’”, said OFM Drago remembering his visit to Rwanda in February 2018.
“I was specifically impressed by his last intervention when he asked the authorities for more humane treatment of captives that were crowded like sticks in a box of matches. Their legs broke from standing and their skin was peeling of… Together with then Provincial OFM Petar Anđelović and OFM Anto Batinić I traveled to Rwanda. In the church in Kivumu, there is a nicely decorated grave where OFM Vjeko is buried as a bishop. They told us, his co brothers and believers, that they believe no harm will come to them as long as OFM Vjeko is with them”, remembered OFM Drago.
In his presentation, OFM Jozo Marinčić, particularly reflected on the words Nobody can take away my life, I myself give it, written on the wall of a church where OFM Vjeko is buried. „OFM Vjeko freely, with his decision, gave his life for reconciliation in a land torn with conflicts… By giving his life, he gave to the Lord everything he received from Him. There is nothing bigger and greater than that… He is a witness, martyr, because he gave his life for his brothers that he loved, for Christ“, pointed out OFM Jozo by saying that OFM Vjeko lived a simple life and modestly with people there, carrying charisma of Bosnian Franciscans, and people often considered him a brother. Provincial added that last year 23 missionaries were killed, and in the past 16 years 424 missionaries were killed in the world, among who were bishops, priests, monks and laymen.
The program was led by OFM Janko Ćuro, and in the musical part, a choir of Franciscan theology from Sarajevo led by OFM Emanuel Josić, participated. Students of the fourth year of Franciscan theology in Sarajevo from DR Congo OFM Cosmas Safari Sadiki and OFM Hubert Kasonta Kilasa sang in their mother tongue a song Let’s come in with Joy to the Lord’s house, and then briefly addressed the gathered, pointing out this way connection between Africa and Bosnia.
In the parish church of the Assumption of Mary in Osova, on February 4th, Holy mass for late OFM Vjeko was led by the Archbishop of Vrhbosna cardinal Vinko Puljić together with the parish priest OFM Antun Perković and the Provincial OFM Jozo Marinčić and 18 other priests, in the presence of numerous believers. OFM Antun greeted cardinal Puljić, provincial OFM Jozo, the family of late OFM Vjeko and all gathered, pointing out that the 20th anniversary of the martyr death of OFM Vjeko is a big day for parish Osova.
In the homily, the Cardinal recalled the readings of this Sunday and recalled that the Church was celebrating the Day of Life on this day. “God with every life has his plan … God’s act determined that OFM Vjeko was to go to the mission to realize what Paul said today: ‘… for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.’ He went and preached gospel specifically. He fought for human… OFM Vjeko is a gift of life – he lays life, for the lives of many. Man has only one life and the most right way to live it is if he lives from love. You know that the first death of war is truth. It’s not easy to preserve the right mind in those black days. Now imagine OFM Vjeko, among those warring parties – he is fighting for a man. They advise him to step aside until the situation calms down. And he says, ‘I see that I should, but I can not leave them.’ It’s that gift. When something is loved, one dies for it. He loved those people. He could not leave them because love was stronger than death. How many he saved. Thank God, for I have visited these parts and saw what OFM Vjeko did for them”, said the Archbishop of Vrhbosha, specifically asking the faithful to pray for the process of proclaiming OFM Vjeko blessed and adding that the faithful of the parish Osova and the Žepče area may be truly proud of this martyr missionary.
He told the faithful that through OFM Vjeko’s example, they learn to incorporate themselves into these times, in their areas. “Woe to us if we do not live the gospel; Woe to us if we do not know how to appreciate our roots; Woe to us if we are not aware of the cross-alliance we have; woe to us if we do not build ourselves in today so that we have a future”, cardinal Puljić said. He also recalled the words of Pope Francis that whoever carries love, radiates with joy, emphasizing that this was seen in OFM Vjeko’s life.
At the end of the Mass, provincial Marinčić greeted the gathered, encouraging them to commit themselves to the continuation of OFM Vjeko’s path: a testimony of the love of the neighbour. Singing during the Holy Mass was led by the Choir of the Franciscan Theology of Sarajevo, and the worship was completed with prayer for OFM Vjeko, all missionaries and all the victims of the war in Rwanda and BiH.
For heaven he was born in Rwanda
Memorial program dedicated to OFM Vjeko Ćurić, at the same time was led in Kiuvumu in Rwanda, place where Centre father Vjeko is.
Holy mass was led by auxiliary bishop of Banja Luka OFM Marko Semren, who at the beginning of the mass celebration greeted all present, who were mostly youth and children. He emphasised that OFM Vjeko with his life and death testifies how to live faith and die for Jesus Christ. He pointed out that all gathered, were gathered by God’s love and that in OFM Vjeko, connection between Church in Bosnia and Rwanda is expressed, because he was born in Bosnia, but for heaven he was born in Rwanda.
The Holy mass was concelebrated together with aprox. dozen diocese and Franciscan priests, parish priest of Bugojno OFM Zoran Tadić, parish vicar from Kreševo OFM Želimir Gogić, parish priest from Petrinja OFM Anto Barišić, parish priest of Novo Sarajevo rev. Marinko Filipović, secretary of Franciscan province of Bosna Srebrena OFM Damir Pavić, long-time missionaries in Rwanda rev. Danko Litrić, ex provincial of Croatian Salesian province rev. Pejo Orkić and rev. Tihomir Šutalo, the newly elected provincial of Croatian Salesian province.
After reading of Lord’s word, bishop Semren said a few thoughts of OFM Vjeko, and then his whole sermon was read in local kynyarwanda language. The prayer of the believers was read by the students of the school that caries OFM Vjeko Ćurić’s name, and a gratitude prayer was said by Robertina Ćurić, niece of the late OFM Vjeko.
At the end of the mass, the priests together with bishop Semren prayed for deceased missionary, which was approved from the local church authority. Then, a testimony of OFM Vjeko’s life was presented by Aimable Gatete. He was saved by OFM Vjeko after three weeks of hiding in the sacristy, and transferred together with others to safety in Burundi. He testified about OFM Vjeko’s fearless spirit and love he had for all those who needed help. Aimable mentioned that OFM Vjeko, together with other great people of this land, should be proclaimed a hero of Rwanda for his love of people and love for this country. Pupils of the Centre Father Vjeko also contributed to the memory of OFM Vjeko with a rich program of playing, singing and traditional dance they prepared.
Translation: Ksenija Ninić