On Sept. 17, Bishop Richard J. Malone made his first visit as bishop to Our Lady of Bistrica Parish in Lackawanna to celebrate the Croatian church's 100th anniversary. In honor of the rich heritage of the community, portions of the Mass were read in Croatian as well as English, and along with Father Christopher Coric, OFM Conv., parish pastor, several Croatian Catholic priests were in attendance.
"A 100th anniversary is something to be celebrated, so the first thing that I say to all of you is, 'Happy Anniversary,'" the bishop said. "As priests say to each other in Latin, 'Ad multos annos,' meaning 'Many more years.' The way to have many more years is to keep handing on the faith effectively to your young people. I'm delighted that my first official visit to your parish coincides with your 100th anniversary."
Bishop Malone noted that the chancery in the Catholic Center in downtown Buffalo keeps a historical record of all of the parishes in the diocese, so to prepare for his visit to Our Lady of Bistrica, Bishop Malone read up on the history of the Croatian parish. "It became apparent to me that this parish, founded 100 years ago as the parish of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus before the name change, I discovered the devotion, and the commitment and generosity of thousands and thousands of Croatian parishioners," he said.
The bishop expressed his belief that the diocese is strong even though it has to "welcome and encourage many of our brothers and sisters to come back to Church," since it has such a rich cultural history in Western New York, with many parishes preserving unique heritages and identities, such as that of Our Lady of Bistrica, as well as other churches that continue to celebrate Masses in parishioners' native tongues.
"As I was reading through the history of your parish, I was mindful, also of all that was going on in your homeland, you who are of Croatian heritage, during all of history but especially in the recent century and recent decades - a lot of challenges, a lot of turmoil and difficulty," Bishop Malone added.
"I think it's remarkable that people could have given up hope, given that history, but you folks and your ancestors have remained strong in hope and steadfast, and some of that has to do with rejoicing in your Croatian culture but, more importantly, having deep roots in the Catholic faith ... That courage and devotion has really marked this community of faith here in Lackawanna. It's a wonderful, wonderful thing."
According to Bishop Malone, celebrating an anniversary also underscores the importance of having a strong faith community, living with integrity and faith. This has involved remembering, celebrating and believing in all of the things that have taken place in the parish, as with many others with long histories, such as baptisms, First Communions, confirmations and weddings that have taken place in 100 years.
Father Coric welcomed the visitors who attended the Mass, such as Father Martin Jakovic, OFM Conv., vicar of the Croatian Province; Msgr. Iko Vukšić, delegate of the Croatian Priests of USA and Canada; Father Tomislav Glavik, OFM Conv., Father Jeffrey Nowak and Father Romulus Rosolowski, OFM Conv., as well as Bishop Malone and Father Ryszard Biernat, who serves as secretary to Bishop Malone.
"The story goes in Croatia that when a bishop comes to a parish, all the bells should be ringing," said Father Coric. "The bishop came, and there were no bells ringing. He asked the pastor, 'Why are you not ringing them?' He said, 'Bishop, we have reasons for not ringing them - the first one is that we have no bells.' But here, we have no reason not to ring the bells because we know how good you are to us immigrants."
Father Coric reflected on how even those not of Croatian descent were able to relate to the story of many relatives, including parents and grandparents, to this "beautiful country of opportunity," adding that Bishop Malone looks to the future of the Diocese of Buffalo by caring for and supporting the immigrants who come to the country to succeed in the United States, including many in the Western New York area.