This month, we speak with Fr Ljubomir Šimunović, OFM, Croatian Chaplain in the UK.
Edited by Brian Gallagher
Fr Ljubomir Šimunović
Fr Ljubomir was born in 1970. He went to primary school in Slivno, near Imotski, and then attended the Franciscan Grammar School of Sinj, from 1985 till 1989. Fr Ljubomir studied Philosophy and Theology in Makarska and Zagreb and graduated at the Catholic Faculty of Theology in 1996.
Fr Ljubomir joined the Franciscan Order in 1989 and he was ordained as a priest in 1997, in Split. He had served as the secretary to the provincial superior of the Franciscan Province of the Most Holy Redeemer, the chaplain to the Franciscan School Sisters of the Christ the King of Lovret, the vicar of the Our Lady of Good Health Parish in Split as well as vicar of the Saint Michael Parish in Proložac. He also served as the definitor of the Franciscan Province of the Most Holy Redeemer as well as the parish priest of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Runovići.
Since 2007, he has been the pastoral leader of the Croatian Chaplaincy in London.
Tells us something about your activities and that of the Croatian Chaplaincy in London?
Besides a full scope of the pastoral care for Croats in the United Kingdom, our Chaplaincy continues to foster and promote cultural, ethnic and language identity of our community in the UK.
Every Sunday, we gather to celebrate the Holy Mass in Croatian, the language of our soul, at the Sacred Heart Church, nearby the Westminster Palace. We have a vibrant and live community with believers that are actively engaged in various Chaplaincy activities, from playing and singing at the Holy Mass to engagement in all kind of organizational and support activities in the everyday life of our members.
In order to further raise awareness about the chaplaincy’s activities, we have launched our Facebook page which proved to be very successful and active, opening a new dimension of connectivity and pastoral care. Also, we have been regularly publishing our weekly Pastoral Newsletter that reaches every home by email and is distributed after the Sunday’s Holly Mass. Our special focus goes to personal visits to families and individuals in London and across the UK. This year, we organized several gathering of our community members in Manchester area, as well as in Aberdeen, Scotland. We have also initiated our support to establish our Croatian catholic community in Ireland and we hope it will grow one day into the Croatian Catholic Mission in Ireland.
Along all of the above, we provide weekly support activities to our Clapham parish and I am regularly hearing confessions on Saturdays, at the Westminster Cathedral, mother of all Catholic churches England and Wales.
How long has there been a Croatian Chaplaincy in London?
The Croatian Chaplaincy in London has existed for more than four decades and it has continued to thrive through some exceptional moments as well as many times of challenge. During the time of the ex-Yugoslavia, the Chaplaincy effectively served as an informal Croatian Embassy in London as well as a relentless custodian of the Croatian identity.
Indeed, it would be hard to measure the support that the Croatian Chaplaincy provided to our homeland and Croatian citizens during the Homeland War, especially through the fund raising and humanitarian help as well as an advocacy for the international recognition of the Croatian independence. Although it was at the verge of the closing only a decade ago, we are very happy to see that our Croatian Chaplaincy currently experiences its new spring through the arrival of new members, as well as an increased engagement of the older members of the community.
The Chaplaincy’s congregation
What are the differences in pastoral care in London as compared to in Croatia? What issues do people have?
Apart from cultural and other differences among the people, we increasingly live in a kind of a global village. Our approach to the pastoral care is aimed towards a real individual in his or her everyday reality. There is a paradox in leading a rather small Catholic community. There is a strong need and at the same time a great opportunity to nurture a rich personal engagement. Croatia is a dominantly Catholic country and believers express their faith in a public domain. Here, in Britain, I have a feeling that faith is a rather private matter. This is a country with extremely high standards of freedom as well as ways of living and expressing one’s religious beliefs. Yet, here in Britain, one’s practice of faith is a result of strong personal determination, so not by mere chance or tradition, which is at the same time a gift and an obligation.
We regularly think of Croatian sacred places and key moments in a church year, Christmas and Easter, with a warm nostalgia. As I mentioned, we are a relatively small community, enabling rich personal contacts that leave a strong mark in the hearts, souls and lives of our members. The Croatian immigrants are usually a highly educated segment of the population and they usually arrive in Britain pursuing their ambition or seeking international affirmation of their talents.
During the last several years, we have observed an increased fluctuation of temporary immigrants, especially students and professionals from Croatia and Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also Croatian families from all over the world. They bring along their need to join a vibrant Catholic community in the United Kingdom. Of course, there are a lot of challenges once they arrive. The new beginning in London is not always easy, especially for those who arrived unprepared or ill informed.
What are your impressions of London and the UK?
It is indeed a privilege to live in London, as it is a city of great opportunities. Provided we keep an open mind; the City has a lot to offer. Of course, it runs with a lightning pace of life and it is geographically quite spread. It is relatively easy to succumb to everyday pressures. On the other hand, it treasures an enormous cultural heritage. Life in the United Kingdom provides an opportunity to get to know oneself better, but also to appreciate everything that Croatia has to offer, as well. Grand nations, such as Britain, could demonstrate how best to appreciate our own heritage, values and cultural riches, as well as how to think and act strategically to the benefit of our own citizens. Everyday opportunity of interfacing with a different and multi-layered culture could be an exceptional incentive for a positive change. The life in London makes your start appreciating Croats from other parts of Croatia even better. Then, it makes you open up even more to other nations and cultures and eventually to the whole world. Being the Chaplain in London gives me an opportunity to serve my own people. However, it also gives me an opportunity to serve the whole universal Catholic Church every day.
Cover of the latest edition of Most
Every year you produce the impressive magazine Most (The Bridge) which is in Croatian but also with large parts in English. Can you tell us something about it?
The intended Mission of “Most – The Bridge” has been to provide a strong support to growth of our Croatian Catholic community in the United Kingdom. It should also serve as a meeting place of the Croatian and British culture. The Magazine has eight yearly editions as we started in 2008.
In order to achieve such a challenging and rewarding Mission, we cover topics ranging from the Church and pastoral matters, cultural, history and art related affairs, all the way to covering contemporary events in the life of the Croatian community in the United Kingdom.
I would especially like to thank our collaborators such as Vladimir Pavlinić, Viktor Vrečko, Brian Gallagher, Flora Turner Vučetić and others. Also, we had been privileged to collaborate with our late community members and distinguished intellectuals Krsto Cviić, Rolanda Jovanović-Barold and Branko Franolić. Also, there is a high quality of cooperation with all Croatian institution in the United Kingdom.
The magazine ‘Most’ nurtures a strong connection with the Catholic Church of England and Wales, as well as with distinguished British citizens that are close to our community. For example, we are very proud of our most recent cooperation with Mr. Christopher Howse, assistant editor of The Daily Telegraph. The interaction of the Croatian and British cultures in our magazine go well beyond church topics and meet each other in the areas of art, literature, diplomacy, tourism and various fields of the cultural and historical research. Articles are predominantly published in both languages, which additionally strengthen this interaction as well as our community.
We believe that ‘Most’ plays an important role in gathering and strengthening of the Croatian community in the United Kingdom, which is well integrated in local society and acts as a critical asset and bridge between our two cultures.
What plans do you have for the Croatian Chaplaincy?
There is no doubt that London and the United Kingdom will continue to act as an attractive destination for Croatian people. We will continue to thrive as a vibrant community that helps its members grow in their faith with the help of our Lord. Moving forward, I see our community in the United Kingdom even more strengthened with new members bringing new enthusiasm. At the same time, preserving our Croatian Catholic identity as well as growth in faith and communion will always remain our permanent mission.
We are open to new times and challenges, being aware that our only our identity could act as a lighthouse for newcomers and anchor for the faithful who already live here. We embrace everyone with an open heart and we want to be a beacon of Croatian presence on the island, relying on the providence of God and the support of our members.
To obtain a copy of Most, email Fr Ljubo for details at: email@example.com