"So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead."
James 2:17

Rooftop Workers


by the "Guca Gora Gang"

The history of the Balkans has been written in blood. In the recent war, the world again witnessed the extermination of people whose only crime was to belong to a particular ethnic group. Many of us have said "NEVER AGAIN" after witnessing films on the Holocaust, but it did happen again and it will happen repeatedly unless we act. All that Evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing. We write this account for all of you who know that world peace must not only be visualized but must be worked for. And the work is hard but the compensation is out of this world!

Our trip this year took us to the central Bosnian village of Guca Gora. This village was primarily a Croat Catholic village before the war. During the course of the war, the tenuous alliance between the Muslims and the Croats broke apart in central Bosnia and the madness of ethnic cleansing took its toll on both the Muslim and Croat villages as former friends became enemies. Guca Gora was a Croat village that was on the receiving end of Muslim ethnic cleansing. The people are returning now to their village and the Muslims who had moved in during the war must now find new homes. All of this is happening due to the Dayton Peace Accords.

We come from New York and Texas, California and Pennsylvania, Ohio and Minnesota, with Massachusetts, Maine, and New Jersey rounding out the North, with South Carolina and Tennessee completing the Southern contingent. Americans all, we number 35 with one priest, Father Glenn Sudano, and four brothers of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal of the Bronx included in our group. We have brought our tools. The first week we will work in Guca Gora, located about 50 miles northwest of Sarajevo in central Bosnia. The second week will be a pilgrimage to Medjugorje.

St. David's Relief Foundation coordinated with the town pastor to determine what houses will get priority. We only have a week to work with a goal of trying to get five to six roofs completed. The houses are typical European: white stucco siding; orange ceramic tiles; two to three stories with very steep pitched roofs. We only replace the roofs from tile to shingle so the homeowners can have something over their heads as they rebuild the rest of their homes. St. David's makes arrangements to have all building supplies shipped to the town where the work is to be done: plywood; tar paper; shingles; and extension ladders. All required nails and staples/staple guns, saws, and gasoline powered generators.

The volunteers come in with positive attitudes and enthusiasm. Nobody has preconceived expectations of what others should do. All will do what they can. Some of the women will be on the roofs, some cut tarpaper and shingles, and the rest of the women will pass water up to the men to keep them well hydrated. The men that are not comfortable being on the roofs will cut plywood, pass nails, and do heavy lifting such as moving ladders. As the week progresses, the volunteers quickly come together as a team and develop great friendships.

The population of Guca Gora is probably between 500 and 1,000. Before the civil war began, it was a mixed community of Muslim and Catholic Croat. It is situated in the hills overlooking a large valley and has a large Franciscan monastery and church at its center. The terrain and vegetation are very similar to that found along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, but not quite as high. The delicious water source is mountain spring. Potatoes are the main diet and our family hosts made some fantastic meals from their garden patch.

The Serbs rolled through this area in the early 1990s. The Croats were forced to relocate to other safe areas and Muslims took over the vacated homes that were still standing. Because of the Dayton Peace Accords, the Croats are able to move back into their homes and the Muslims must move out if required. The owners of the two houses we worked on had been back in their homes for only two months. The British forces of the Stabilization Forces (SFOR) in Bosnia patrol the area. They would drive through the village about three times a day. The village is mostly empty and the majority of the houses have substantial damage. There is electricity and potable running water but no business life besides a few grocery stores and the bakery. The Franciscan monastery was covered with bullet holes, as are most of the homes. The statue of St. Francis that is in the monastery courtyard was full of bullet holes, primarily in the facial area. The church had a nice mural above the main altar, but several cans of paint had been thrown across it. About half of the homes in the village had nothing but vertical walls left.

Our host family provided breakfast and lunch. Each meal was accompanied by the local coffee, Espresso. Such a drink provided us with a quick caffeine fix and a jumpstart that would rival 440 volts of electricity. We would rise at 5am to get an early start on the day and have a cup of Espresso. Breakfast would be at about 8.30am. We would have Mass at about noon, followed by lunch. Then, we would take an afternoon break due to the heat of the day. Around 4pm we would resume work and have our dinner in the church courtyard around 8.30pm. We work hard and hold nothing back. We have one week to roof as many houses as we can. The locals join us in rebuilding their village.

Many of the local men work outside of the village in various jobs. The wife maintains the home and a vegetable garden. The school for the Muslim children in the neighboring villages is nearby. The Croat children go to a Catholic school that is a distance away. They have been taught English in school and often function as our interpreters. Family life here is hard, but unspoiled by the distractions of modern life.

Our workweek started Monday morning, June 5th, and concluded under the Bosnian moonlight of Saturday, June 10th. The next morning, Sunday, we had an English/Croatian Mass with the townsfolk. Following Mass, we had what is called the blessing of the house. Each house we worked on was blessed by the Franciscans, accompanied by those who had worked on that particular house. Each room was blessed and the owners were given a crucifix. We said our good-byes to the villagers. They and we are strangers no more. In a way known but to God, we have become family.

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?"

They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?"He said to them, "Come and see". They came and saw where he was staying.

[John 1:38-39]

Do you want to see where Our Lord is staying? Then come with us next year, for He lives in the hearts of the good people of Bosnia.


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