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

The Franciscan
Monastery on Badija
Island, Croatia

WORK CAMP 2005: Badija Island

by the Volunteers of St. David's Relief Foundation

[Mark 11:23] Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.

Faith will indeed move mountains, but be sure to have the shovels and wheelbarrows handy!

This year, for the 15th anniversary of St. David's Relief Foundation, the volunteers were given a rare privilege: to restore the grounds of an ancient Franciscan Monastery. The monastery on Badija Island off the coast of Croatia had been taken away from the Franciscans by the Yugoslav Communist government in 1949. Persistent prayer and petition by the Franciscans finally pressured the newly freed government of Croatia to give the island and monastery back to its rightful owners. The Franciscans have returned home, but home needed some cleanup. The volunteers of St. David's received the call to help, and they brought their hearts, their hands and their spirits to Badija.

Thursday, June 2nd – We arrive from America at the end of a 24-hour flight and find ourselves in the Croatian port of Dubrovnik. Jeff Reed, Executive Director of St. David's, meets us, shaking hands with the veteran recruits and acquainting himself with the new arrivals. We board a bus that takes us north along the Adriatic coastline and then we head northwest off the main road on to the Peljesac Peninsula. We arrive at the coastal village of Orebic. We unload our baggage and transfer it onto a waiting boat. There is an old man there with a beard like Neptune. He appears to be one of the local sailors of the area. We soon find out that this is our host for our work camp, Father Joakim Gregov, or as we grew to affectionately know him, "Father Jaki" (Yah-kee). Father is a most colorful character. Over the next week, he would cook, sing, smoke a pipe, drink, say Mass, and tend to the animals on the island: a donkey; two competing roosters; various chickens, cats, and ducks. He would also keep an eye out for the twenty or so deer that were on the island. As we cruise toward Badija Island, the water is below the boat only a few feet. Visions of "Gilligan's Island" come into our heads, but the day is calm and we all arrive alive and in good spirits. Father Jaki parcels us out to the various rooms in the monastery. It had been used as a hotel at one point so there are cots, showers and closets available. Although the furnishings are a bit sparse by American standards, we are grateful to have a place to lie down. Modern air travel will do that for you. We have a tasty evening meal, prepared by a cook friend of Father Jaki. Father lives on the island alone, so the cook and other helpers come by boat from their homes each day during our visit. After the meal, we receive our assignment for this year's work camp. We will be moving a lot of rubble from around the sides of the church and monastery in order to make the facility more functional. One large pile is blocking a key doorway and also covering a much needed well. This work will be done by hand. There is no large earth-moving equipment on the small island and it is just as well. We are on an historic site and the vibrations of large machinery may do further damage to these ancient structures. Also, a bit of hard work is good for the soul and helps us combine work and prayer. That night we all sleep soundly.

Friday, June 3rd – It is First Friday. One of our members had started the Nine First Fridays in the States after hearing this practice got JFK "off the hook". He wonders if he will miss Mass today. God provides. Father Jaki says the Mass in an old chapel. Father says the Mass in Croatian but has the readings done by our volunteers in English. We are all touched by his generosity. He will say Mass for us during these next three days until the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal arrive Sunday evening. The old chapel has little ornamentation, but the ancient altar reminds us of how the Mass was said in Latin in 1949.

In order to celebrate Mass facing the people, a small table is set up. Father Jaki, who is also a sculptor, has designed a crucifix. Our Lord hangs on a cross, but this is an unusual cross in the shape of an "M". The large "M" reminds us of Our Lady's Magnificatů"My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior". Our Lady, as always, has called us out of our warm homes, our comfortable beds and lifestyles and has brought us here to this small island. Why? To work, to pray, to come closer to her Son and to each other and to learn the meaning of Christian community. There may have been times during Our Lord's Passion when He wanted to give up and not continue to His own crucifixion. Where did He find the strength to rise after falling down? He found the eyes of Our Lady. For a moment, the two hearts became one as when He was first conceived in her womb. And He rose again. He must continue to Calvary to save her and us. Father Jaki has crafted this crucifix well.

After Mass, we have breakfast and begin our work. Some of our ladies clean up the kitchen and prepare the dining room for our mid-day meal. Other volunteers begin the daily Eucharistic Adoration and the rest of us begin the tasks at hand. It is a trademark of St. David's to have Eucharistic Adoration going on while we work. Wisely, we have learned that by doing this, Our Lord will give us the strength and endurance to keep going. We also implore God to keep us all in one piece! While the work is important to do, without God, it would have no meaning. The day is soon spent and we rest in the evening, either walking around the island or taking a dip in the salty Adriatic.

Saturday, June 4th – We continue in our work. The schedule is simple. Mass at 8:00 am, breakfast afterwards and then we work from 9:00 am until 1:00 pm. Lunch takes place and then we resume work about 2:30 pm and work until 6 or 7 pm. We are shoveling dirt, rocks and debris into wheelbarrows, buckets, and even an old trailer pulled by a small tractor, using everything at our disposal to keep working on the rock piles. The one pile on the east side is daunting and we wonder if we can get it removed during our time here. Thank God, the day finally comes to a close. Our backs and hands are sore, but tomorrow is Sunday, our "play day", and we can become children again for a short while.

Sunday, June 5th – This is another glorious day with plenty of sunshine and a nice sea breeze. After Mass, we get ready. Father Jaki is going to take us by boat to the island of Korcula. This is a "touristy" island about 15 minutes to the west. Father looks great this morning. He puts on his captain's hat and his captain's jacket, lights up his pipe and starts out with the first load of volunteers at full speed from our little port. Then, we have trouble. About 50 yards off the harbor, the "USS Minnow" comes to a complete stop. Father talks to his crew in rapid Croatian, shakes his head, removes his captain's hat, removes his captain's jacket and jumps straight into the water. We are dumbfounded but the mystery is soon solved. The anchor had gotten caught under the boat. Father retrieves the anchor and puts it on the boat. Hoisting himself onto the boat, he settles in the cabin and pores himself a short "blast" for medicinal purposes to ward off the chill. The "Minnow" continues on its journey, depositing the volunteers on Korcula, the birthplace of Marco Polo. We wander the historic island in small groups, seeing its beautiful cathedral, its small shops and nice restaurants. At 4:00 pm, we gather together back at the harbor. Father Jaki has returned for his errant children. We have played all day and now need to come home and rest.

We have a surprise coming for us. After dinner, we prepare a welcome for our Gray Friars from the Bronx. Usually, we have one priest and four brothers come with us but, this time, we have four priests and three brothers. Our priests are Father Glenn Sudano, one of the superiors of the order, and a trio of newly-ordained priests, Father Leo Fisher, Father John Boughton, and Father Anthony Baetzold. We also have Brother Francis Mary, Brother Crispin, and Brother Michael. These men are very humble and devoted to Our Lord. It is like having the U.S. Marines coming to the rescue. Nevertheless, they are from the Bronx and have a good sense of humor. They take to Father Jaki right away and he takes to them. They are all Franciscans and crazy, crazy for the love of God.

Monday, June 6th – After Mass, we have breakfast and then hit the work in full force. With our Friars now, the work really begins to move. We even have wheelbarrow races with full loads! Soon, enough of the large mound has been diminished and we now open a key side door. The monastery can begin to breathe now east to the west. Our wheelbarrow walk is greatly decreased. Some of us touch the outside of the church where Our Lord is residing in the Eucharist. As in past trips, He again begins to put wind in our sails and we become more energized to complete the task before us. It is 6:00 pm and the mound has now been reduced to a small area. Father Jaki comes around to see how we are doing and a broad smile breaks over his face. He indicates that there is a stone floor about two feet down. When we have reached that, we will have achieved our objective. It will be done tomorrow; the volunteers are all in for the day.

Tuesday, June 7th – After Mass and breakfast, we take up the work again. It is different now. The end is in sight. We continue the work, clearing out a small courtyard. We get down to the floor level and find a wooden cover. It is covering a well. Now, we see the full value of what we are doing. The water in the well can be used to water the garden in the enclosure within which we are working. We can already "see" the fruit trees that the Franciscans will plant in the years to come as they reclaim their property. This well will give life-sustaining water.

And for us, there is a great lesson in all of this hard work. We can complain about the state of the world or worry ourselves sick about the next hurricane or terrorist attack, but God has shown us that if we work hard in His design doing whatever task He gives us, then we will see the fruits of our labors.

We are done and a few of us make plans tomorrow to further explore the island. The weather has been fantastic and we have enjoyed ourselves on this paradise. God, as always the Teacher, has another lesson for us in store.

Wednesday, June 8th – During the night, a cold front came in dropping the temperature and much rain. We have completed the work just in time. Our island now is overcast by gray clouds and heavy rain. For this day, the outdoors have become very bleak, and we must stay indoors and occupy ourselves. For a day, our paradise has become a prison but, in God's grace, it is only for a day. In the evening, we are entertained by Father Jaki and his volunteer cook friends. Father is very happy with the outcome of the work and has prepared a special meal for us. We are also entertained with local Croatian songs and our Gray Friars have the pleasure of losing to Father Jaki in several matches of arm wrestling.

Father Jaki also gives us a great example of humility. This is a great man whom we would term a "Renaissance type" but he knows his strength is from the Lord. He asks the newly-ordained priests to give him their blessing. Fathers John, Leo, and Anthony do so in a very simple and moving ritual. Father Jaki gives the Gray Friars the "M" Crucifix as a gift of Thanksgiving. He also gives us the spiritual key to the Crucifix. In response to a question, Father affirms that the "M" is for Mary, Medjugorje, and the Mercy of God. This is a spiritual key that unlocks the doors leading to Our Father's House.

Thursday, June 9th – We are going to leave for Medjugorje but first there is some important business to complete. One of our volunteers, Eugene Siani, has fashioned a wooden cross. It is almost 6-feet tall and 3-feet wide. We have a Eucharistic procession up one of the hills of Badija and come up via a narrow footpath to the tiny chapel of St Catherine. There is nothing in the chapel but some graffiti, as it had fallen into disuse and disrepair while the Franciscans were away. Now, for the first time since 1949, the chapel will be reconsecrated to God. Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is once again placed in the chapel for worship. The chapel is blessed, and the chapel bell is rung. We are both blessed and humbled by this experience.

We come down the mountain, exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. We will go to Medjugorje now to rest, and then the world is full of work to do.

Copyright St. David's Relief Foundation. All rights reserved.