I'm Croatian and like 87.8% of the population of my home country, I'm also Catholic. When I was growing up I never had any reason to question my faith because everyone I knew shared it. When I met the woman who was to be my first wife it was only natural that she too was Catholic, and there was never any doubt that our children, when we had them, would be raised as we were. From the moment I saw Danijela I knew she was the one I would spend my life with. She was 16 when we met, I was 18, and while we awaited the arrival of her 18th birthday we spent all of our free time getting to know each other. Danijela was far more religious then I was, but, even had that not been the case it went without saying that despite what might be happening around us, despite what others might think about it being old fashioned, we would both be losing our virginity on our wedding night.
Danijela and I had almost seven years together, and we were married for five of those. During that time we welcomed two beautiful children into our lives, our oldest, was a daughter we named Jasna, and almost three years later came our son, Marko. All of our prayers had been answered, our love only seemed to grow with each passing day, and everything we had thought our life would be seemed to be coming true...and then the war began.
It's funny how war tests your faith. You pray for it not to happen, you pray for it to end once it arrives, you pray for the safety of family and friends, and when things become worse then anything you ever could have imagined, you pray for the safety of those you've never met. All of my life I was told that God would be there for me in my time of need, but he wasn't. The one time when I really needed him, when I was willing to offer my life to save that of my 5 year old daughter, he abandoned me. It wasn't even that he refused to hear my pleas for her life, he'd already taken my 18 month old son, he'd taken their 23 year old mother, why did he need my baby girl too? I tried to hang onto the tattered threads of what was left of my faith in the days after they were gone, but I couldn't do it. Finally, standing alone in that cold cemetery with the coffins that held my hopes and dreams for the future, feeling the icy bite of the snow as the wind whipped it around us I knew. Nothing the Priest said that day could ease the pain I felt, I found no comfort in the bible or in the hymns that had sustained me during my youth. All I could feel that day was grief at my losses and hatred toward the God who would allow this to happen, and when it was over I turned my back on my faith and I walked away from it.
For six years I refused to set foot in a church. I denied the faith that had at one time meant so much to me and without realizing it there was an emptiness left inside of me that nothing else seemed able to fill.
Fate...that thing that cost me my family, is also that which brought Bishop Stewart into my life, and try as I might to rid myself of him, he refused to give up on me. Somehow, this dying Catholic Bishop found his way past the barricades I'd built around myself, he listened to my confession and he freed me of the guilt that had been eating me alive since my family had been killed. I didn't completely find my way back to where I once was as far as my faith was concerned on the night the Bishop offered me absolution, but it was a beginning to the journey I'm on now. Sadly, the Bishop died that same night, but, I can't help but believe he's watching over me, and that he knows now how grateful I am that he not only didn't give up on me, but set me back on the path that would one day allow me to fully re-claim my faith.