In 2003, in the city of Rijeka, Pope John Paul II blessed the rough stone base for the future altar sculpture for the Church of Croatian Martyrs at Udbina, a relief of the impressions of the Battle of Krbava (1493 when Kingdom of Croatia forces fought the advance of the Ottoman with tragic consequences. While the Croatian army was heavily defeated on September 9th 1493 in the Battle of Krbava, a hundred years later, in the Battle of Sisak on June 22nd 1593 it won a glorious victory over the Turks. From that point onwards the power of the Turks in Europe began to decline continuously), Bleiburg and Way of the Cross (post-WWII mass murders of Croats by Yugoslav communists) and the sufferings and victims of Vukovar during Croatia’s Homeland War of 1990’s (mass murders and tortures perpetrated by Serb aggressor). As part of the marking of Croatian Martyrs Day this altar relief called “The Glory of Croatian Martyrs”, sculptured by artist Kuzma Kovacic, a three-part whole made up of 70 large stone tiles from the Island of Brac, was blessed on Saturday 29 August 2015 in the Church of Croatian Martyrs in Udbina. The relief’s author, Kuzma Kovacic, said that his work “The Glory of Croatian Martyrs” represents almost a thousand years of the connection between the Catholic faith and the Croatian history.
With that relief the grand dedication sitting above the Krbava Field – the church with its altar relief sculpture – is completed. Several thousands of believers from all regions of Croatia, as well as state and church dignitaries, gathered in Udbina at the holy mass on Saturday, headed by Mile Bogovic, the Bishop of Lika-Senj county. Bishop Bogovic emphasised that besides having a great artistic value the relief sculpture also has a large patriotic and religious value. He reminded the pilgrims of the history of the region where the church stands, where the bishopric…. was established 730 years ago and where at the Krbava Field the geographic centre of Croatia had been wounded in 1493. “Krbava and the whole of Lika were under the Turks for 160 years, and after this there were not only Catholics here but also the Orthodox,” Bishop Bogovic said.
He reminded that in 1942 the Croatian Catholics that remained there were forced to leave Udbina, where also their church was destroyed, their cemetery devastated, their houses destroyed and their land taken away from them. “Another law reigned that did not even spare the Orthodox Church in Udbina,” he emphasised (meaning the communist Partisan “law”).
Speaking about the WWII and post-WWII sufferings Bishop Bogovic accentuated Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac’s example. “Although we, like other nations, cannot say we have nothing to regret from our pasts, we can say with pride that there were great many greats of good and sacrifice for others in our history, and our church and worldly history have systematically been muddied,” concluded Bishopo Bogovic.
Bishop Bogovic gave an appraisal in saying that the Croatian past and its Greats “are still, to this day, covered with many fat layers of lies so that not even the most well-meaning persons cannot see the real picture”. “It is sad that the same people who fabricated those lies force themselves upon us as our teachers and receive funds and space for their schools and, so, it’s within these frames that the idea of the Church of Croatian Martyrs appeared and grew,” said Bishop Bogovic, emphasising the church project in Udbina “did not arise from the cult of a gun, a lie and aggression, as suggested by some even today, but that it arose out of the cult of the cross and veneration of those who had suffered the aggression from various guns and aggressors”.
Turning to the marking of anniversaries of sufferings, Bishop Bogovic emphasised how it’s human to value courage and resolve in the defence of people and homeland.
It’s been ten years since the foundation stone was laid and the building of this Shrine (The Church of Croatian Martyrs) to the Croatian martyrs in Udbina had begun. The road to its completion was hard and riddled with obstacles laid by those who did not want the Croatian martyrs remembered in such a grand, deserving manner. The same road, though, had been a joyous one for to pursue with the project also meant the expression of special gratitude to those who had throughout history sacrificed their lives for the human and Christian progress over the Croatian nation.
Many of the most prominent sons of Croatia who accepted death so that others could live, now live on Kuzma Kovacic’s relief sculpture in Udbina. They come from Krbava Field, from Bleiburg and Ways of the Cross, from Vukovar and all places of killings in Croatia and all its pits and mass graves; those for whom regimes said were defeated and beaten, those whom the aggressors considered as rubbish and tossed them into pits of torture and oblivion – are greeted by Christ as the victorious and our generation has retrieves their human dignity while Christ waits for them as the victorious. That is the message within the relief sculpture “The Glory of Croatian Martyrs”. Lest we forget! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)