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Father Vjeko's Childhood - 1/2
Tuesday, 05 February 2008 Written by Nikola Babić

in memory of father vjekoJust recently I returned home from Africa where I have worked as a volunteer. During my time as a volunteer I met many missionaires and of course I liked most meeting fellow Croats. Since Kivumu, the village where fra Ivica Perić is working, and Kigali, where I worked, are just 40 kilometers away, we often spent time together. Many times I was the guest of Ivica and his fraternity in their friary. Whoever has, at least once, visited Kivumu has been touched with the unique  to feel a strong spirit still present in this pitoresque rwandan village, spirit of a missionaire who left a mark on local people, work of parish and school that inspired. It is about Vjeko that I now want to write. Vjeko's service was most intense during and after the genocide of 1994. when he saved hundreds of lives and later helped to settle a lot of widows and to set up educational projects for children. Unfortunately his missionary work ended with a martyr's death – on 31st of January 1998, when he was shot dead in the heart of Kigali city.

There are many stories about Vjeko's life, some of which already.have been written, others may still be told in the future.  His heroic work in Rwanda inspired one American movie about the genocide –War Dogs. He is remembered and spoken about by his family, his Franciscan brothers, his friends, the people whom he saved and served.  Mostly when they talk they speak about the missionary, the priest, the friend, the saviour, the son, the brother.  Nobody to date has written about his childhood and when Fra Ivica proposed that I write a short story about this aspect of Vjeko's life I wholeheartedly accepted.  Shortly after my return home I began by visiting the families of both Ivica Peric and Vjeko Curic in Bosnia.

From Split, Croatia, I took an enjoyable bus ride through the canyon of the mighty Neretva river and onwards to Sarajevo.  There I met members of Ivica's large family, his parents, sisters and one brother and I gave them a brief account about my experiences in Africa and about my friendship and work with their son and brother. In the following few days we had an opportunity to get to know each other better and to talk more intimately.

There are many commonalities between these families of two missionaries, two Franciscans and two Croations from Bosnia, and so already the very day after my arrival it was arranged that Ivica's family and I would travel to Osova to meet the family of Vjeko. There is a lovely Croatian custom whereupon entering a house one greets the inmates with the words „Blessed be Jesus and Mary!“ Fortunately this custom has not been forgotten in these families.  It was in such an atmosphere that these future missionaries grew up.  One cannot help thinking that such an environment of faith, such „small“ things must have played an important role in the choice of vocation for these young persons.

We entered and greeted in the traditional way and our hosts replied „Always and ever shall be!“ There is a beauty and warmth in this greeting which established the ongoing hospitality of Vjeko's father Petar, his mother Ana and a lady from the neighbourhood who helps in the house. After the greeting when we sat down the family immediately invited us to refresh ourselves with the traditional home made brandy rakija, other drinks, cold meats and cheese.  In fact our trip had not been tiring but we did not refuse the tasty offerings. The families Curic and Peric are already very well acquainted since their missionary sons came to Africa.  As soon as I introduced myself and said that I also had been to Africa, to Rwanda, to Kivumu and that I was now on a special misison they accepted me and took me to their hearts. They were keen to talk about Vjeko and to recount some of their very alive memories of him. I then discovered that Vjeko's sister lives in my hometown so when I got back to Rijeka I met her and she added more to this story.

I now share some of the facts that I gathered in my discussions. Vjeko Ćurić was born on the 24th of June in 1957 in a village called Lupoglav close to Žepče in Bosnia. He was born into a big extended family consisting of his father, two uncles, and their wives and children.  At that time the local parishes were in the hands of Franciscans.  Vjeko's mother recounted that one of these – fra Vjeko Šunjić – gave Vjeko his name. Vjeko was a golden child whose childhood already showed some signs of his lifelong devotion to God. In Petar Ćurić's family there were 6 children – 5 brothers and a small sister Ljubica. She recalls how Vjeko used to take care of them when they were small and how even then he used to "celebrate Holy Mass" as a personal „play“ .  As a child he knew the Latin Mass by heart and would recite it for his not so willing siblings.  Ljubica remembered how sometimes it was tiring having to kneel and boring having to pay attention but Vjeko would „reward“ his „flock“ by giving them candies instead of communion.  „As the man, so also the child“.

His mother remembered how he would always ask her to sew a habit for him, and all the family talked about the young Vjeko's visits around the neighbourhood asking neighbours to pray one „our Father“ so that he, Vjeko, would become a „pratar“ (fratar in Croat which the young Vjeko could not pronounce). Obviously the prayers were powerful!

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