St. Paul Croatian Church on East 40th Street in Cleveland was filled to capacity and decorated for Christmas on Dec. 22 when Bishop Nelson Perez visited to install Father Zvonko Blasko as the parish’s new pastor. He had served as parish administrator since November 2017, due to the retirement and death of the previous pastor, Father Mirko Hladni.
“We are honored to have the bishop with us for the third time in a year,” Father Blasko said, noting Bishop Perez had celebrated Father Hladni’s funeral Mass, attended the parish picnic last summer and now was installing him as the new pastor.
Parishioners in native Croatian dress presented the bishop with a bouquet of flowers after the entrance procession. Father Blasko warmly welcomed the bishop and asked him to accept the flowers as a sign of the parish’s gratitude.
In his homily, Bishop Perez reflected on the fourth Sunday of Advent as preparations for Jesus’ coming are nearly finished.
“He’s coming, yet he is coming again,” he said, explaining that after God took on human form and came to us as a baby, he will come again. “But we don’t know when,” the bishop said.
Concelebrating the Mass along with Father Blasko were pastors of nearby parishes and two priests from Croatia who are pursuing advanced studies.
The bishop said the concelebrating priests are at different points in their priesthood – some are young and some are older. He said the Gospel story finds them at different places in their lives, but noted that the story doesn’t change. “Only we change. So the question is, where does the story find you today? Wherever you are, God comes to find us, to embrace and walk with us. In the midst of our lives, God continues to come and be with us,” he added.
Bishop Perez commented on how beautiful the church looked. It was lined with lush, green, lighted garland. Red bows adorned every pew. Two huge trees flanked the altar and a large Nativity scene was displayed prominently in front of the altar.
The Croatian heritage was woven into the liturgy with readings, petitions and songs in Croatian. Some also were read or sung in English. Many in Croatian dress participated in the entrance and closing procession, as did the Knights of St. John.