Several years ago, I read about a Croatian wedding tradition.
It moved me and gave me a deeper understanding of marriage, the Sacrament of Matrimony.
I’d like to share an article that describes this tradition and its fruit.
The family is one of the institutions most affected by the crisis in our decadent times. Religious and moral sentiments have practically disappeared as if torn to bits. The divorce rate is overwhelming—an estimated 50% of marriages fall apart. Added to this, there are illicit unions, which are common and seemingly without consequences.
That is why it does so much good to hear—lo and behold!—that despite the malice of the times, there is a city in this world that has not surrendered to universal depravity and in which family bonds are so strong that there is no record of divorce.
This privileged city is Siroki-Brijeg. Located in Bosnia, its approximately 26,000 inhabitants of Croatian origin, have always been ready to defend their Catholic faith even in the face of the worst adversities. This is what happened, for example, during the Muslim invasion centuries ago. Then, the country fell under the boot of atheist communism when the faith was tested in every possible way.
Reports from several trusted Catholic sites say that “Siroki-Brijeg is remarkable … for in the collective memory of all there has never been a single divorce among the Croatian Catholics of the city.”
What is the explanation for such a remarkable fact?
First, consistent with its profound Croatian tradition, the population of this city is almost 100% Catholic, and they live their faith very seriously. They consider it a point of honor to defend the indissolubility of marriage and the monogamous family formed by the union of a man and a woman—as stated in the country’s Constitution—with the blessings of Holy Mother Church.
However, what marks this profoundly religious attitude is that they see marriage as a cross indissolubly united to the Cross of Christ. This leads spouses to face their union without romanticism, false expectations, or illusions. Realistically, they know that in this valley of tears everyone has defects. There is no mutual understanding without a mutual exercise of patience.
This Catholic view of marriage is what prevents the incidence of divorce and separations. However, this attitude finds expression in a custom. During their married life, the spouses find strength by praying together before the crucifix they hold together during the religious wedding ceremony.
In this ceremony, the priest blesses the crucifix presented by the bride and groom. He places the bride’s right hand upon the crucifix, then that of the groom upon hers, and covers them with a stole. The couple then makes their vows with their hands clasping the crucifix. The priest tells them they have found the ideal “partner” with whom they must share their lives with the following words: “You have found your cross! It is a cross that you must love and take with you every day of your lives. Know how to appreciate it.”
After kissing the cross, the spouses enthrone it in a place of honor in their homes, showing their profound belief that a family must be born of the cross.
When trials, misunderstandings, disagreements and difficulties common to all marriages arise, both spouses kneel before the crucifix and with unwavering faith ask for strength to endure them, for Our Lord’s yoke “is easy, and His burden, light.” This attitude is consistent with the belief that the cross will give them strength to overcome daily trials if they grounded their marriage on it.
The spouses are keenly aware that if one abandons the other, they will abandon Christ. Experience teaches that the source of perseverance through which they will gain eternal life can only come from the Cross of Christ rather than any external factor.
The children born of these strong unions learn from a tender age to venerate the family crucifix and direct their early prayers to the cross.
In this way, these Catholics learn to practice, from an early age, that which the immortal Portuguese author Luis de Camões already celebrates with the words: “Thou, who carefully looks for rest in this tempestuous sea of the world, do not expect to find any rest except in Jesus Christ crucified.” Children thus acquire a consistent formation to face the vicissitudes of life with a supernatural spirit.
Hope and Prayers
I hope those who read this article will be touched by the tradition and see the beauty of marriage through it.
I also have several prayer intentions.
For Those Who Are Married
- I pray that those who are married will faithfully live out their vocation. I pray that married couples will turn to God for every need and in every situation. May He bless all marriages and allow Christian couples to be authentic models for the world.
For Those in Broken Marriages
- I pray that those who are divorced or separated will allow God to heal their wounds. I pray that they do not fall into despair or remain bitter from painful experiences. May He give them fortitude, reconciliation and joy.
For Those Discerning Marriage
- I pray that those discerning marriage will seek God’s will with a genuine heart. I pray that those called to marriage will search and/or wait for the spouse He intends for them. May He fully prepare them for their vocation and give them patience, perseverance and peace.
For Those Called to Another Vocation
- I pray that those called to be single, consecrated or religious will courageously say “yes” to God. I pray that they fully accept their vocation and trust Him to satisfy every longing of their heart. May they faithfully serve others out of love for Christ, their spouse.
“…Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.” Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love… (Catechism 1642).