February 1945: The 30 Martyrs Massacred by the Communists in Bosnia
During the Turkish domination of Bosnia-Herzegovina, twelve Franciscan friars of Herzegovinian origin, came from Kresevo in Bosnia, deciding to construct a monastery in their land of origin, as a sign of faith, choosing to do so in Široki Brijeg.
Establishing themselves in this small village, and after having bought a large plot of land at a high price, they began to construct a church dedicated to Our Lady Assumed into Heaven. The work to build the monastery soon began, and then a building to use as a seminary.
Nearby they erected a scholastic center which included a gymnasium where the friars taught the young generations of Bosnia-Herzegovina. A house for borders from far away was also built. And so the place became a Christian cultural center, and the shrine transformed into a symbol for Herzegovina. Exactly 100 years later, the monastery was devastated and destroyed.
It happened in this way: on February 7, 1945, the Communist party members decided to destroy from the Christian symbol from its foundations, and to uproot the Catholic Faith, kindness and the recognition of the Franciscan friars from the hearts of the people.
They arrived at three in the afternoon, finding 30 religious in the monastery; many of them were professors in the gymnasium adjacent to the monastery.
The communists said: “God is dead, there isn’t a God, there’s not a Pope, there’s not a Church, there’s no need for you, go back to the world and work.”
They tried to persuade the friars, with threats and blasphemies, to take off the religious habit. They responded: “We are consecrated religious, we cannot take our habits off.”
Then, an angry soldier took the Crucifix and threw it out on the ground. “There,” he said, “now you can choose either life or death.”
Each of them knelt, embracing and kissing Jesus, holding the Cross to their breast, all of them saying like Saint Francis: “My God and my All.”
As mentioned, some of the Fathers were very famous professors, they had written many school books and manuals.
But they didn’t embrace their books and say: “You are everything for me.” No! They embraced Jesus, the Master! Full of hate and malice, the persecutors then took the friars one by one, taking them out of the convent, and killing them; they then doused the bodies with gasoline and burned them.
The Friars went to their death praying and singing the Litany of Our Lady.
These things have been to testified to, by the soldiers who had been part of the execution squad.
One of the soldiers was shocked by the heroic behavior of the Friars. He recounted: “Ever since I was a little boy at home, I always heard from my mother that there is a God, that God exists. Lenin, Stalin, Tito had always affirmed the contrary and did everything to instill in us that there is no God, that He doesn’t exist!
When life’s circumstances brought me to the martyrdom of Široki Brijeg and I saw how the Friars faced death, praying and blessing their persecutors, begging God to pardon the sins of the executioners, then my mother’s words rang clear, and I thought: my mom was right, there is a God, God does exist!”
Today, that soldier converted, and has a priest-son and a daughter who is a religious.
In their fury, they ravaged and wiped out the writing on the stone placed above the main entrance of the friary, on which was written the Name of God and the dedication to the Assumption of Our Lady.
Today the dedication is no longer legible, but the blood of the Martyrs has written it even more deeply in the hearts of the people, and brilliantly shines in the eyes of the Lord.
A dedication can be erased, it can be burned, destroyed, ruined, but the Faith cannot be taken from the heart of the Church.
To this day, Our Lady is lived, honored and celebrated with great love, at the Shrine.
The shrine is the largest in all of Bosnia-Herzegovina: it is a symbol, a sign. The communists had thought that by destroying the “sign,” the Faith would be finished too. Instead, the Faith has grown and developed under the mantle and protection of Our Lady.
Our Franciscan Martyrs had also grown and lived enveloped by Our Lady’s mantle. The bodies of the 30 witnesses of the Faith were left hidden in the earth for years and years; one could not name them or commemorate them in any way.
But the blood of the Martyrs cried out and was an example for everyone, and so new vocations flowered in hearts, the Church and Faith grew like a thriving tree.
At the time, I was four years old, and I remember how often my parents told us of what had happened to the Friars. And this was also the case in many families of my peers. The desire to imitate our Martyrs and ourselves become friars grew more and more.
Our Martyrs are witnesses to the Faith, witnesses to the love of God and neighbor. The 30 Franciscans didn’t become martyrs by chance, or by accident; they offered their lives and testified to the Faith consciously and with great joy.
This is very important. As the Church has always done and taught, so did they forgive their enemies, pray for their persecutors and bless their killers.
In the same way as Maximilian Kolbe and many others! Among the various Martyrs, the only difference is that of the means and method of martyrdom, but all have always manifested a great ardor and love: the love which burns hate, which burns and destroys violence, and everything changes and transforms into joy, a celebration, in the victory of Our Lord’s grace.
The Church takes life from the blood of her martyr-sons. These will always remain a great (source of) strength of the Church.
We who live in this place, and you who come here as pilgrims, we can reflect a little on the worth of our Faith and examine how much our Faith is important to us; how I am ready to give my life for my God, what I can do for my Jesus, what my Christ and His Cross and my Christian vocation mean to me.
A week after the massacre at Široki Brijeg, the communists went to Mostar and found seven friars in the monastery.
Although they knew what had happened in Široki Brijeg, they had decided not to escape, but to remain in the friary.
One of them was Father Leon-Grgo Petrovic, doctor of Theology, born in Klobuk in 1883. He, as Franciscan provincial, had the grace to consecrate all of his friars, who he felt were in danger at the beginning of the war, to Our Lady.
Now we can see how that consecration flourished. The devotion to Our Lady, that beautiful flower offered to the Blessed Virgin, bloomed on the day of the massacre, February 7, 1945.
As God the Father sent His Son to die, for the salvation of the whole world, and Jesus remained obedient, accepting the sacrifice of Himself, so our Martyrs offered their own lives and blood for the salvation of men, for peace, for our conversion.
They were immolated for the peace and good of the whole Church. I now want to present to you our Friars who became mature through martyrdom – some were only 20 years old – and who were capable of giving witness for Christ, and to demonstrate Who Christ was for them, for us.
With love and veneration, I give you their names…
The Martyrs of Široki Brijeg
Friar Bruno Adamcik, with degrees in philosophy and music from Bratislava, was 37 years old when he went to the glory of Heaven.
Friar Marko Barbaric, 80. Devoted to Our Lady, he had a reputation for sanctity among the students and seminarians, who witnessed that while walking in the park, he often spoke with the birds. These, as soon as they saw him, hastened to greet him and perched themselves on the hand he extended to them. He had lost his memory and was unaware of the war. On that February 7, 1945 he was in his cell, sick with typhus. The Communist officials ordered that he also be brought out, and so he was carried outside on a blanket. Then he was killed and thrown in the fire.
Friar Jozo Bencun, 76. He had been pastor in Humac and Široki Brijeg.
Friar Marko Dragicevic, 43. With degrees in history, Greek and Latin, he could not think of any of his students failing, so he found ways to bring out their positive sides.
Friar Miljenko Ivankovic, 21. He was very devout and humble. Today his brother and nephew are Franciscans.
Friar Andrija Jelcic, 41. He had been Father Guardian of Široki Brijeg. He built the church in Capljina. The people remember him as being a good shepherd and a true father.
Friar Rudo Juric, 21. A cleric in simple vows.
Friar Fabijan Kordic, 55. Very pious and good, he made habits for the brothers, and prepared himself to receive the habit which never wears out: that of martyrdom.
Friar Viktor Kosir, 21. When all the youngest seminarians, although not wishing to leave the monastery were commanded by the Rector to return to their own villages, knowing well that the Communists were coming to kill them, Friar Viktor resisted more than the others, but obediently returned home. There, he stayed only a few hours, despite his parents’ pleas, who heard the rumble of the airplanes who were bombing. He died with the others, as he desired. His mother had another son, and gave him the same name. However she often cried, looking at the picture of her dead son. The little one calmed her, telling her that he would take his brother’s place. Today, in fact, he is a Franciscan priest who exercises his ministry especially in the confessional.
Friar Tadija Kozul, 36. Professor of philosophy, Greek and Latin, a teacher of the clerics who loved him very much and preferred to die together, rather than leave him.
Friar Krsto Kraljevic, 50. He had been a great example to the people, in how he carried his cross of sickness, in this way preparing his soul for martyrdom.
Friar Stanko Kraljevic, 74. Preacher, professor, formator of clerics in Široki Brijeg.
Friar Zarko Leventic, 26. He confessed the sick, and bringing them the Eucharist, fell ill with typhus. He was also taken out of bed and killed. Chaplain in Široki Brijeg.
Friar Bonifacije Majic, 62. Professor and catechist, he got up during the night to fix the boys’ sheets. He was very loved by the people as a friar, professor and pedagogist.
Friar Stjepan Majic, 20, he had finished the novitiate and pronounced temporary vows shortly before.
Friar Arkandeo Nuic, 49. Graduated from the Sorbonne (University of Paris) he taught Latin, Greek, German and French. He was called the “little sheep of God” for his meekness.
Friar Borislav Pandzic, 35. Professor of Religion, he was a friar of true and simple Franciscan life.
Friar Kresimir Pandzic, 53. He had several degrees and had been provincial for three years. Professor of classical languages and director of the school, very active, he demanded the best of his students. He had great duties, but always remained humble.
Friar Fabijan Paponja, 48. Responsible for the boarding school, he was very tenderhearted toward his students, to whom he always gave little gifts.
Friar Nenad Venancije Pehar, 35. Professor of philosophy. Loved by his students because he did not differentiate between them.
Friar Melhior Prlic, 53. A laybrother and carpenter. He was respectful of the Rule, never absent from community prayer, much loved by the other brothers.
Friar Ludovik Rados, 20. He had just finished the novitiate and made temporary vows.
Friar Leonard Rupcic, 38. Professor of French, he gave such an example of humility and goodness that his students were more embarrassed when they hadn’t studied, than with any other professor.
Friar Mariofil Sivric, 32. Chaplain and teacher, as well as vicar of the friary. He was a classic example of a humble brother faithful to his Franciscan vows.
Friar Ivo Sliskovic, 68. After having worked in various parishes, he came to Široki Brijeg to spend the last years of his life.
Friar Kornelije Susac, 20. In temporary vows.
Friar Dobroslav Simovic, 38. Having become a doctor of Theology in Paris, he was then a seminary professor, he wrote a dissertation in French on the Our Father.
Friar Radoslav Vuksic, 51. He studied in Vienna, and was then a professor of mathematics and physics, besides being director of the gymnasium for six years. Ex-Yugoslavia had decreed that teachers also be examined by the government of Belgrade. When Friar Radoslav appeared before his examiners, they were stupefied by the Friar’s wisdom and culture. One of his students, today a famous philosopher in America, wrote that he was the most intelligent man and professor he had ever encountered.
Friar Roland Zlopasa, 33. A philosophy professor who taught more by his life, than with words. Known for his profound meditations.
Friar Leopold Augustin Zubac, 55. An excellent priest and professor, assistant at the hydro central which produced electric energy, constructed by the Friars for their needs, and those of the surrounding area.
This article originally appeared in Italian (Febbraio 1945: i 30 frati massacrati dai comunisti in Bosnia) and was translated into English by Brendan Young for Catholic Family News.