Diocesan News

Queens Parishioners Fundraise to Help Croatians Affected by Earthquake

Farmer Tomislav Suknaic touches his horse in front of his destroyed home in the village of Majske Poljane, Croatia, Dec. 30, 2020, following an earthquake. Pope Francis offered condolences and prayers for the victims of the magnitude 6.4 earthquake that rocked central Croatia the previous day, killing at least seven people and injuring dozens. (Photo: CNS/Antonio Bronic, Reuters)

ASTORIA — On Dec. 29, 2020, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Petrinja, Croatia, and surrounding areas — killing seven people, injuring at least 26, and damaging homes, churches, and other buildings. The earthquake was reported as one of the country’s strongest in history and parishioners from Most Precious Blood Church wanted to offer their support.

Joseph Dujmovic and his family have been lifelong parishioners at the Queens church for the last 50 years. When Dujmovic heard about the destruction caused by the earthquake, he decided to use his self-owned travel agency business, JTD Travel, for a good cause.

Prior to the pandemic, the Astoria-based agency had been the go-to place for those looking to vacation in Croatia and the adjacent regions. After the earthquake hit, some of Dujmovic’s clients — Croatian and non-Croatian — approached him, asking how they could safely send money abroad.

“As a Croatian-American, I felt deeply compelled to do something from a distance,” he said. “And then being Catholic, you feel this sort of responsibility to help because it’s deeply rooted within you to do so.”

In response to the queries, he launched a GoFundMe campaign on Dec. 29 with a goal of $5,000 to go toward the Caritas of the Diocese of Sisak and the Croatian Red Cross. Within two weeks, Dujmovic was just $230 shy of the goal. Recently, a private donor approached Dujmovic, telling him that he would be willing to match the goal dollar for dollar if it reaches $5,000.

Though his family lives on the Adriatic coast, about two hours south of the earthquake epicenter, Dujmovic explained it’s still an all-hands-on mentality in Croatia.

“Folks from the area where my family lives traveled north to assist with relief efforts within hours after the earthquake hit,” he said. “Families that were displaced, in turn, made their way down to our villages. In that way, it all feels very connected — even though we don’t know someone specifically who was impacted.”

Dujmovic said he wants his fundraiser to keep going because some of the aftermaths, such as rubble, won’t be cleared up right away.

“I equate this to something similar like the Hurricane Sandy disaster that hit here,” he said. “People were in need for years after that and, unfortunately, slowly but surely people forget. I think it’s important to stress the continuous need that’s going to be there.”

The Croatian Catholic Mission of the Blessed Ivan Merz, which is part of Most Precious Blood, has also been receiving prayers and donations from parishioners and the local community.

The scene outside of a Croatian church following the Dec. 29, 2020, earthquake. (Photo: Courtesy of Hrvatski Caritas)

Father Saša Ilijić — who is in charge of the mission and just arrived at the parish on Dec. 16 — confirmed funds will be sent directly to the Caritas of the Sisak diocese. He hopes the funds will help individuals and families start their lives again.

“The worst thing that could have happened was this earthquake because Petrinja was already in a bad situation, economically, from the [four-year-long independence] war that ended in 1995. Croatians there are still struggling, and there have been powerful aftershocks these past two weeks,” Father Ilijić said on Jan. 11, noting that the region is earthquake-prone.

Father Ilijić has been in contact with the Bishop Vlado Košić of Sisak, whose diocese includes the town of Petrinja, over the last few weeks. He said the bishop is grateful for the Queens parish’s help and emphasized the importance of prayer.

“Because Croatia is 90% Catholic, there’s a very strong tradition and ties to the faith. The church is a sign of stability and hope for those living there, especially in that zone,” Father Ilijić said.

Both Dujmovic and the Croatian Catholic Mission will continue to accept any donations that are received.

“People need to not only receive the economic help,” Father Ilijić added, “but also feel spiritual help because they don’t know how they will get through this. Prayer at Mass can mean a lot.”