The Shrine of Our Lady of Voćin

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The village of Voćin is located in Central Croatia, at the foot of the north side of Mount Papuk, known for its nature park and a geopark protected by UNESCO. Written documents first mention the Voćin Parish and the St. Nicholas Church in 1334. In the Middle Ages, Voćin was an important ecclesiastical center, whose life was greatly contributed by two monasteries, presumably Franciscan and Poor Clares, and their churches of All Saints and St. Clare. During the Ottoman rule, from 1543 to 1687, a small number of Catholics remained in Voćin under the spiritual guide of the Franciscan friars. After the liberation the church property was left in abandoned and dilapidated conditions. The late 15th century monastery church of All Saints, built in the late Gothic style with star-mesh ceilings influenced by the Bohemian Jagiellonian Gothic, underwent a renovation in the first half of the 18th century. It then became the parish church consecrated to the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The main altar was adorned with the statue of the Blessed Virgin, often called “miraculous” and “merciful”. It became a place of pilgrimage for numerous believers. Their number increased significantly in the second half of the 19th century especially when a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was placed in the church. Voćin became a shrine and a destination for many pilgrims arriving in organized processions from Posavina, Požega, Western Slavonia, Podravina and beyond.

During great sufferings of Voćin in World War II, the parish priest Josip Martinac was killed in 1943, and the church burnt in 1944. Because of the conditions imposed by the communist government in the aftermath, the new priest Franjo Bosnar couldn’t come to Voćin till 1963.

The very next year he initiated the restoration of the unique and priceless 15th century Voćin church. In 1968, with the help of Burgenland Croats the church again got a new roof, and in 1984, the completely restored church was consecrated by Cardinal Franjo Kuharić. On December 13, 1991 rebel Serbs backed by the Yugoslav Army (JNA) completely destroyed that unique monument of the sacral cultural heritage. At the same time, they killed more than 50 innocent civilians.

With the establishment of the Diocese of Požega in 1997 the initiative was launched for the reconstruction of the church. After examining the possibility for rebuild, making thorough preparations, drawing architectural plans, and consulting with the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, the Bishop of Požega Antun Škvorčević made a decision in 1999 to rebuild the Voćin church to its original form. The work began in 2002 with the laying of foundation stone which was blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1998. Under the leadership of the Diocesan Committee for the Construction of the Shrine of Our Lady of Voćin led by Josip Devčić, with the financial aid of the Ministry of Development and Reconstruction of the Republic of Croatia and the Diocese of Požega, and in constant professional coordination with architect Boris Vučić Šneperger, the bell tower was erected in 2004, but the entire renovation of the church with the interior decartion was completed in 2011, and the church stands ready for its consecration ceremony on August 14, 2011.

In the twenty years following the destruction of the church, the parishioners would gather to celebrate the holy mass in a small hut that was once used as a warehouse for a retail business. It was also used as the provisional shrine of Our Lady of Voćin. At that time, the pilgrims from all sides of the Diocese would gather in large numbers at the ruins of the stone church, and caught by the power from above, and filled with the light of the Lord and His peace through the intercession of His Holy Mother, they would become a living organism of the Church of Jesus. The ruins of Voćin church also hold the missing statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. In 1940, Pastor Martinac deposited in the Diocesan Museum in Zagreb a picture of Our Lady of Voćin from 1770. The picture was carried into Voćin on August 21, 1999 in the procession of pilgrims. After the main celebration of the Year of Our Lady of Voćin, on August 21, 2011, the picture will be formally entered into the restored church and placed into a special chapel.

The church interior is adorned by the works of Croatian artists. The main bronze doors, a gift by the Hrvatski Duhani Company from Virovitica, were made by sculptor Hrvoje Ljubić. The outer door case depicts, in bronze reliefs, important events from the parish history, and the inner door case, in copper reliefs, the four mysteries of the Rosary. The tall central wooden cross in the Shrine, the stone altar, ambo and bronze candlesticks were made by academic sculptor Šime Vulas, and were a gift from the City of Požega. The windows were painted by Josip Biffel, and were a gift from the Diocese of Požega and from cities and counties on the territory of the Diocese, whose emblems are visible at the bottom of each window. The mosaics on the walls of three chapels were created from the templates of great Croatian artists Ivo Dulčić and Ljubo Ivančić. The tabernacle doors in the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament are a work by academic sculptor Josip Poljan. The same author also created the Memorial “In Mothers Arms” which was, in 2010, placed by the Diocese of Požega to the right of the church entrance to commemorate those that were killed in the same time of the destruction of the church.