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Msgr. Fabijan Svalina Ordained Bishop in Srijemska Mitrovica

Srijemska Mitrovica (IKA)

The episcopal ordination of the new Bishop Coadjutor of Srijem, Msgr. Fabijan Svalina, was held on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, on Sunday, November 21, 2021, in the Cathedral of St. Demetrius in Srijemska Mitrovica. 

The principal consecrator was the Secretary of the Holy See for Relations with States and  Secretary of the Interdicasterial Commission for the Church in Eastern Europe, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, and the co-consecrators were Archbishop Đuro Hranić of Đakovo-Osijek and Bishop Đuro Gašparović of Srijem.

The priests accompanying the new bishop were the Pastor of the Parish of St. Mathew in Gundici, Fr. Josip Dominković, and the Pastor of the Parish of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Zemun and Director of Caritas of the Diocese of Srijem, Most Rev. Jozo Duspara.

The Mass was concelebrated by another 23 archbishops and bishops together with around 50 priests, with three deacons. Two bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church also attended.

At the beginning, those present were welcomed by the host, Bishop Gašparović, who greeted the principal consecrator, Msgr. Gallagher. 

Following the proclamation of the readings (Dn 7:13–14; Ps 93:1–2.5; Rev 1:5 – 8; Jn 18:33b–37), the hymn Come, O Creator Spirit (O dođi, Stvorče, Duše Svet) was sung, and the assisting priests escorted Bishop-Elect Svalina to stand before the principal consecrator and in the name of the Church of Srijem requested his ordination.  Then the Apostolic Letter issued by Pope Francis on the appointment of the new Bishop Coadjutor of Srijem was read aloud. 

Msgr. Gallagher said at the beginning of his homily that the liturgy for that day “speaks of Christ, the King of All Creation. He is a king who presents himself as a witness, a faithful and wise servant, a king who obediently and humbly accepted the will of the Heavenly Father and surrendered himself unconditionally for the salvation of every man and woman who inhabitants this world.”  

Referring to the new bishop’s motto, Super omnia Caritas (Above all, put on love) (Col 3:14), the principal consecrator said that Msgr. Svalina “had chosen to perform his episcopal ministry in the light of love, which, as St. Paul teaches us, is indispensable for entering into Christ’s perfection.  The holy day we are celebrating leads us to reflect upon the very heart of our faith in Christ and poses some inescapable questions: Who is that King? Or like Pilate we ask Lord Jesus: “You, who is on the cross, arrested, despised, so you are King?” In relation to these questions, as he said, “human calculations and the exactitude of things […] are insufficient in themselves.” 

Instead, the answer is given by faith that yields complete surrender to God. “God has revealed that his love for humanity, for each of us, is without measure. On the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God who became man, shows us the extent of this love in the clearest way—to the giving of himself, to complete sacrifice. Faith means to believe that this King, who, with his love in the face of man’s wickedness, in the face of evil and death, is not diminished but is able to transform all types of slavery and offer the possibility of salvation,” he emphasized and added: “The power of Christ the King rests solely in surrender. We almost instinctively understand the word power in the negative sense, but power in itself is something positive, which actually refers to opportunity. However, power can be used for good or bad: to hold everything in your hand and crush it or open your hand and offer it to others. These are two completely opposite powers, the power of life and the power of death.”

Addressing Msgr. Svalina, the principal consecrator urged him to believe what he proclaims, teach what he believes, live what he teaches and always be a sign of Christ the Servant. 

“Here, in the Diocese of Srijem, whose history has always been marked by the fact that it is located on the border between two worlds and cultures, the West and the East, there is a special charism, i.e., the particularly important task of promoting ecumenical dialogue and fostering cooperation and unity,” emphasized Archbishop Gallagher and greeted the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

He also quoted what St. John Paul II said in 1994: “In this region that is tested so seriously today, faith must become once again the force which brings together and brings fruit, much like the rivers that pass through these countries. Like Sava, a river that finds it source in Slovenia, that flows through your beloved country and then on along the Bosnian-Croatian border to Serbia, where it joins the Danube. The Danube is another large river that connects Croatia and Serbia with the other countries of Eastern, Central and Western Europe. The two rivers meet, much in the same way the peoples that live on their shores are called upon to meet. The two Christian churches, the Eastern and the Western Christian Churches, must lead that effort because in these parts, they have always lived together. The metaphor of the two rivers makes rather transparent the path God wants you to take in this troubled moment of your history.”

At the end of the homily, Msgr. Gallagher spoke about Our Lady, “the Most Holy Virgin, whose veneration among the nations has shaped the extraordinary influence of Basilian devotion to the Mother of God/Theotokos,” and commended everyone to her intercession. 

At the conclusion of the homily, Msgr. Svalina, escorted by his accompanying priests, stood before the principal consecrator and made his promises. Then a litany addressed to God was recited, during which the bishop-elect prostrated himself on the ground.  He then knelt and Archbishop Gallagher silently laid his hands on his head, as the other archbishops and bishops Msgr. Svalina’head, which the deacons held there.  This was followed by the Prayer of Consecration, the anointing of the head with sacred chrism, the handing of the Book of the Gospels to the new bishop, the placing of the ring on the new bishop’s finger, the placing of the mitre on the new bishop’ head and the presentation of the pastoral staff. After receiving the symbols of episcopal office, Msgr. Svalina sat on the bishop’s cathedra and received the kiss of peace from the principal consecrator and co-consecrators, and the other bishops offered him a sign of peace with a bow. During this time, a hymn inspired by the bishop’s motto, Super omnia Caritas, was sung.

After the ordination rite, the celebration continued with the Apostolic Creed and the Eucharistic service. After the Prayer before Communion, when the hymn Holy God, We Praise Thy Name (Tebe Boga hvalimo) was sung, Bishop Svalina, accompanied by the  Bishop Coadjutor of Sarajevo and Military Apostolic Administrator in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Msgr.  Tomo Vukšić,  and the Bishop of Požega, Msgr. Antun Škvorčević, passed through crowd gathered in and around the cathedral, and blessed them.  

Then the newly ordained bishop was addressed by the President of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, Archbishop Želimir Puljić of Zadar; the Chairman of the international Bishops’ Conference of SS. Cyril and Methodius, Bishop Lászlo Német of Zrenjanin, on behalf of the priests and religious of the Diocese of Srijem, the Pastor of the Parish of All Saints in Irig, the Most Rev. Blaž Zmaić, and on behalf of the lay faithful parishioners of the Parish of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Šid, religious educator Ana Hodak, secretary of the Diocesan Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Srijem and coordinator of the Press Office of the Diocese of Srijem.

Archbishop Puljić first spoke about Msgr. Svalina’s native region. “When the Church ordains and sanctifies a bishop, it wants him to be an expression of its unity in truth and love (2 Jn 1:3). Therefore, as we mention Fabijan’s birthplace today and his dear parents, Luca and Mirko, we go in spirit to the holy city of Jerusalem, where the Church was born. Jerusalem is actually the source of Fabijan’s office and mission,” he said, recalling apostolic succession.  

Then he addressed the newly ordained bishop: “Dear Bishop Fabijan, as we congratulate you today on the sacred event of your ordination on behalf of the Croatian bishops, I heartily thank you for your dedicated service in many of the institutions of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, especially with regard to the charitable activity during normal and crisis times, such as floods, fires and earthquakes.”   

In conclusion, Archbishop Puljić expressed congratulations on behalf of his archdiocese, noting its connection with the Diocese of Srijem through St. Anastasia nd St. Demetrius. 

Msgr. Nemet spoke about how Msgr. Svalina had held many offices in the Archdiocese of Đakovo-Osijek and the Croatian Conference of Bishops, saying that their loss is a gain for the Church in the regions to where he is coming as a bishop, not only for Msgr. Gašparović as the Bishop of Srijem but also for the entire Conference of Bishops:   Your presence in our ranks will give us a new impetus, especially to do what is your greatest strength, i.e., love, caritas, active love. I wish you all that Srijem represents to us. Here are martyrs, such as St. Anastasia, who connect Srijem with the Archdiocese of Zadar. Also here is a great missionary archbishop, St. Methodius, the Metropolitan of Srijem. It is rarely mentioned that he also had the title of Archbishop of Srijem. Methodius is the patron saint of our conference of bishops and the Diocese of Srijem. Take fortitude from the martyrs and resourcefulness from St. Methodius in the proclamation of the gospel and missions,” said the Bishop of Zrenjanin. 

The Most Rev. Blaž Zmaić expressed the joy of that the priests and religious were feeling upon the arrival of the new bishop coadjutor, and added that they are praying for him. He pointed out that the ordination had taken place during the Year of St Joseph, who is closest to Jesus after Mary.  “May he protect in you a sincere and lasting bond with God, peace of mind, profound humility of heart and perfect concord with the will of God,” recommended the Most. Rev. Zmaić.

Noting that there are fifteen priests working in the diocese, he stressed that they are ready to cooperate with the new bishop coadjutor, who count on them.

“Do not forget this day. This day is a new holy day: your holy day and the Feast of Christ the King. A bishop is a servant of the faithful and Christ the King, who is the King of Mankind. Do not forget that you are a son of the King, a child of God. The Kingdom of Christ is the culture of life and under your episcopal motto, Super omnia Caritas. Therefore, and for this, welcome and be with us!” concluded the Most. Rev. Zmaić. 

The religious educator Ana Hodak thanked Msgr. Svalina for accepting the office of the pastor of their small flock. “We are a modest community in number but not in faith, because although history has often shown its ugly face here, it has not broken our faith,” she said. 

She described Srijem as “a place where people faithful to Christ have lived since the earliest Christian times. A place where the East and West meet, a place soaked in the blood of martyrs. It was often not easy for the faithful flock and pastors to be witnesses of Christ here. You know this well but, nevertheless, you have accepted this office and thus demonstrated your devotion and love for Christ and his Church, as witnessed by your motto, Super omnia Caritas,” she said and added:  “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rm 8:28).

She expressed confidence that Msgr. Svalina will be a good shepherd and teacher, as his first role model is Christ and his love, and then all the pastors of ancient Syrmia who remained steadfast and faithful, even during the most difficult of times. On behalf of the lay faithful, she expressed their readiness to cooperate with the new bishop coadjutor and assured him of their prayers.

Then, the newly ordained Bishop Svalina spoke:  “With a joyful and open heart and outstretched arms, I come to you, to this Christian metropolis, to a place of martyrdom during the greatest persecutions by the emperors Diocletian and Galerius, where early Christianity matured and took root. Since the fourth century, the Diocese of Syrmia has been a place of powerful and steadfast faith, a place of triumphal Christian conversion,” he said in his opening remarks. 

“To this city and diocese, by the decree of the Roman supreme pontiff, I come sincerely and devoutly, with the desire to be one of you and live among you, and, together with you, to be a part of the community, unity, development and, I hope, progress because history and tradition, even the profound symbolism of this place for Christian identity, would mean little and be entirely insufficient if all of us together did not do everything in order to implement these values.  Christian metropolises, such as this one, have always been crossroads and meeting places for people living harmoniously together in their diversity while sharing the same Christian spirit and identity. All of us together have the task of nurturing and building bridges among us and persevering in that which binds us together and unifies us,” stated Bishop Svalina.

In accordance with his motto, he pointed out that “the greatness of a place and its Christian determinant are best reflected today by how much it cares for the weakest and most vulnerable among us, and for the needy. Above all, our Christian identity, marked by martyrdom, is reflected in Love, i.e., Love written with a capitalized letter, that sublime and compassionate Love God has for man, which the Greeks called agapè, and the Romans and St. Paul called caritas. I primarily see my mission in Srijem, where I have been sent by the Roman pontiff, as Love above all else.

Thanking God for the gift of life, he also thanked his parents, who participated in the celebration, for raising him and his brothers Drago and Karlo in faith and fidelity to God, and also thanked his teachers and professors. He then thanked the principal consecrator, co-consecrators and all the guests.

Among them were representatives of cultural and educational circles, national minorities in Vojvodina and the civil authorities, including the Envoy of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia, Nina Obuljen Koržinek, Minister of Culture and Chair of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities; the President of the Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, Ištvan Pastor, and the Mayor and President of the Municipal Assembly of Srijemska Mitrovica. 

At the celebration, Bishop Svalina wore the alb from his first Mass and carried the chalice given to him by the Archdiocese of Đakovo-Osijek, which also gave him his bishop’s ring and crosier.

Among other officials, the liturgical celebration was directed by the canon of the Cathedral Chapter in Đakovo, Msgr. Luka Strgar, and the Pastor of the Parish of St. Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Laćarak, Ivica Zrno. Seminarians from Đakovo and altar servers from the Cathedral Parish of St. Demetrius, Deacon and Martyr, from Srijemska Mitrovica assisted. 

 The liturgical singing was led by the St. Cecilia Cathedral Choir of Srijemska Mitrovica, (conductor: Sr. Cecilija Tomkić), members of the Cathedral Choir of Đakovo (conductor: Ivo Andrić) and members of the  Albe Vidaković Cathedral Choir  of Subotica (conductor: Miroslav Stantić), with organ accompaniment by Miroslav Stantić and instrumental accompaniment by Petar Krančević, a teacher at the Music School in Srijemska Mitrovica.