Serbian priest relocates to Canada

Ukrainian Catholic Parish of All Saints in North Battleford welcomed a new parish priest, Rev. Fr. Vladimir Simunovic, Jan. 9.

Bishop Bryan Bayda officially installed Fr. Vladimir as the parish priest at a special ceremony Feb. 5.

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Fr. Vladimir, who arrived in Canada with his wife, Bozhana, Jan. 7, was born in Vrbas, Serbia in November 1983. When he was almost two years old his family moved to Petrovci, Croatia, where his father was appointed pastor of the Greek Catholic parish. In 1992, during the war in the Balkans, Petrovci came under attack from the Serbs. For three months, Fr. Vladimir's family lived without electricity or running water. After the family's house and parish church were bombed, Fr. Vladimir 's family lived in the basement of the house for several days before escaping to Krizevci, also in Croatia.

Croatia's population is approximately 4.3 million. The Greek Catholic population numbers approximately 20,000 in the entire country. Most of the people in Croatia are Roman Catholic. Krizevci, a town with a population of 11,000 people, has eight Catholic Churches.

Fr. Vladimir studied in Rome from 2002 to '11 where he earned degrees in philosophy, theology and canon law. He speaks six languages - Croatian, Ruthenian, Ukrainian, English, Italian and Macedonia. Fr. Vladimir was ordained to the priesthood in Oct. 15, 2011 at his home parish in Krizevci.

When he decided to study to become a priest, Fr. Vladimir did not imagine he would be coming to Canada to serve his vocation. Then, in February or March 2011, Fr. Janko Kolosnjaji, the former pastor of All Saints Ukrainian Catholic Parish in North Battleford and now the chancellor of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon, phoned Fr. Vladimir's father, whom he knew from his days in the former Yugoslavia, and asked him if he knew of any priests who would be willing to come to Canada. Fr. Simunovic called his son to discuss the opportunity. An invitation from Bishop Bayda resulted.

Fr. Vladimir and Bozhana were married Aug. 13, 2011 in Strumica, Macedonia. Before coming to Canada, Bozhana studied agronomy at the university in Skopje, Macedonia, where she specialized in agro-economy. She hopes to be able to put her training to use in Saskatchewan, although, at present, she is in Canada on a visitor's visa and does not have a work permit.

Macedonia has a population of approximately two million. Sixty-five per cent of the population are Macedonian and 25 per cent are Albanian, mostly refugees for Kosovo. As recently as 2001 Macedonia was the site of a civil war. Ultimately, the Albanians abandoned their separatist demands and agreed to accept Macedonian institutions.

Fr. Vladimir and Bozhana did not know what they would encounter when they came to Canada. They report they are delighted with the warm welcome they have received. Even the weather has co-operated in this unusually balmy Saskatchewan winter.

They say they look forward to serving the North Battleford Parish and the parishes in the Hafford pastoral district for many years to come.

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