Matteo is an active member of the Croatian Catholic Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Vancouver. His is the sixth generation of cross-bearers, going back to his great-grandfathers and grandfathers on his father’s side in Vrbanj, and on his mother’s side in Jelsa. His father also bore the processional cross. Mateo also participated in a Zagreb earthquake fundraiser, and in an effort to secure financial assistance for the St Theresa of the Infant Jesus Home for Orphaned, Abandoned and Neglected Children.
With people around the world subject to quarantine, the pandemic coronavirus scare crashed global speculative markets in early April. In mid-April it was still unclear if the crisis would jeopardise the traditional Za križen Catholic procession on the island of Hvar. With no recorded infections on the island, the fraternity based in Jelsa that organises the event managed to secure a last-minute approval from the Croatian Institute of Public Health to make an exception and allow the staging of this passion devotion, which has been held continuously for almost five centuries. Throughout its long history the procession has seen many trials and tribulations, like in 1943, when Italian fascist occupiers curtailed the event, and 1944, when the islanders that had fled a WWII German offensive staged the procession in the Allied camp at El Shatt in Egypt. In the unprecedented 2020 crisis of global healthcare the condition was that a maximum of fifteen people could take part in each of the six processions, adhering strictly to the measures imposed under the recommendations of epidemiologists. It was a handful of select Hvar residents and those with ancestral roots on the island that had the honour of walking in the footsteps of their predecessors, led by cross bearers Roman Radonić, Prošper Grgičević, Andro Balić, Dinko Damjanić and Matteo Bratanić, a Canadian son of Croatian immigrants. The cross bearers prayed under open skies in the heart of the Mediterranean for the good health of all of humanity, watched across virtual platforms by hundreds of thousands on social networks.
The processions on Hvar are a unique passion parade tradition that has been held since 1658. It takes place on the night between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and consists of six processions that simultaneously depart from the Hvar villages of Vrbanj, Vrboska, Jelsa, Pitve, Vrisnik and Svirče. The participants in the procession never meet on their Calvary procession, which reflects Christ’s walk to Calvary (Golgotha). The processional parades move clockwise and end at the home parish. The procession is imbued with a magical musical/dialogue form performed by singers and based on Our Lady’s Lament from an Osor-Hvar book of hymns dated to 1533, one of the sources of Chakavian dialect octosyllabic verse heritage. The greatest honour in this procession, reminiscent of the intensity of antique period stage drama, goes to the cross bearer, the focal figure carrying the burden of an eighteen-kilogram cross barefoot for the twenty-five-kilometre parade. Although he grew up outside the sphere of Croatia’s domestic culture, his participation in this year’s passion procession has revealed in Vancouver resident and student Matteo Bratanić a young urban man deeply rooted in the religious traditions and heritage of the Croatian people.
Born to a society that is conducive to the development of a local ethnic Croatian community and its specific culture, Matteo is also a son of the homeland worthy of admiration. Canada’s community of ethnic Croatians, which currently stands about 110 thousand-strong, is a wonderful example amongst all of our diaspora communities, scattered across some forty countries around the globe, of the preservation of folk and ethnic heritage in a multi-ethnic environment.
This year’s cross bearer for the village of Vrbanj on the island of Hvar comes to us from Vancouver on the west coast of distant Canada, where he was born on 7 January 1999 to Tonči and Filka (née Milevčić) Bratanić. He is a third-year biology student and aims to specialise in medicine, which god willing—as mother Filka says—will be a continuation of the family tradition. He was enlisted in the traditional roll of future cross bearers twenty years ago by his grandfather. Matteo is now the sixth generation in a family with a proud cross-bearing tradition that goes back to the early nineteenth century. Crosses were borne by his great-grandfathers and grandfathers on his father’s side in Vrbanj, and on his mother’s side in Jelsa, and his father also bore the processional cross. Matteo is an active member of the Croatian Catholic Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Vancouver and takes every opportunity to visit the ancestral homeland of his parents. Matteo also participated in a Zagreb earthquake fundraiser, and in an effort to secure financial assistance for the St Theresa of the Infant Jesus Home for Orphaned, Abandoned and Neglected Children—among the buildings in the Croatian capital that saw damage in the quake. Matteo graciously turned down all the gifts received at the traditional Monday luncheon associated with this religious devotional event. We also wish to thank his family and the residents of Hvar who have together donated 100,000 kuna (about 13,200 euros) to the Zagreb earthquake recovery effort.
By: Vesna Kukavica