Croatia is one of the countries where 40 Days for Life is experiencing trememdous growth ... from one city in last year's first campaign, to potentially as many as 18 different locations in the campaign that will run from September 23 to November 1.
Here is a look at how the first 40 Days for Life in Vukovar, Croatia came to be. This first-person account from Lidija Dugan, the local 40 Days for Life coordinator in Vukovar, shows the power of prayer in action.
40 Days for Life in Vukovar, Croatia
I first heard of the 40 Days for Life initiative through the media. I was happy to know that something like that was happening in Croatia ... and that finally an army of brave people stood up to appear in front of hospitals and humbly pray.
I sincerely admired them.
Secretly, I wished that something like that would appear in Vukovar, for I was aware of the difficult situation regarding the issue of abortion in my town.
In the time of the former Yugoslavia, Vukovar was the leading town in the number of intentional abortions.
The 40 Days for Life campaign in Vukovar started with prayer. For quite some time, in my heart I felt a desire to do something more, I felt I could bring more fruit for the Lord. One day I prayed strongly and made a conscious decision to give my life to God and follow the signs and inspirations.
Only two days later, God answered my prayer.
I was on a trip. We were celebrating the birthday of a close friend and in one moment, another friend said: ?Lidija, you will become the coordinator of the 40 Days for Life initiative in Vukovar.?
Aware of the seriousness of the situation regarding abortions in Vukovar, I tried to ignore the statement. However, in the following days, this statement was quietly haunting me. I decided to devote everything to prayer and exploration of the Holy Bible through the I?jigo Program ? the program of Ignatius of Loyola spiritual exercises.
God clearly let me know that He is calling me and choosing me for this purpose.
My heart started to get used to this fact and grew in strength and courage for getting into an adventure with Jesus. The increasing number of people who came ? saying they have been praying for some time for the unborn and that it is time for something to start happening in our town ? was an additional confirmation which I shouldn?t and couldn?t ignore anymore.
Slowly a team of people developed who wanted to contribute to the fight for the unborn. We had meetings, prayed, analysed modules. In my praying community, a month before the start of the Initiative, we organised a night watch ? a prayer vigil from 10PM to 6AM during which every 30 minutes, another group of people would rise and pray for the initiative's success.
We went around local parishes and made people aware of the issue of abortion and the need for joining the Initiative. I was a guest on Croatian Catholic Radio and I wrote for Vukovar Gazette. What gave me special strength was the fact that we were prayed for as well ? and in every moment the entire world is with us because we all pray for each other.
The start of campaign was blessed by the priests of all of the parishes in our town. They organised prayers, published the events of the campaign in parish news and talked more about the abortion during sermons. We felt great gratitude and God?s mercy.
After just a few days of the campaign, a pregnant woman in need of our help contacted us as she was, from the look of things, in a dead-end situation which made her consider abortion.
She is 18 years old with a child one and a half years old ... and she is pregnant again. Her boyfriend?s parents, due to family quarrels, kicked her out of the house. She went back to her parents? home where she encountered even greater pain. Her father was diagnosed with PTSD and was an alcoholic and somewhat aggressive. There were a lot of children in the house as well and the financial situation was difficult.
I went to talk to her and with the cooperation of the Betlehem Association (the Association for Promoting Dignity of Human Life and Protection of Unborn Children) she was temporarily situated in a nearby town and cared for to this day.
Many different praying communities joined in the prayer in front of the hospital ? monks, nuns, laymen.
For the main public discussion, the first great pro-life event in Vukovar called ?Vukovar for Life,? we invited guest lecturers: Ante Caljku?ic ? the man who brought 40 Days for Life to Croatia; Dr. Antun Lisec ? pro-life medical doctor with many years of experience in the fight for the unborn; Katarina Pand?ic ? president of the Betlehem Osijek Association; and Biljana Pe?orda ? mother of eight children who lives with her family with the help of God?s wisdom and runs the greatest prayer home in Croatia with the goal to celebrate God 24/7.
The public discussion took place in the pastoral centre in the parish church with around 100 people attending, among which there were members of Greek Byzantine Catholic Church, Orthodox and reformed churches. That fact makes us very proud.
After that came the visit of the ?akovo-Osijek archbishop, Monsignor ?uro Hranic, who visited two parishes. He lauded our efforts and recommended the others to join as well. His visit was on his birthday so I gifted him with ?precious little feet,? an international pro-life symbol which I got in London during the pro-life training in February, led by David Bereit.
We also had an audience with the mayor of Vukovar, Ivan Penava,? and he confirmed that he had wanted to come to pray with us, but was suffering from pneumonia so he couldn?t come. I gifted him with the ?precious little feet? as well.
Every day we had around 10 people on the vigil and we were strongly connected through prayer. I felt joy and love and to all of the questions by the passers-by we answered successfully.
The conclusion of the campaign was in a prayerful atmosphere. I presented the fruits of the campaign, telling of what we had learned ? that there are 2-3 abortions done weekly in Vukovar hospital (that info came from the paediatric unit which is not closely connected to gynaecology) and after that we had a prayer with the spiritual band numbering nine members. It was amazing!
During the next week I was contacted by a person from the hospital who took part in the concluding event and said that I did not have the correct information about the abortion number. An anaesthesiologist in the hospital went to talk to the gynaecology staff, who confirmed that up until recently there were 4-5 abortions done daily; but lately that number was significantly decreased up to the point where there were ?only? 4-5 abortions in one month!
Besides that, the staff also mentioned that during the campaign, a significant number of women did not have abortions ? because of those people outside who are praying ?and went back home. We do not know their number, as they did not sign their names anywhere; but they say there were a great number of them.
This information thrilled and surprised us!
After the campaign, I had the honour of participating in the Rome for Life forum and March for Life in Rome.
In mid-May, we hosted the national meeting for 40 Days for Life in Croatia and we had a very fruitful weekend. Around 50 members from across Croatia exchanged experiences of the recently finished campaign and discussed the positive results and good aspects of the organisation ? and we worked on improving the autumn campaign, where 18 Croatian cities are expected to participate.
It was a particularly special honour to receive the deputy mayor, Marijan Pavlicek, who greeted everyone present during the opening presentation and thanked everyone for their selfless fight for life and the smallest among us.
As most of the participants had never been to Vukovar, they were given the opportunity to visit the landmarks of the town under the guidance of a Homeland War veteran, Colonel Antun Dugan ? Samurai (my dad) who talked about his war experience.
During our national gathering, God reminded me of the verses which He placed in my heart several years ago. At the time, I could not understand them at all:
"Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God." (Isaiah 55:5)
Now He just told me: ?Remember those verses I told you about? There, it is happening, and it is only a beginning!?
During the campaign, the Lord directed me to additional fields of pro-life activity and education which could help me to work with people; so I, together with some other members of the team, worked with the TeenSTAR programme, BOM, the Marriage Relation Skill, Christian Consultation, healing of women suffering from post-abortive syndrome.
I see the further pro-life efforts in Vukovar going in that direction, through different seminars, public discussions, education, workshops for families, children and youth ? and especially those suffering from abortion consequences.
Keeping in mind that we have excellent cooperation with church and civil authorities, we are happy to gather in a great work for the Lord. Vukovar deserves that, Croatia deserves that.
Praise and thank the Lord!
Lidija Dugan is the leader of the 40 Days for Life team in Vukovar, Croatia.