On the Friday before Palm Sunday, a gaggle of us Soldiers from KFOR-12 climbed the mountain behind the town where the Church of St. Joseph is located, as we prayed the Stations of the Cross. Once we reached the summit, most of the Soldiers had to leave almost immediately, as they needed to return to Post due to other commitments. Fortunately for us, I'd had SPC C make out a 'trip ticket' that didn't have us returning until quite a bit later in the afternoon.
Many of the locals with whom we'd climbed the mountain stayed for Mass. I suppose with unemployment being so high around these parts, especially among ethnic/religious minority populations, the people might not have had much else to do, quite frankly. I noted again, as I'd seen at the Feast of St. Nicholas, on Christmas, and on the Feast of St. Joseph, the congregation consisted of children, young adults, and adult males -- something I'd not really been expecting.
Near the top of the hill is a small covered structure which houses a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There's another shrine to the Virgin (which appears to me to be identical to this one, but unprotected by a structure of its own) on the serpentine road that leads down the mountain from the town. Some of the congregation who were probably on their way to Mass at the top of the hill stopped here for prayer, and perhaps to rest from the work of making it up the hill.
From where we parked our vehicles, we traversed approximately 974 meters (just shy of a kilometer) horizontally, while ascending approximately 160 meters vertically. Now for those of us in uniform those are pretty trivial numbers, but for some of the elderly parishioners, I suspect the physical cost was anything but negligible.
The priest who presided at Mass is the man who celebrated the first Catholic Mass in the city of Gjilan in over three hundred years. He's a dynamic and affable person who really impressed one of my fellow Chaplains and his Chaplain Assistant. (They dealt with him on a regular basis, as he was outside my normal AO (area of operations).)
While I was concelebrating the liturgy, I'd not noticed that it was possible to see the Church of the Black Madonna off in the distance from where we stood. SPC C had taken my camera while I was otherwise occupied, and managed to snap a photo of that church from our vantage point. According to my GPS, that shrine is at least four kilometers away from the endpoint of the Way of the Cross.
Just after Mass had ended, and as SPC C and I were preparing to descend from the summit, three other Soldiers arrived. Two of them had had meetings to attend which couldn't be skipped, so they'd just done their own observance of the Stations of the Cross on their way up the mountain, with the Chaplain Assistant who'd driven their vehicle.
All of us went to Jozefi's for lunch afterward.
As it was a Friday in Lent, my two young Catholic buddies and I had fried trout from some stream not too far away.
Despite the ubiquitous trash no matter where I've traveled in this country, and despite my prior statements that I'd never dream of eating anything I'd be able to catch in local waters, I ate that fish and enjoyed it.
Holy Week was about to begin, after all.
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ