Peace radiated from his calm presence in a way that invited me to step closer into the warm circle of his hospitality. I could tell he was a man of prayer and love—his serenity was not put on like a piece of clothing, but was part of his natural essence.
“God called me in one moment, ” Father Davor* remembered. “It was 1991, the war in Croatia had just begun, and I had come to church. I was a typical teenager, not really that interested in priests or church. But that day, I saw a priest wearing the Pauline Father white robe and I heard a voice in my heart say, ‘Follow me in the way that he does.'”
Father Davor belongs to the order of St. Paul the First Hermit, a Catholic order formed in the 13th century and based on the life of the man tradition holds to be the first Christian hermit after John the Baptist. Paul, only a teenager himself, fled into the Egyptian desert during the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius around 250 A.D. Although this order flourished in different times in history, now there are only 500 monks spread over 70 monasteries worldwide.
“The journey was not easy,” Father Davor said. “Although my parents were dedicated Catholics, this calling had not been their hope for me. Also, the closest theological training for this order was in Poland—I was one Croatian among 70 Polish monks. Twice in my seven years of study I packed my bags to come home.”
The three vows of the order are chastity, poverty, and obedience, but Father Davor struggled to connect some of the discussions and Biblical teaching by his superiors with actual life. “Why don’t we go to our brother Baptists and hear their sermons?” He asked one priest after a discussion on ecumenism.
“No, no..it is not possible. They are too different from us.”
But most of all, he longed for some kind of experience with God—although he loved the theological training, it seemed cold to him.
He formed a prayer group with some of the other priests-in-training, and every evening while others would watch t.v., they would pray. “We were hoping to have some kind of experience with the Holy Spirit, ” he said, “but we thought that someone needed to lay on hands and pray for us who had the gift of tongues.” So, they invited a charismatic priest into one of their prayer sessions, and as he prayed for them, Father Davor had an experience that forever changed his life.
“Before this experience, it was like I was looking in the fog. I was hearing, but I didn’t hear; I was reading but I didn’t read. After the Holy Spirit came upon me, the fog passed and I understood I was beloved of God. I understood that only Jesus was my Savior—not my superior, not my best friend, and not even,” Father Davor said with a mischievous smile, “David Wilkerson**.”
After this experience, Father Davor found he had a new love for people and began to leave the monastery walls to work with the homeless, prostitutes, and drug addicts. “Christ gave me a passion for unborn children…and for mothers struggling with unexpected pregnancies living without husbands.” Now, a priest for 11 years and the head of his order in Croatia, Father Davor has started a home for single pregnant women who have come out of difficult situations but want to keep their baby.
“My life can really be characterized in two parts, ” Father Davor mused. “Before the experience with the Holy Spirit, I believed in God and loved God—but without passion. Afterwards, I had incredible passion for Jesus and his work in the world.”
Father Davor actively fulfills the charisms of his order inside the walls of the monastery—prayer, confession, spiritually forming those who are seeking God, and a commitment to pray for the life of children, born and unborn. But his love for people drives him outside of the walls as well, where he joins with both Protestants and Catholics to actively participate in God’s work in the world.
*Name has been changed
**David Wilkerson’s books are very popular with Protestant Christian in this part of the world.