Remember Miss Mary Ann from the children’s TV show Romper Room? If you’re from my generation, you might remember how she looked through her “magic mirror” and identified who she saw out in her TV audience (“I see Tommy and Mary. I see Frank and Amy…”). I used to wait for Miss Mary Ann to see me, to say my name, to acknowledge my presence. She never did despite my best attempts to situate myself right in front of the television set.
Croatia is making up for Miss Mary Ann! I hear my name all the time and I think that people are calling me when they’re not. “Mala” in Croatian means little or small. It’s also an endearing term used for babies or small children, as in “little one”.
So I wasn’t too surprised to hear of a festival called “Mala Gospa” but I had no idea what it was. “Mala Gospa” translates as “little lady” and acknowledges the birth of the Virgin Mary, also known as the Nativity of Mary. Even though there is no known date of Mary’s birth, it is celebrated on September 8th. It struck me how foreign such a celebration was to my Catholic upbringing. I felt lucky to be in Gromača, the little village where my grandfather (Ðedi) and some of my cousins were born, to participate in this feast day. (The feast part is a whole other story)!
People from Gromača and other small villages gathered in the center of the town around what appeared to be a permanent installation of an icon of Mary. The village only has about 140 inhabitants so I was surprised to see about 50 people gathering for the procession to the church. I was grateful for a cousin who held my hand and guided me through some of the rocky terrain and tenuous stairs. I broke my leg three months ago and walking is slow and unsteady at times but I did not want to miss this! There were prayers and singing during the procession until we got to one of the smallest churches I have ever seen. Inside, the iconography of Mary was so pronounced. Unlike the large crosses that hang on the altar of every single Catholic church I’ve seen, the little church in Gromača has a large portrait of Mary (holding Jesus, of course), instead. That struck me. I wonder if this reverence for Mary is true in small villages here or the way Catholocism has been shaped in Croatia generally.
But, the Catholic church is still deeply patriarchal. I noticed how the men were the ones to carry the banners during the procession and take up the front rows of the church. I have a lot to learn so if you have any thoughts or information, I’d love to know more.
Hvala, Croatia. It’s good to be seen.
6 thoughts on “Mala Gospa”
I walked in that procession and attended Mass in that Church with Babi, Carol and Nikki. The men have sat in front of the Church for centuries. I was taught in our religion that a husband always takes care of wife and family, however there can be only one leader and that is the man. Sorry to say I saw wives and children being physically abused. In our family! Be careful how you use your words. Never know who you are talking to and I know you don’t want to insult anyone. They grew up during WWII and told me stories about the starvation they went through. We now know about PTS, these people who were tortured had it and many became alcoholics and abusers. I feel bad for them and I pray for them when I was there. WWII left terrible scars that these people had no idea they had. After the war with the Serbians I believed technology opened the door to these poor people and they have become some what educated. In 1984 I saw a young girl in a park in a nearby town who was dressed in rags, she had 4 or 5 kids around her who were under nourished, barefoot with little to cover their bodies. The mother seemed to be in a daze. I am sure she was wondering how she was going to feed these kids. I told my Aunt Kate that I was going to go to her and give her money. My aunt grabbed my hand and said “NO! please don’t do that. Her husband will beat her thinking she sold her body for money.” That was so hard for me. I walked away and I have never forgotten that experience. It’
s so sad. But things are better now. Not that they couldn’t be improved…….
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The story of your wanting to give money to the woman you saw with the children breaks my heart in so many ways. There was not only the trauma of war and the poverty that came with that, but also the trauma of interpersonal violence that was clearly well-known. I spoke a little bit to one of our cousins on Sunday–he has a remarkable memory and shared some of them regarding the Serbian occupation and life at that time. Yours and other stories are so important to me so keep them coming–I appreciate it!
If not for Mary saying YES to the archangel, where would the Catholic faith be! I question everything about the religion I also was born into. I struggle with its tenets at a time when my own daughters are questioning who they are becoming as women and what they believe – But more importantly the roles of women in society and that includes religion. We continue to attend the Catholic Church, but we are often discussing how we might visit in transition to other faiths. Those that embrace the feminine. But more importantly the roles of women in society and that includes religion. We continue to attend the Catholic Church, but we are often discussing how we might visit and transition to other faiths. Those that embrace the feminine and that have visible roles for women yes celebrants of the faith and guides for future generations
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Karen, I hear you! I have struggled with so many things about the Catholic Church in my life. Even though I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I do see the ways in which it has shaped me in ways that I still may not realize. Your girls are lucky to have you as a mom as you guide them through their own choices when navigating their identities as girls/women and religion. I have no doubt they will be thoughtful. As I live in this country to study systems of privilege and oppression I thought that religion would play a role in ways that it doesn’t in the US. Certainly to be continued!
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And so the study of systems of oppression begin. So rich, Mala. How precious to witness reverence for Mary.
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It sure is, Christina! There was this reverence for Mary/for the feminine in ways I have never experienced in my own Catholicism and I’m really grateful to have participated in the procession and service. I’m also aware of how complicated the honoring of the feminine is–certainly she is revered for her motherhood and most likely the status of virgin. Then, there were the obvious different ways in which men and women participated in the service and literally took up space differently in the church. Thank you for your reply and allowing me to think out loud here–I appreciate it!