Testimonial of an event
Fra Jozo Grbeš
I met Rev. Zlatko Sudac in October 1999 when he held a retreat in our parish of St. Jerome. He came then together with dear friends of mine Milka and Jack Ricov. We became friends the very moment, it appears to me, instantaneously at the airport. He stayed with us five days, held an extraordinary retreat and left permanent marks behind him.
Zlatko came to us again on January 4th 2001. The aim of this stay is to learn English. We enrolled him at DePaul University where he continues to study the language. He is to stay with us till the end of February. Shortly after his arrival it was agreed that he hold a retreat in New York. Before leaving for the seminar he paid a visit to a sick man here in Chicago, to Zvonko Vuchich. His daughter Anne interpreted into English the first retreat in our parish, and last summer she traveled with a group of Americans to "Betanija" (Bethany, note) in Mali Lošinj (town and island in Croatia, note). Zvonko grew sick all of a sudden, the cancer took hold of the major part of the body and he was in pains. Zlatko went to him, gave him Confession, administered to him the Sacrament of Anointment and conversed with him and with the family at length. According to Zlatko's testimony that was an extraordinary experience. Zvonko became a new man who only prayed as well as everyone around him. He told to Zlatko that he is ready to testify about all that happened to him on an (earlier?, note) retreat. We were constantly in touch with the family and prayed. Zlatko went to New York to hold a retreat on February 2nd, 3rd and 4th together with Anne Vuchich who interpreted into English. On the very day of the retreat, at 12 o'clock, on Friday February 2nd, Anne's father Zvonko passed away. Anne went to the church in New York and prayed and asked the Lord what should she do. The answer came soon: the mother called from Chicago and told Anne to remain on the retreat and to come home only Sunday because her father was only then to be exposed (in the coffin, note) at the Funeral Home. And that is what happened. The retreat was held, Zlatko mentioned Zvonko, (and, note) his daughter Anne who still remained on the retreat. For Zlatko that was a sign that Zvonko himself was there and that he witnesses what he promised. It was an event overwhelmed with joy and emotions.
Anne was back home in Chicago Sunday morning, because the father was to be exposed from 2 to 9 p.m. I went to the Midway Airport to get Zlatko in the evening at 8 o'clock. The airplane landed in time and we left immediately for home, for the parish. I mention this because of the following event.
Tomorrow, on Moday February 5th, Zlatko, Fra Jozo Grubishich, the parish priest and I went to the funeral Mass for the late Zvonko. Fra Slavko, the custodian, and a large number of local Croatian priests took part in the Mass in the church packed with people. Everything was beautiful. Fra Nikola gave a wonderful sermon, and at the end of the Mass Zlatko said a few words about the late Zvonko, his goodness, his faith, his desire to witness in front of thousands of people. And then Zlatko added that "although he died on that day, the same Friday he came to the retreat. His daughter Anne remained on the retreat to witness and to interpret." Those were incisive words together with the rest what Sudac said. Both the people and the priests weeped. The Mass ended. We went home. The family went to the cemetery, buried the father and friend, came back for lunch and then home. When they arrived home, they began to talk about it all. The next morning a (woman, note) relative said: "I finally understood who was the person in the mortuary, (the person, note) that prayed on Zvonko and greeted with Anne... well that was that priest that came to the Mass..." On that Anne's aunt said how he never was in the mortuary at all. The women were petrified. Namely, a few of them said how they saw him in the mortuary, but he could not be there because he was in NY. I personally am the witness to that because I fetched him at the airport and took him to our parish of St. Jerome. SO WE WEREN'T IN THE MORTUARY! When people realized what actually happened, there ensued weeping, stress, panic, a weird state for them all. Many of them said how they could not (bear to) look at the Rev. Sudac because they felt how he sees through them, (how he) sees all... Sudac said to that how "they can't (stand to) look at me not because of me but becaue of their own sins." When all this was recounted to Zlatko, he confirmed that that actually was bilocation, namely that he was in two places at the same time, that in the Spirit he found himself in the place mentioned. He saw the people, described exactly in detail the coffin, where the pictures, the flowers were, what the deceased had on, what kind of room it was etc. We were all astounded, because he simply could not know (all) that. Anne herself confirmed to Zlatko these particulars on the phone around 5:45 o'clock, on Tuesday evening, February 6th. (As she spoke) Zlatko listened and confirmed. Then he said: "Enough, I understand all, we'll hear from each other later. Come to us (over) here and tell us everything." And he hung up. Zlatko went to his room after that.
To remind you, Sudac has been here with us for more than a month. NEVER ONCE did I go to him, entered into his room. We have always talked downstairs, in the dining room, the living room or my office. I never felt that I needed to go upstairs. When I did need something I would call at him from downstairs and he would answer. That evening I don't know myself why I went to him in his room. We had talked how Anne would come and witness to us all that is written above and that we would call Fra Slavko, the custodian and Fra Marko Puljich (who came from Michigan to a meeting these days) to be with us.
But when I came to him in the room about 6:10 in the evening, he was trembling, bleeding, he was in a sort of pain. Since we are friends, we called each other "Pal" (the closest to Croatian "Pajdo", note). I told him: "(Hey,) pal, please calm down. Don't be afraid. I am here for whatever you need, tell me if you need water or anything else for refreshment!" He was tossing and turning, he couldn't stand upright, he leaned on my shoulder, he weeped heavily, his face bled, his cross bled, and his hands and feet (Fr. Sudac is stigmatized and has a cross impressed on his forehead, note). As if every bit of his body ached. Then he began to say: "You go out, pal, I want to spare you this, I don't want you to see this suffering of mine." I did not understand what he was talking about! Then again he leaned on my shoulder and wept.
Suddenly in thousands of a second, I don't know how, he ended on the floor, by the entrance door. It is weird and I don't know how but I found myself at the same moment next to him on the floor, on my knees! He lay on the back, his arms spread and was undergoing a horrible suffering. His head assumed some strange marvelous look, filled with pain, his hair was all disheveled, the face bloody, covered with spit, the mouth like "drawn out", horribly distended, his eyes "popped-out", looking somewhere distant. I saw human pain, the suffering people and hospitals, but anything like this I nowhere near saw, all the sufferings that I saw in my life put together are never one tenth of this. His head looked like the Head of Christ. I finally understood that he literally lives the Calvary, the Christ's passion of 2000 years ago. His hands were completely spread, the fingers cramped full of pain and were turning and twisting to all sides. I had the impresssion that he could not lift the arms, that it was about the nailing on the cross, his feet were undergoing horrible suffering although I wasn't paying attention to the lower part of the body. He was all trembling, weeping, the sweat from the hair and the brow was like large drops of rain or snow. Then the (death-)rattle took hold of him, the heavy breathing, deep sighs, screams, groans... all that as the consequnce of horrible pain. I did not see anybody else in the room, didn't see a third person or persons, but the suffering was so heavy that thought that thousands of people were beating him, stamping on him, nailing him. I was afraid that he would hit with his head on the floor, and so I kept holding his head in my arm all the time. When I would see the pain, the racking pain in his hand, actually hands, then I would take hold of his hand. He seized me in such way that I thought that my hand and all the bones in it were bursting. Then all of a sudden he was jolting. His body moved somehwhere up, it jolted in an arc, while his head remained on the floor on my arm. I had the impression as if that somebody was beating him from the back, as if that somebody was hitting him with something horrible and he was trying to dodge it, jolting all the higher. He was (all) bent. Maybe the best comparison are the athletes arching their body (doing the bridge) when they rehearse for their shows.
All this time he bled, sweated, and the face as though it wasn't his. If I may draw comparisons, then it very much reminded me to a film on Jesus in which Jesus' agony on the cross was shown. That look of his head I will never forget, that suffering in his eyes I will never cease to remember. The wounds (the stigmata, note) that he received a few months ago bled.
Suddenly, I don't know how, as if again in a fraction of a second, he found himself in the middle of the room, on his knees all huddled up (and) bent. I found myself again right next to him. How? I don't know. It seemed to me as if someone hit him on the back, with something terrible, and that he tried to diminish the pain. And at that time there was heavy rattling, horribly difficult breathing, sighs that make the blood freeze in the veins, bending that I cannot discribe because I have nothing to compare that suffering with.
After that suddenly, I say suddenly, because I did not understand how, he found himself again on the floor in the same spot. Both his first fall on the floor, and this second change of position seemed to me as if it was about two diminsions, that there existed two men, now one was here, and the other there. While I am looking at one the other vanishes. I don't know. I followed his movements, but I followed them in thousands of a second. How? I don't know! Then there was the same suffering on the floor. I have to say this important thing. Even though I consider myself a very rational person, but at the same time a fairly emotional one, (I don't find it difficult to weep when I go to hospitals and see human pain, especially when it is somebody close), in these moments I wasn't sad, I didn't feel embitterment, sorrow, pain, I felt a great peace that overwhelmed me entirely. That peace of soul I feel even now in myself as some heritage of that. That is a peace that no other joy that I had in (my) life can describe.
Soon after the suffering, Zlatko was SENSELESS, the head simply fell over my arm, his arms fell loose as if of a dead man, the body became still and stiffened nearly. He didn't move with anithing, neither did he show signs of life. I realized that was DEATH. He was in front of me A DEAD MAN. Completely lacking senses. There were no signs of life. Only then did through my head pass a thousand questions, What now, how now, what will be now, what will his bishop say, the Church Fra Slavko, the custodian, Fra Jozo, the people, Chicago... I don't know, I cannot mention all that went through my head in those moments. I wanted to call Fra Jozo, but in that instant, while I was watching his dead body, I was checking the pulse at his wrists and while nothing was moving, I put my hand upon his heart trying to see whether he was alive. In that instant I don't know whether I physically sensed, touche and felt that still he was alive, or it was my inner feeling. I don't know, but I understood that he was alive! The death lasted approximately no more than two minutes, maybe less. In those moments while I was still U turning (thoughts) in my head as to what would happen, he budged his head on my arm. So, I understood he WAS ALIVE. I was indescribably joyous! Indescribably! I kneeled during all this time. Then he again in one quick instant found himself on the other side of the room. I was right next to him. I sat with my legs stretched on the floor. Then he turned to me, leaned his head on my arm and leg and rapidly, very rapidly, spoke words of prayer. To me they sounded Hebrew. After that he continued to very rapidly repeat the words "Totus Tuus", which in Latin means "Whole yours". That he repeated so fast that I cannot imitate, as if you set a radio tape and then you made it go faster.
When that finished, he straightened up, I thought that he completely recovered to the pervious state. He kneeled and I kneeled. In that moment I told him: "Zlatko, please bless me!" He began to pray over me: "My friend, may God bless you and protect you, give you strength, grant you..." That most beautiful blessing lasted surely about two minutes. I am not able to repeat it! Then he sat on the floor, opened his eyes and looked at me saying: "Pal, have you really been here all this time?" I replied him confirming. He started crying, he cried heavily. Then he said what he said in the beginning, which I could not understand back then: "My pal, I urged you to go out, but at the same time I prayed and wished that you remain, that there be somebody to share with me that pain." We cried together. Then he asked me what time it was. It was around 6:45. The whole of this event that I described lasted approximately 15-20 minutes. After that Zlatko cried, he hugged me and said how all that was because of his sins, that God puts him on trial because of that, gives him suffering. I said the contrary, we spoke for long about that. He wanted a Confession. His feets and hands and the cross still bled. The cross, the forehead and his hair had a most beautiful odor, the odor as the oils, of myrrh, incense, flowers, plants, in fact all these together. It was a most beautiful odor.
I left him alone, he said he would come to his senses somewhat and come downstairs to us right away. He came down and sat with me and Fra Jozo. Soon Ann Vuchich came as well. We sat. I told him how it was good that he washed and cleaned himself a little. To that he said: "I didn't wash at all after you left the room. I didn't go to the bathroom." I remained like shocked, because I knew what his face was like, his forehead, the cheeks... a few minutes ago.
We sat long that night, long, and talked about the event, and Ann told us in details all that I wrote in the first part of the text.
The above mentioned event left a permanent mark on my life and especially my priesthood. Above all these are graces that I don't feel that I minimally merit. All that happened on February 6th, the eve of the 8th anniversary of my priestly ordination. I will be glad if this brief testimony to those as well who will read it become an inspiration for a better life of Love nad closer togetherness with the Savior who suffered horrible pain for us all.
That the above is Truth and only truth, I bear witness with my soul, with my priesthood and with the passion of Christ that I saw live.
Fra Jozo Grbesh
In Chicagu, in the parish of St. Jerome, on the 8th anniversary of priestly ordination, February 7th A. D. 2001.
P.S. Testimony submitted to:
1. Fra Slavko Soldo, custodian of Croatian Franciscans for America and Canada
2. the Bishop of Krk, Valter Zupan (the bishop of Rev. Sudac)
I have to add that a few weeks after this event I asked an American friend to try and get me myrrh in Chicago, that is, the oil that the Jews usually used to anoint their deceased. The Gospel by John speaks about it thus: "Joseph of Arimathea brought about one hundred liters of myrrh and alloy. Then they took Jesus' body and according to the Jewish custom at burials, wrapped it in linen with spices..." (John 19,39-40). The friend, American, after a lot of searching, found a store in which he found myrrh and brought it in a flask! Interesting: ITS ODOR WAS ABSOLUTELY THE SAME AS THAT ONE WHICH ZLATKO'S HEAD ODORED WITH THE NIGHT AFTER THE PASSION!