The more people give, the greater their contentment
Two professions in the life of the Croat religious sister Marija Bešker from Bosnia
“She is stronger than Tito,” a doctor at the Trauma Surgery Unit of the Clinical Centre of the University of Sarajevo says. She is quick to retort, “Of course! President Tito is long dead and I – thank the Lord – am very much alive.” Marija Bešker grew up in a family of 14. She spent most of her life at the hospital after she had already chosen her first profession. That came about suddenly. “My aunt was already a religious sister. When I was small, my uncle used to say to me that I could be her Mother Superior one day. I definitely did not want that. But one time when I was visiting my aunt in Bijelo Polje, I saw beautiful flowers everywhere. I was so taken by the gardens. On that day, I had to admit to myself that there was a definite possibility that I would one day become a religious sister.”
She took her decision at the age of 14 and joined the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the King in the Croatian province near Mostar, in the Herzegovina region. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has supported this religious order on a number of occasions. Although the principal duty of this religious congregation was the care of orphans, the sisters were not allowed to run a kindergarten or orphanage, much less work in a school, during the reign of the Communist regime in Yugoslavia. This meant that she was forced to choose a different profession and so she became a nurse.
Holding out in Sarajevo, even during the war
“You can neither buy nor learn true standing. It has something to do with an honest attitude towards life, a professional attitude towards work and more than anything else: a love for humanity,” the 61-year-old is convinced. She professed her vows in 1980. Three years before the Iron Curtain fell, Sister Marija moved to Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina. She had been offered a place in the picturesque city of Dubrovnik, a city of fine arts and poets on the Croatian coast. However, she remained in Bosnia, even when war broke out in the region shortly thereafter. She recalls that it became necessary to bear the “reality of evil”. “However, I came away from the war years with something positive. Even during the worst battles, our medical staff never made a difference between saving a Croat, Serb or Muslim.”
A way to make proper use of time
When asked about her work, she emphasises, “It is not enough to have completed medical training. You need to have the proper attitude: you need to understand that it is a calling.” This attitude has helped her to advance – today she is a matron in charge of the fourth ward of the Trauma Surgery Unit. She has never encountered any problems at work due to the fact that she belongs to a Catholic order. “All of my colleagues treat me with the utmost respect.” However, that alone is not enough. “When I have to go to a doctor to ask him for something, I pray inwardly, ‘Think of me, merciful Madonna, so that he is in a good mood and will do me this favour’.” She makes these requests for people she has been entrusted with, people who are in need of an intermediary, a cheerful soul who will help without asking anything in return. Which is why, after her work is done for the day, Sister Marija visits patients who are going through difficult times in a society that is still processing the trauma of war – socially, economically and psychologically.
Her wish to have a beautiful garden like the one she saw on the day she visited her aunt has come true. “When the flowers in the garden are blooming, all tiredness just falls away,” Sister Marija describes. For her, prayer is the most important part of religious life, both shared as well as private. “From older fellow sisters I learned that the day would come when we would be held responsible for lost time.” Sister Marija smiles almost mischievously. She radiates that of which she speaks. “The more people dedicate themselves to others, the greater their contentment and happiness.”
In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need donated around 80,000 euros to a number of communities of religious sisters in Bosnia-Herzegovina for subsistence aid, pastoral work and transportation.
Josip Vajdner & Karla Sponar