The Birthday of Ivan Burik, the only Catholic Priest killed during the Homeland War

Even though he was the only Catholic priest killed during the Homeland War, little is known about the character and work of Ivan Burik.

Burik was born on 8 November 1928 in the village of Neština near Ilok in eastern Croatia. His youth was marked by World War II during which his father was killed by Yugoslav partisans and his exile from his native village along with his mother and brother. After the end of the war, they survived the Bleiburg Massacres and the “Way of the Cross” and resettled in Strizivojna near Đakovo where Burik worked on an agricultural estate for a time. Upon completion of his military service, Burik was employed as a statistician but was released due to a conflict with local authorities. He soon went to Zagreb, finished high school in the Šalata district and then enrolled in the study of theology in Đakovo.

As the priesthood came under attack from the communist authorities, the demand for priests prompted the bishop of Đakovo to ordain the 32 year old Burik a year and a half before graduation on 6 March 1960. As a chaplain in the All Saints parish in Đakovo, Burik displayed incredible energy by engaging in activities ranging from construction to pastoral work. He built catechetical halls, expanded churches, restored sacristies and cared for a large community that branched off and later became independent parishes due to his good work. Nevertheless, his life centered around parish service in Tovarnik which began in 1963 and to which he dedicated the rest of his life.

Burik resumed pastoral work under difficult circumstances in a place that still suffered from the effects of World War II. He renovated the parish church and rectory and was especially committed to working with young people with the help of the nuns from the Society of the Sisters of the Queen of the World since 1969. Burik was a sincere advocate of ecumenical dialogue and coexistence with Serbs who comprised approximately 20 percent of the local population. His efforts came to the fore in the early 1990s as evident in his speeches where despite being aware of the dangers facing his parishioners, Burik constantly called for tolerance, peace and love in the example of Christ the King.

When the war broke out in the summer of 1991, Burik did not leave his parishioners and helped them get to safety. In September 1991, Tovarnik was occupied and Burik had to temporarily move to the nearby village of Sot in Vojvodina but returned home daily to visit the faithful who remained. The Serbian forces that occupied Tovarnik and surrounding areas began to spread terror that took many victims. In all, 68 Croats were killed during the occupation and among them was the martyr Ivan Burik, the only Catholic priest killed in the Homeland War. Members of Serbian paramilitary forces killed him on 8 October and threw his body into a mass grave.

After the peaceful reintegration of the Danube region in eastern Croatia, the remains of Ivan Burik were exhumed and reburied in Tovarnik’s cemetery in January of 1998. Archbishop of Đakovo-Osijek Marin Srakić, Burik’s friend from his student days, laid him to rest with the following words:

Exhumation in Tovarnik, January 1998

Along with the other victims from our Tovarnik, we also bid farewell to its pastor, Rev. Ivan Burik who fully understood and put into practice the words of Christ the Lord: The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

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