Catholic University of Croatia Unites Virtually to Overcome Earthquake, COVID-19

Author: Connor Bran

One month ago, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Zagreb, Croatia was devastated by its largest earthquake in 140 years. Debris from collapsed buildings destroyed cars, covered streets, and turned many homes into rubble. This disaster is marked in history not only by its physical toll on Zagreb but also by its occurrence in a moment of global uncertainty, shaking Croatia’s capital to its roots.

“We are devastated by the damage inflicted on Zagreb and its surrounding areas, especially by the fact that many people have been left homeless,” said Željko Tanjić, rector of the Catholic University of Croatia (CUC), in a public statement. “Among [the afflicted] are many of our employees and students. We are especially close to them, including them in our prayers and offering them help.”

Newly renovated classrooms and office buildings at CUC survived the earthquake, but older non-renovated buildings suffered damage that requires thorough renovation. Once the buildings are restored and the pandemic lifts, CUC plans to resume classes and work on campus.

The 5.4-magnitude earthquake also damaged much of the city’s cultural institutions, including the Zagreb Cathedral, the tallest building in Croatia and a significant landmark for the 86% Croat Catholic majority; one of the cathedral’s spires snapped off during the quake, crashing into the church proper and adjacent buildings. “It is heartbreaking for all of us to see that our Zagreb Cathedral has suffered extensive damage,” commented Tanjić in the same CUC public statement.

Despite these two crises—one abrupt in the form of the earthquake, and the other looming in the arrival of the pandemic—CUC perseveres.

“As one of the fundamental missions of the Croatian Catholic University is the education and training of young people, who will be an important part of our society tomorrow, we have endeavored to maintain regular teaching in these difficult circumstances of the pandemic, and now the earthquake, and to maintain the connection and relationship between students and professors,” said Ines Sabotich, vice-rector for teaching at CUC, in the same public statement.

CUC officials report that they are satisfied with the participation and engagement of students under these adverse circumstances and for their responsible conduct during the pandemic. But students aren’t the only ones working remotely at CUC. In concert with guidelines set by Croatian authorities, the university’s board, faculty, and administration have also adopted a remote work lifestyle.

University-community connections extend beyond the physical and virtual classroom at the CUC. While the aftershocks from the earthquake are still felt in Zagreb, and will likely be felt for months to come, CUC psychology students came together to give a message of love and solidarity through a virtual choral performance of the late Bill Withers’s “Lean on Me.” The collaboration serves as a touching symbol of the spirit emanating from the CUC community.

“Representatives of many Catholic universities and institutions, such as the Nanovic Institute at the University of Notre Dame from the United States, expressed their prayerful solidarity and closeness,” said Tanjić. “We ask the Lord to give us all the strength to come out of all these tragedies humble and to bring even more hope and love to the restoration of the Church and Homeland.”

As Easter season passes, it’s important to note that the feast of the resurrection is a time for hope and faith. With dedicated students, faculty, and administration, there is an expectation that the Catholic University of Croatia will unite through adversity, rise anew, and set precedents for how to remain connected and “carry on” in lasting and meaningful ways, whether in person or virtually, that bridge the world we have known and the path forward. As the CUC psychology students sing in their moving cover of the Withers classic, “If we are wise, we know that there's always tomorrow...”

The Catholic University of Croatia is a member of the Nanovic Institute’s Catholic University Partnership (CUP). The CUP began in 2003 as a project to support the elevation and development of Catholic higher education and civil society in post-Soviet Europe. Now with more than fifteen years of progressive developments in programming, infrastructure, and research, the CUP continues to foster international collaboration among institutions of higher learning across Europe.