When we think of Iceland, what first comes to mind are probably sublime natural landscapes, snowy expanses, and unforgettable northern lights. But Iceland is also mission territory, as the daily life of Sr. Selestina Gavric shows.
Nominally, most Icelanders belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. There are only around 14,000 Catholics in Iceland, a country with only one diocese – Reykjavik – and eight parishes. Some of these parishes are very distant from each other. None of this bothers Sister Selestina Gavric, who knows first-hand how difficult it is to be a missionary in such a place, with its long snowy winters. Sometimes going in search of a Catholic is like a real-life treasure hunt.
The Croatian sister is one of four Carmelites of the Divine Heart of Jesus currently living in Iceland, in a parish that stretches over 180 square miles. Without the car that she received from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), life would be much more difficult, and it would be impossible to meet the faithful face to face. Not that it is easy, even with the car.
Sister Selestina is very practical and is unfazed by the possibility of driving for hours by herself in this car. With it she can reach the most distant point of the parish, almost on the other side of the country, which means that Catholics can often get a surprise visit from the feisty Carmelite, even if only to know how they are doing.
“I have seen so many Catholics fall away from the Church due to lack of personal contact. We must go out to meet them,” the sister says. “We have one family here, another there. When I don’t see people in church, but I know that they have a seven-year-old child, for example, I go knocking on their door. ‘You have a child that is this old, and you are Catholic. Your child has the right to get to know their faith better. We have a catechism for children. Are you interested?’”
Iceland is not exactly a small country, but it is sparsely populated, with only around 372,000 inhabitants, around four people per 0.3 square miles. However, most Icelanders live in Reykjavik, which leaves large expanses of the country completely uninhabited.
It takes a special character to go knocking on people’s doors to convince them to let their children attend Sunday school, but that doesn’t bother this Carmelite. Her boldness and courage come from the bottom of her soul, powered by faith. And if visiting people physically is not possible, there is always the internet – anything is better than neglecting the children’s spiritual formation.
Willing to boldly go where no nun has gone before
Sister Selestina came to Iceland because she was asked. But she says she would go further if the Church requested it. “They asked me to come to Iceland. It was really a big surprise. But when we make our vows, we belong to the congregation and to everything it does and says. If they built a convent on Mars, we’d willingly go there to live and work.”
“We are Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. Our congregation was founded by Blessed Mary Theresa of Saint Joseph, who converted from the Lutheran Church. There are four of us in Iceland, and I have been here for 20 years,” the Croatian religious adds, thanking ACN for giving her the opportunity to carry out this mission. “Thank you, ACN, for supporting the Church in Iceland. And God bless you. Without you we would not be able to continue this work.”
The car donated to the Carmelite Sisters is part of a vehicle assistance program that ACN has been carrying out for some years now.