“Gospel Progress in Slovenia,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 77–78
On a clear day, members of the Ljubljana Branch in the former Yugoslavian republic of Slovenia, located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeast Europe, can look west from their small building and see the nation’s tallest mountain, Mount Triglav. The mountain’s name means “Three Heads.” According to a local peasant saying, this ragged peak watches over the province with one head looking to the past, one to the present, and one to the future.
The folk belief about Mount Triglav mirrors the attitude of a growing group of Slovenian Saints, who now number more than 80 members organized into three branches. Slovenian members are proud of their heritage. They are thankful for their presently stable political and economic situation that has allowed the restored Church to be established among them, and they look forward with faith to the blessings the gospel of Jesus Christ will yet bring to their mountainous, forested homeland.
“The people here and throughout eastern Europe are spiritually hungry,” says Matjazh Juhart, Slovenia’s first returned Latter-day Saint missionary. Baptized in June 1992, Brother Juhart served in the Utah Salt Lake City Mission for two years and then returned to Ljubljana, where he now serves as branch mission leader. “I have found peace and happiness as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. When I tell my friends where this comes from, they are interested and want to know more.”
Although a missionary visited Slovenia as early as 1899 and in more recent years several Slovenian converts returned to their homeland after joining the Church while living or studying abroad, the restored gospel did not gain a secure foothold in Slovenia until 1975, when Neil D. Schaerrer, president of the Austria Vienna Mission, was able to establish the Church as a legal entity. He was assisted by former Brigham Young University basketball star Kresimir Cosic, a native of the former Yugoslavian republic of Croatia. The Yugoslavia Zagreb Mission was organized in July 1975 but was soon discontinued because of political difficulty. Yugoslavia was part of the Church’s international mission until July 1987, when it became part of the Austria Vienna Mission.
Most of Slovenia’s two million people are of Slavic descent and speak Slovenian as well as a second language, typically German, Italian, Serbo-Croatian, or English. The Slovenian language uses the Roman alphabet rather than the Cyrillic alphabet used by many other Slavic languages. Despite spending some 45 years under communist rule while their country was part of Yugoslavia, most Slovenians are staunch Roman Catholics. This fact, coupled with the people’s relatively high level of prosperity despite their recent turmoil, has made missionary work challenging—but progress is steady. Slovenia was not embroiled in the ethnic war that recently devastated other parts of the former Yugoslavia, so Church growth in Slovenia has been able to continue uninterrupted.
While attending school in Norway, Albin Lotric met missionaries and was converted to the gospel. He returned to Slovenia about three months later, and every Sunday for more than a year he drove from his home in Slovenia to attend Church meetings in Klagenfurth, Austria, a round-trip of about 100 miles. After Slovenia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the branch in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city, was organized with Brother Lotric as president. He continues serving as branch president today. Later, branches were organized in the towns of Celje in central Slovenia and Maribor in the northeast near the Austrian border. In 1992 Albin Lotric and Bozha Gartner became the first couple from independent Slovenia to marry in the temple.
“One of the challenges the Church faces in Slovenia is teaching members to govern in local areas,” President Lotric reports. “But we have quite a large percentage of young members, and this will be an advantage to the Church in the long run. When President Thomas S. Monson dedicated Yugoslavia in 1985, he especially blessed the youth, and we are seeing a fulfillment of that prayer.”
Another young Slovenian member setting an example for her friends is 19-year-old Katja Iglich, who until recently was the Church’s only young woman in Slovenia. Baptized on Christmas Day 1994, Katja now teaches Primary and serves as a district missionary. “I had prayed about the Church but didn’t know if I could keep all the commandments,” she says. “But then I felt the Spirit so strongly when I heard President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Area Presidency speak. I learned that if you know something is true, you should not doubt or wait. The Spirit and the other members and missionaries will help you.”
An indication of the growing strength of Slovenian members is the number who have gone through the temple for endowments and sealings. “I ask a blessing on all who seek the truth,” President Monson said in his dedication of Yugoslavia, “that each may find the truth, … that one day wards and stakes may grace this land” (Church News, 2 March 1986, 3). Though much remains to be done, significant progress has already been made in this region of the former Yugoslavia.