My Examiner columns have covered a lot of different ethnic groups in Chicago lately: Latin American Catholics, Black Catholics, Polish Catholics, Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics, Slovak Catholics, Filipino Catholics, and so on. One ethnic origin that perhaps doesn't get much mention is Croatians. Croats are overwhelmingly Catholic (nearly 90% within Croatia itself!), and there are numerous prominent Americans of Croatian ancestry, including John Malkovich, Mark Begich, Dennis Kucinich, George Radanovich, John Kasich, Mary Matalin, Roger Maris, Jenna Elfman, Ron Kovic, Kevin McHale, and John Havlicek. It's perhaps time to give some coverage to them as well, so let's start by talking about Tajci.
Who is Tajci? The name may be little known to the average American, but she's practically a household name in her native Croatia.
Tajci Cameron was born Tatjana Matejas in Zagreb, Croatia, and grew up under one party Communist rule in Yugoslavia. She was raised in -- and believed in -- the tenants of both Communism and Atheism. She began pursuing a career in pop music as a teenager, and experienced fame at a young age in her homeland. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she won the national selection of RTV Zagreb, SR Croatia, and represented Yugoslavia at the Eurovision Song Contest 1990. She soon began a recording career. Before she was 21, Tajci had recorded albums that achieved Platinum and Diamond sales. Croatia started experiencing Tajci mania. There was a Tajci doll, newborns were named after her, and central European magazines and tabloids filled their pages with Tajci stories and photos.
Despite being a fervent atheist, Tajci always had qualms about atheism in the back of her head. She now says that although she was "happy not believing in God", she nevertheless "always had a doubt that there might be a God." Tajci also felt emptiness in her life despite her quick rise to fame and fortune in Croatia. She left her homeland and began traveling abroad in 1992, eventually coming to the United States to seek television and recording work in the Los Angeles area. While staying at a retreat house run by the Carmelite Sisters in Los Angeles, Tajci was introduced to her future husband, devout Roman Catholic Matthew Cameron, and also discovered the Catholic faith.
Tajci became extremely moved and touched by religious music, and found a new calling in life. She eventually met members of a Catholic faith community in Croatia and became fascinated by Catholic teachings and theology. "The story of the Passion really moved me," Tajci says. The singer adds that she started asking herself questions about what she truly believed. She converted to Catholicism, married Matthew in 2000, and the young newlyweds set out to perform liturgical music in a donated mini-van.
They have since crisscrossed the United States a dozen times in the last dozen years — playing concerts in hundreds of churches, writing and producing numerous spiritual albums, and now have three children— Dante, Evan and Blais. During her shows, Tajci's sister Sanya also sings various hymns, as well as her husband and three children. She also remains a popular figure in central Europe, performing for 35,000 people at a concert in Bosnia during the summer of 2006, and at a renowned Christmas Gala concert in Croatia in December 2011. Today, the list of churches requesting Tajci's appearance has grown to nearly a thousand. She sings in nine different languages, and thus gets requests from not just the United States and central Europe, but also from the Philippines, Latin America, western Europe, and Africa. Tajci also continues to record the occasional pop song, and performs secular music for various engagements. (She has recently begun working on a non-spiritual album of Croatian songs.)
Currently, Tajci is in the middle of a Lenten tour called "I Thirst - The Crucifixion Story" The show, billed as a "concert experience," tells the story of Jesus' crucifixion by mixing spiritual tunes and spoken narrative in an emotional and poignant way. She notes: "Singing is my passion. It's something I use as a form of communicating," Tajci also adds that she will be telling audiences about her own spiritual journey during the show: "I always refer to my life and spiritual experiences. It's inseparable for me". She is coming to the Chicago area this week to perform in person. Tajci performs on 7 p.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Croatian Catholic Church in Chicago, and on 2 p.m. Sunday at St. John the Baptist Church in Whiting, IN. The best news about both shows? They are being offered absolutely free of charge to the public and no fee will be requested, although voluntary donations are accepted. Here's a brief synopsis of where and when to see both shows:
"I Thirst - The Crucifixion Story"
Saturday, March 23, 2013, 7 p.m.
Sacred Heart Croatian Catholic Church
2864 E. 96th St. Chicago, IL
Sunday March 24, 2013, 2 p.m.
St. John the Baptist Church
1849 Lincoln Ave., Whiting, IN
Approx 90 min. No intermission.
Sacred Heart Croatian Catholic Parish will be hosting the concert as part of their 100th year celebration. The parish is located at the corners of 96th Street and Escanaba Avenues in Chicago. The parish office can be reached at 773-768-1423. The church services are in both Croatian and English.
For more information, you can visit Tajci's website at idobelieve.com, or contact Terry Shelley at the Isaac Hecker Center for Young Adult Ministry; phone: (708) 756-9752, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Still not sure if Tajci's concert is for you? Don't take my word for it, read comments from others who have already seen her shows in person. Fr. David Schalk of Christ the King Church in Columbus, Ohio had this to say: “Tatiana’s program was nothing less than exceptional. I have heard only positive feedback from parishioners who attended. They had a beautiful experience of faith that evening – perfect for the season of Lent.”