A parish in Croatia has opened what is thought to be the world's first "prayer café" for young people, where food and drink can be purchased not with money but with prayers popular with Roman Catholics, such as the Our Father (Lord's Prayer) and the Hail Mary - writes Jonathan Luxmoore.
"It started as a bit of a joke; a lot of kids used to head for neighbouring cafes after Mass here, and we wanted to persuade them to hang out at the church instead," explained the Rev Damir Stojic, a youth chaplain with Croatia's Salesian order. "When we laid on everything free, the youngsters would come to me, saying 'Father, how do we pay for this?' I used to say, 'Don't worry, just say a prayer.' Eventually, one of our student helpers went and printed up a menu."
The Jedno (Sail) cafe opened recently in a parish hall adjoining the Holy Spirit Church on Zagreb's Jarun Street, and it attracts many of the hundreds of students and young people who attend the regular Sunday youth service at the church.
Stojic told Ecumenical News International that the church had avoided costs by encouraging parents to donate food and drink for the café.
"Our order's founder, St John Bosco, said we have to like what young people like. Since most of our kids still go to church and this is a coffee culture, it's the obvious thing to do," said the 34-year-old priest, who studied at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC after he was ordained in 2002.
Explaining the offering of refreshments after a church service, Stojic said, "The Acts of the Apostles [in the Bible] tell us the disciples used to come together for agape, a shared meal, after the Eucharist."
Prices at "Jedno" vary from three "Our Fathers" for a standard coffee, to five "Hail Marys" and a "Glory Be" for a more expensive Coca-Cola, while a cappuccino ranks mid-way at four renditions of the Lord's Prayer. Other prayerful items on offer include fruit drinks, teas, hot chocolate and a range of tasty cakes, although student organiser Josip Kosutic said alcohol is off-limits.
"Older parishioners and other locals are getting interested too," Kosutic told Croatia's Catholic information agency, IKA. "When you get something for free, it can be harder to appreciate it. That's why we thought up this original price list."
About 88 percent of the 4.4 million inhabitants of Croatia, which is negotiating membership of the European Union and NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), belong to the Catholic Church.
"Of course, some students still prefer other cafes but those who come here have a comfortable space where they can feel at home without worrying about how to pay," said Stojic. "But don't get the wrong idea," he added, "The prayer tariffs are only symbolic; we don't hold anyone to them."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]