Trained in Slovenian law, yet Rok Zlender felt something was missing.
For 27 years he grew up in a basically secular milieu, especially among his friends in his native Slovenia. But his faith was nourished in a Franciscan parish where he even served on the parish council.
At first, he explored the possibilities of joining the Franciscans but was not sure that was for him. At 25 26 he met a Vincentian and began to make connections with his middle name of Vincent. A Daughter of Charity was helpful in further introducing him to St. Vincent.
Now he had to look more closely at what seemed a mysterious call.
Haunted by the question “Is God calling me” he felt “I had to give it a try even if only for a week or a month.” He discovered he felt at home. When it came time for the period of formation called the internal seminary or novitiate he was asked to come to the US to join 5 others with diverse International backgrounds. The first few months were difficult with so many adjustments of language and culture, both secular and religious.
The group is currently at the halfway point of their program. At this juncture, they were sent “on mission” for five weeks to experience some form of Vincentian Apostolate. For Rok it was a bit shorter since he had to return briefly to his native country for visa purposes.
Our parish in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn provided him with an opportunity to experience things he had not dreamed of. For starters, Brooklyn with it 2.6 million residents is larger than the 2 million citizens in all of Slovenia. As he put it “Everything is on a much larger scale than I had known.”
As he came into contact with so many materially poor people he realized his image, and that of most visitors to America, was incomplete. He spent most of his time working in the Bread and Life Soup Kitchen associated with our parish. There he saw hunger in the faces of those for whom the mobile soup kitchen provided the only meal of the day.
Most importantly this experience reinforced in him the importance for a Vincentian of daily contact with those who live on the margins.
Living with other candidates from Ethiopia, Sri Lanka by way of Austria, Latin America and different parts of the United States has given him a greater appreciation of the internationality of the Congregation and different cultural approaches.
He hopes to be ordained in 2020 and looks forward to working in whatever apostolate his Provincial will see fit to assign him. His sense of the mystery of God’s call has been deepened and enriched by his understanding of Providence as taught by Vincent. Indeed, he is struck by a saying of Vincent he was taught, “If everything is going your way, something is wrong. Be afraid.”
The Eastern Province is blessed to have a man like Rok entrusted to our care.