CROWN POINT | The NATO summit in Chicago this weekend proved to be the opportunity of a lifetime for those of Macedonian heritage in Northwest Indiana.
President Gjorge Ivanov, of the Republic of Macedonia, visited SS. Peter and Paul Macedonian Orthodox Church at 9700 Broadway. It took some kismet and a great deal of planning to make the historic event possible.
Ivanov is one of the world leaders from 60 nations attending the NATO summit Sunday and Monday at McCormick Place in Chicago. Because of intense security, church officials weren't certain whether the president would be able to visit the first Macedonian Orthodox church built on American soil, said Jasmina Bishop, church secretary and manager of the church’s banquet center.
"We didn't know for sure he was coming until last Friday because of security and the Secret Service," Bishop said. "I worked with the Secret Service to make the arrangements."
Northwest Indiana and local Illinois communities have the second largest Macedonian community in the United States, exceeded only by New Jersey, Bishop said.
“We are really honored to have him here,” she said.
Vladika Metodija, spiritual head of the American-Canadian Macedonian Orthodox Church, arrived at the church about a half-hour before Ivanov to prepare for a special religious service. He celebrated the service with the Rev. Tome Stamatov of SS. Peter and Paul.
Sustained applause greeted Ivanov as he stepped out of the car onto the red carpet. Children dressed in authentic Macedonian costumes flanked the sidewalk leading up to the church steps to welcome him.
In a centuries-old tradition, the president broke off a piece of bread, called Pogacha, dipped it in salt and ate it. The bread, baked in the shape of the Macedonian flag sunburst, was prepared by Spasa Jovanoska, of Crown Point, wife of church board President Tone Jovanoska.
"I made another one for him that is decorated," she said.
Following the religious service, Ivanov and Zoran Jolevski, the Macedonian ambassador to the U.S., spoke in Macedonian to several hundred people of multiple generations gathered in the banquet hall.
Valentina and Peter Vresoski, of Crown Point, brought their young children to see the president of their native country.
"They are learning Macedonian at home and at Sunday school here at church," Valentina said of Sara, 5, and Alexander, 2. "It's important to know about the traditions of their heritage."
Donna Tuntevich, of Chicago, said she made special arrangements to attend Saturday's event.
"I left Chicago early Friday morning to visit my mother, Daisy, here in Crown Point, because the entrances and exits to the expressway were going to be blocked," she said. "I'm not going back until Tuesday."
Andrew Kyres, president of the Crown Point City Council, represented Mayor David Uran at the event and thanked Ivanov for choosing to visit the church.
Another historical first occurred during the president's visit. Metodja and Ivanov signed an agreement to broadcast a weekly radio show simultaneously in Macedonia and the Midwest.
Margarita Kurtevska interviewed Ivanov for the radio program that will debut at 4 p.m. Sunday. It has been years since this type of radio programming has been available in Macedonia, she said.
The program of music and culture will air in Indiana and Illinois on WCFJ, AM 1470, and WSBC, AM 1240, each Sunday.