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MERRILLVILLE — The Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine of Serbia received a warm welcome on their first visit to St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church.

The royal couple, upon arrival on Friday, were greeted at the front of the church by a traditional offering of homemade Serbian bread, pogacha, served with a side of salt.

The Very Rev. Marko Matic, assisted by his son, Vaso Matic, dressed in the Serbian national costume, led the royal couple inside to further welcome them with prayers and a special greeting.

“Welcome to our church. It’s a privilege and honor to welcome you,” Matic said.

Matic told them the present St. Sava church building was completed in 1991 with parishioners modeling it after the church built by the royal family in Oplenac, Serbia.

“This is a copy of the church built by the royal family. We wanted to build the church of our dreams,” Matic said.

Following the brief church service, the couple were led into a conference room where parishioner Donald Pujo gifted them with two bottles of wine from the church’s 100-year commemoration.

“This is in honor of your visit,” Pujo told them.

The crown prince, who in turn gifted a portrait of himself and his wife to the church, said the visit to St. Sava has special significance for them both.

“It’s important to see our community in this country which is made up of many immigrants. We are grateful for their help. They have helped people back in Serbia. This is a great parish here,” the crown prince said.

Executive board President Donna Pejnovic said St. Sava was contacted for the visit by the royals from a Chicago representative of Lifeline Humanitarian Organization, of which the crown princess is the founder.

Churches in the United States such as St. Sava have adopted orphanages in communities in Serbia and send money to pay for such essentials as shoes, socks and sweatpants, Pejnovic said.

“The importance of their coming here today is to bring awareness of the royal couple’s medical relief and humanitarian aid in Serbia,” Pejnovic said.

The Crown Princess said the couple’s humanitarian efforts for orphans from Serbia include providing a scholarship to a boy or girl each year to attend Culver Military School, the Indiana alma mater of her husband.

In addition, the couple each year hosts both Easter and Christmas parties for some 1,200 youngsters at their palace in Belgrade, Serbia.

The couple said the United States, of which both have lived in at various times in their lives, is very important to their efforts to help those in need in Serbia.

“This country is a very special country,” the Crown Prince said.

His wife said helping the orphans in Serbia has been very rewarding to her personally and her work with Lifeline she called: “an answer to a prayer to save lives.”

In addition to helping orphans, Lifeline’s efforts also extend to assisting the medical needs of both the elderly and newborn babies.

“It’s such a privilege to see the difference it’s made. We live in a world where there is money for war but not for peace,” the Crown Princess said.

She credited her husband with bringing democracy back to their country and not being elite royalty in any way.

“We both wear our crowns in our hearts,” she said.

Prior to traveling to Merrillville, the royal couple also stopped in Hammond to visit the JJS Recycling Factory at 625 Conkey St.

Factory owner Misko Obradovic is a friend of the couple and invited them to tour his facility.

For more information on the couple’s humanitarian efforts, go to: www.lifelinechicago.org.

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