Editor's note: The author of this article is currently serving as a missionary in the Adriatic North Mission.
A 400-year-old Catholic church in the heart of Ljubljana, Slovenia, served as a historic backdrop to a unique missionary and service opportunity.
As melodius, soul-filled strains echoed through the church, an audience made up of a mix of Slovenian residents, including members of the LDS Church who live in the area, listened intently.
When the music ended, American pianist and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Paul Cardall received a standing ovation and calls for an encore as his wife, Tina Cardall, a Slovenian-American, joined him onstage for the final bows.
The concert at St. James Church served as a launching point for Paul Cardall's 10-day tour of the Adriatic North Mission in September 2015, which started out as an community outreach program and evolved into an opportunity to raise awareness of congenital heart disease, of which Cardall is a survivor.
“What began as an effort to build bridges became a much bigger opportunity to give hope and optimism to the people given my own battle with congenital heart disease," said Cardall, who is also an executive board member of the Saving Tiny Hearts Society, which focuses on medical research. "In fact, the tour would happen during my six-year anniversary of receiving a donor heart Sept. 9, 2009.”
The opportunity presented itself when the Cardalls alerted President David J. Grant of the Adriatic North Mission that they planned to travel to Slovenia to work on Tina Cardall’s family history. President Grant recognized the visit as an opportunity to connect with community and further spread the name of the LDS Church in the area, so President Grant volunteered to host the Cardalls and support concert appearances in Slovenia and Croatia.
Organizers from the mission felt that Paul Cardall's medical experiences exemplified one of the challenges facing Slovenia, where efforts are being made to improve medical science and care for residents who have congenital heart disease. The hope was that Cardall’s concerts would raise awareness by partnering with multiple organizations in Slovenia and Croatia involved with the care of heart disease.
In just three months, a team had organized three concerts, the first of which partnered with the Slovenian Heart Foundation and St. James Church.
Opening for Cardall at St. James Church was the KPZ Mysterium Kranj chamber choir conducted by Urška Štampe, who received her postgraduate training at the University of Utah. Štampe and her husband are members of the Kranj Branch in the Ljubljana Slovenia District.
Štampe helped organize the concert, including suggesting the concert be at St. James Church, where Father Jože Kokalj is the parish priest. When President Grant heard the idea, he said, “Let’s do it. I’ll even invite Father Joze to lunch,” which he did.
Štampe's choir, Father Jože, the Cardalls, LDS Church members and the Slovenian Heart Foundation all donated resources for the concert, as did Slovenian tenor Oto Pestner, who also opened for Cardall.
Petra Aleš, who has an 8-year-old daughter with CHD, was one of the members of the Slovenian Heart Foundation who worked with the team from the Adriatic North Mission. Aleš, along with director Franc Zalar and CEO Dr. Matija Cevc of the Slovenian Heart Foundation, developed a friendship with missionaries while planning Cardall's visit.
“No matter how many words and explanations I write, I will never be able to tell you how grateful I am that God brought ... your church and Paul Cardall to Slovenia to my life," Aleš wrote in an email after the concert. "We made a miracle happen last night with practically zero resources.”
Retaining the theme of raising awareness of CHD, the team from the mission took Cardall to Croatia. The artist appeared in Zadar, Croatia, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea in the University Concert Hall as guest of the city. Proceeds from the ticket sales went to the Department of Cardiology at General Hospital in Zadar.
In Zagreb, Croatia, Cardall visited with pediatric cardiologists and patients at the University Hospital Centre. There, he shared his own story and offered insight, including a reminder for parents of children with congenital heart disease to never doubt that their presence at their child’s bedside is irreplaceable.
Before Cardall left Zagreb, Veliko srce Malom srcu — an organization whose name is Croatian for “big heart little heart” — partnered with the Adriatic North Mission for his final concert of the tour on Sept. 12 at the historic Croatian Music Institute. During the concert, he performed many of his own compositions and hymns from his newest CD, “40 Hymns for Forty Days.”
Opening for Cardall was Croatian vocalist Ivana Husar and 11-year-old pianist Maja Tomaić, who was born with congenital heart disease. Husar and Cardall combined their talents to perform “Worth of Souls.” The evening and the tour concluded with Cardall, the opening acts, and children with congenital heart disease and their parents all taking a final bow onstage amid tears and applause.
“Brother Cardall’s visit blessed both church members as well as the countries of Slovenia and Croatia," President Grant reflected. "The LDS church, as an emerging faith in this area, was given an opportunity to showcase one of our great musicians while standing with families working to improve care of vulnerable children.”
Cardall is scheduled to return to Slovenia in May to participate in a concert celebrating the Slovenian Heart Foundation's 25th anniversary, which will be hosted by the foundation in partnership with the LDS Church in the area.
Linda Turley-Hansen currently serves as a missionary in the Adriatic North Mission with her husband.