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At the center of the storm was a striking stone structure, Italianate in style, dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul. Villagers built the church about a century ago after the original wooden one, then dedicated to Sts. Cosmas and Damian, burnt. The present church dominates the village, serving as its focal point and principal tourist attraction.

“The church is very much the center of the community here,” said Father Saraka. “It helps older people keep their traditions and younger people to understand them better.

“But we have a problem with people observing religion as they would a tradition. Traditions are not the purpose of faith: they should help people with their faith.

“When young people leave,” the priest said, “they often lose their faith as they lose their traditions. I want to help them realize the beauty of life lived in accord with Jesus.”

Jakubany has a rich cultural heritage, including distinctive folklore, music, dance and dress. Villagers developed traditions in relation to their deep, historical relationship with the forests, pastures and mountains that surround the community.

“People here were woodlanders, living in forest chalets and gathering mushrooms,” said Michal Kundl’a, the village historian. Mr. Kundl’a has studied Jakubany’s history since his college years. He also established a folklore society, which he ran for 27 years.

When Father Saraka first came to the village, however, the folklore society no longer held meetings. Sensing something was missing, Father Saraka encouraged Mr. Kundl’a and others to revive the group.

“Everyone still knew the songs, but they weren’t doing anything with them. I asked about the folklore group and lit a small fire, but it was the people here who took it and made something big of it,” recalled the priest.

Active again, the folklore society now organizes seasonal events and takes part in regional festivals and competitions. For religious celebrations, many villagers wear hand–stitched costumes and perform time-honored dances. But these traditions are not limited to special occasions. Most older women still wear traditional dress to church.

Father Saraka also encouraged Mr. Kundl’a to write a book on the village’s history and its traditions. Taking the priest’s advice, Mr. Kundl’a wrote the book, which was published in 2004. An instant sensation locally, it sold out in two weeks. Currently in its second printing, it is now being translated into English.

In 2005, a group of Americans whose parents or grandparents emigrated from Jakubany visited the village. Everyone in the village got caught up in the excitement.

“They prepared some special presentations for the visitors,” said Father Saraka. “When they saw how well that went, people really got involved.” The priest himself exhibited some of the 9,000 photographs he has taken documenting village life.

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