Over the weekend, Pope Benedict XVI made his 19th international trip of his pontificate, visiting Croatia for that country’s first National Day for Catholic Families.
In a conversation with journalists on the plane to Croatia on June 4, Pope Benedict backed the country’s application for membership in the European Union, which is expected to be accepted later this year. The Pontiff acknowledged concerns about threats to the country’s autonomy and about the prevailing secularism of much of Europe, but also expressed hope that Croatia – a country that is 89% Catholic – would be a positive influence in the 27-member EU:
One can understand there is perhaps a fear of an overly strong centralized bureaucracy and a rationalistic culture that doesn’t sufficiently take into account the history—the richness of history and the richness of the diverse history that Croatia offers.… It seems to me that this aspect could be the very mission of this nation that joins now: to renew a unity within diversity.
Later that day, the Pope delivered an address on the subject of the conscience to leaders from various sectors of Croatia society, including politics, culture, and business:
The quality of social and civil life and the quality of democracy depend in large measure on this “critical” point – conscience, on the way it is understood and the way it is informed. If, in keeping with the prevailing modern idea, conscience is reduced to the subjective field to which religion and morality have been banished, then the crisis of the West has no remedy and Europe is destined to collapse in on itself. If, on the other hand, conscience is rediscovered as the place in which to listen to truth and good, the place of responsibility before God and before fellow human beings – in other words, the bulwark against all forms of tyranny – then there is hope for the future. (Full text)
In one of the apostolic visit’s most highly-anticipated events, Pope Benedict and some 50,000 young people attended a prayer vigil on Saturday evening at Zagreb’s Ban Josip Jalacic Square. “Jesus speaks to you today, through the Gospel and his Holy Spirit,” the Pope said to the youth in attendance:
He is your contemporary! He seeks you even before you seek him! While fully respecting your freedom, he approaches each one of you and offers himself as the authentic and decisive response to the longing deep within your hearts, to your desire for a life worth living. Let him take you by the hand! Let him become more and more your friend and companion along life’s journey. Put your trust in him and he will never disappoint you! Jesus enables you to know at first hand the love of God the Father; he helps you realize that your happiness comes from his friendship, from fellowship with him. Why? Because we have been created and saved by love, and it is only in love, the love which desires and seeks the good of others, that we truly experience the meaning of life and find happiness in living it, even amid difficulties, trials and disappointments, even when it means swimming against the tide. (Full text)
The next day, the Pope celebrated Sunday Mass at the Zagreb Hippodrome, on the first National Day of Croatian Catholic Families. In his homily, Benedict focused on the family’s critical role in a society that often seems openly hostile to the Christian life:
In today’s society the presence of exemplary Christian families is more necessary and urgent than ever. Unfortunately, we are forced to acknowledge the spread of a secularization which leads to the exclusion of God from life and the increasing disintegration of the family, especially in Europe. Freedom without commitment to the truth is made into an absolute, and individual well-being through the consumption of material goods and transient experiences is cultivated as an ideal, obscuring the quality of interpersonal relations and deeper human values; love is reduced to sentimental emotion and to the gratification of instinctive impulses, without a commitment to build lasting bonds of reciprocal belonging and without openness to life. We are called to oppose such a mentality! … Dear families, be courageous! Do not give in to that secularized mentality which proposes living together as a preparation, or even a substitute for marriage! Show by the witness of your lives that it is possible, like Christ, to love without reserve, and do not be afraid to make a commitment to another person! Dear families, rejoice in fatherhood and motherhood! Openness to life is a sign of openness to the future, confidence in the future, just as respect for the natural moral law frees people, rather than demeaning them! The good of the family is also the good of the Church. (Full text)
Later on Sunday, Pope Benedict presided at a vespers service with Croatian bishops, priests, seminarians, and religious at the tomb of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, a Croatian cardinal who was persecuted by both the Nazi and Communist regimes, and who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1998. The Holy Father described Blessed Cardinal Stepinac as
a fearless pastor and an example of apostolic zeal and Christian fortitude, whose heroic life continues today to illuminate the faithful of the dioceses of Croatia, sustaining the faith and life of the Church in this land. … Precisely because of his strong Christian conscience, he knew how to resist every form of totalitarianism, becoming, in a time of Nazi and Fascist dictatorship, a defender of the Jews, the Orthodox and of all the persecuted, and then, in the age of communism, an advocate for his own faithful, especially for the many persecuted and murdered priests. Yes, he became an advocate for God on this earth, since he tenaciously defended the truth and man’s right to live with God. (Full text)
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!