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Pope Benedict hails WW2-era Croatian cardinal

Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, who was the cardinal of Croatia during the Second World War, has been criticized for supposed good relations with Nazi occupiers.

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During his June 5 visit to Croatia, Pope Benedict XVI travelled to Zagreb's Cathedral, which is dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to St. Stephen I of Hungary, and where he celebrated vespers with the bishops, priests, religious, and seminarians of the largely Roman Catholic country. 

  "This evening", the Holy Father said in his address, "we gather for a devoted and prayerful remembrance of Blessed Aloysius Viktor Stepinac, 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. The merits of this unforgettable bishop are derived essentially from his faith: in his life, he always had his gaze fixed on Jesus, to whom he was always conformed, to the point of becoming a living image of Christ, and of Christ suffering. 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". 

  "Blessed Aloysius Viktor Stepinac responded with his priesthood, with the episcopate, with the sacrifice of his life: a unique 'yes' united to that of Christ. His martyrdom signals the culmination of the violence perpetrated against the Church during the terrible period of communist persecution. Croatian Catholics, and in particular the clergy, were objects of oppression and systematic abuse, aimed at destroying the Catholic Church, beginning with its highest Authority in this place. That particularly difficult period was characterized by a generation of bishops, priests, and religious who were ready to die rather than to betray Christ, the Church and the Pope. The people saw that the priests never lost faith, hope, and charity, and thus they remained always united. This unity explains what is humanly inexplicable: that such a hardened regime could not make the Church bow down". 

  Benedict XVI asserted that "today too, the Church in Croatia is called to be united, to meet the challenges of a changed social context, identifying with missionary fervor new ways of evangelization, especially in the service of younger generations". In this sense he referred to the importance "above all for bishops priests to strive for reconciliation among separated Christians and between Christians and Muslims, following the footsteps of Christ who is our peace. Regarding your priests, do not neglect to offer them clear spiritual, doctrinal and pastoral directions. While the Christian community admits legitimate diversity within itself, it cannot render faithful witness to the Lord except in the communion of its members. This requires of you the service of vigilance, offered in dialogue and with great love, but also with clarity and firmness". 

  While recalling that Blessed Stepinac had said that "one of the greatest evils of our time is mediocrity in the questions of faith", the Pope noted that "the Church's moral teaching, often misunderstood today, cannot be detached from the Gospel. It falls particularly to the bishops to propose it authoritatively to the faithful, in order to assist them in evaluating their personal responsibilities and in harmonizing their moral choices with the demands of the faith". 

  The Holy Father urged the priests not to lose heart in spite of the scarcity of vocations and to "remain vigilant in prayer and in your spiritual lives, in order to perform your ministry fruitfully: to teach, to sanctify and to guide all those who are entrusted to your care. Welcome with magnanimity those who knock at the door of your heart ... Persevere in communion with your bishops and in mutual cooperation. Nourish your commitment at the life-giving waters of Scripture, the Sacraments, the constant praise of God, always open and docile to the actions of the Holy Spirit. You will thus be effective workers in the new evangelization, which you are called to realize together with the laity, in a coordinated way and without confusing what pertains to ordained ministry with what belongs to the universal priesthood of all the baptized. Keep close to your hearts the promotion of vocations to the priesthood". 

  He assured the consecrated men and women in attendance that "the Church expects much" of them. "May God himself", he said, "be your only treasure. Let yourselves be formed by him, thus making visible to the men and women of today a thirst for true values: the holiness, truth, and love of our heavenly Father". 

  Finally, he asked young people preparing for the priesthood or the consecrated life, that their "hearts always be ready. May the heroic testimony of Blessed Aloysius Viktor Stepinac inspire a renewal of vocations among the young people of Croatia ".   At the end of the celebration, Benedict XVI prayed at the tomb of Blessed Stepinac.

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