· : The Pope's press conference aboard the plane at the beginning of the trip ·
Holy Father, you have already been to Croatia several times and your predecessor made three trips to this country. Can we speak of a special relationship between the Holy See and Croatia? What are the reasons for this relationship and the most meaningful aspects of this trip?
Personally, I have been to Croatia twice. The first time for the funeral of Cardinal Seper, my predecessor at the Doctrine of the Faith, who was my great friend, also because he was the President of the Theological Commission, of which I was a member. So I came to know his goodness, his intelligence, his discernment, his joyfulness. And this gave me an idea of Croatia itself, because he was a great Croatian and a great European. And then again I was in Croatia at the invitation of his personal secretary, Capek, who was also a man of great joy and great goodness, for a symposium and a celebration in a Marian sanctuary. There I witnessed the people’s piety, which is similar to that in my own country, I must say. And I was very happy to see this incarnation of the faith: a faith lived with heart, where the supernatural becomes natural and the natural is illuminated by the supernatural. In these visits, I saw and experienced Croatia, with its millennia-old Catholic history, always very close to the Holy See and naturally with its prior history of the ancient Church. I also saw a very profound brotherhood in the faith, in the desire to serve God for the good of man, in Christian humanism. In this way, it seems to me, there is a natural connection in this true Catholicity, which is open to all and transforms the world or wants to transform the world according to the ideas of the Creator.
Holy Father, shortly Croatia may be united to the other 27 nations that make up the European Union. But recently a certain skepticism towards the European Union has been growing amongst the Croatian people. In such a situation, will you carry a message of encouragement to the Croatians, so that they look towards Europe not just as an economic prospect but also a cultural one with Christian values?
I think that the majority of Croatians essentially view this moment of joining the European Union with great joy, because they are a profoundly European people. Cardinals Seper, Kuharic and Bozanic have all always told me, “We are not Balkans, but Mitteleuropeans.” So it they are a people who are at the center of Europe, of its history and of its culture. I think in this way it is logical, right and necessary that they join. I also think that the prevalent sentiment is one of joy, of being historically and culturally where Croatia has always been. Naturally, one can also understand a certain skepticism when a people, not numerically large, enters into this Europe which is already made and constructed. One understands that perhaps there is a fear of a central bureaucracy which may be too heavy, or of a rationalistic culture which does not take history sufficiently into account, or the richness of that history and also of the richness of historical diversity. It seems to me that precisely this could be a mission of the people who enter now: to renew diversity in unity. European identity is precisely an identity of the richness of diverse cultures, which converge in the Christian faith, in the great Christian values. It seems to me that it is one of the missions of the Croatians who enter in now, to make this visible and efficient; to reinforce the historicity of our cultures and the diversity that is our richness, against a certain abstract rationalism. In this sense I encourage the Croatians: the process of entrance into Europe is a reciprocal process of giving and receiving. Croatia gives with its history, with its human and economic capacity, and naturally receives by broadening its horizon and living in this great commerce, which is not only economic but especially cultural and spiritual.
Many Croatians had hoped that the occasion of your visit would also bring with it the canonization of Blessed Cardinal Stepinac. What do you think is the importance of his figure today?
A: The Cardinal was a great pastor and a great Christian and so also a man of exemplary humanism. I would say that it was the destiny of Cardinal Stepinac that he had to live in two different dictatorships, that were however both anti-humanist. First, the Ustashe regime, which seemed to espouse the dream of autonomy and independence, but in reality the autonomy was a lie because it was used by Hitler for his own ends. Cardinal Stepinac understood this very well and defended true humanism against this regime, defending Serbs, Jews, Gypsies. Let us say that he gave strength to a true humanism, even suffering for it. Then there was the dictatorship which was the contrary of communism, where once again he fought for the faith, for the presence of God in the world, for true humanism that is dependent on the presence of God: only man is in the image of God and humanism flourishes. This was, let us say, his destiny: to fight in two different and contrasting fights and precisely in this decision for the truth against the spirit of the times, this true humanism that comes from Christian faith, there is a great example not just for Croatians, but for us all.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 18, 2019
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