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Like the flame of a precious lamp

The insistent and prolonged applause in the Cathedral of Zagreb which concluded Benedict XVI’s homily in front of the tomb of Blessed Stepinac, perfectly captures the sense of the papal visit to Croatia. Here, President Josipovic’ – who, although he defines himself as a non-believer, wanted to be present at all of the events during the visit – and hundreds of thousands of people welcomed the Pope with affection and enthusiasm. It was a visit which, after those undertaken by John Paul II in Croatia (three times in less than 10 years), has revealed itself to be important not only for the small and proud nation, which considers itself Mitteleuropean, but for the entire continent.

This land which is profoundly united to Rome, has been ravaged by war and violence throughout the entire course of the twentieth century – and even more recently, where it has not seldom been rendered more ignoble by false religious justification – but also by dictatorships, of opposite kinds, which persecuted the Church. Well, in this context, the Pope strongly recalled that, “religion is not a separate area marked off from society,” and therefore should not be reduced to the private and subjective sphere. But immediately following this, Benedict XVI added that religions must always purify themselves: by listening to God and consequently knowing how to be a force of reconciliation and of peace.

In this way, history and truth returned more than once in the words of the Pope. In attention to a history, thirteen-centuries old, which has been inspired and enlivened by Christianity, thanks to institutions and realities present even today: in a dynamic that is, “a spiritual reality that takes on a cultural and therefore a social dimension,” and which can offer much to Croatian society in a European community, in anticipation of the upcoming, and much desired, political integration.

The contribution of the Church is most important, however, in the formation of conscience, which first takes place in the family – the true focus of the papal visit. Benedict XVI spoke on this topic to Croatian youth on Saturday’s vigil in Jelacic’ Square. An impressive sight for the warmth of greeting of the tens of thousands of young men and women and even more for the long silence during the Eucharistic Adoration, broken only by the songs of the swallows in the sky, which called to mind a similar gathering in Hyde Park, while darkness descended on London.

Once again the Pope knew how to find simple words which touch the heart. In recalling the typically youthful need to not settle for second best, and the search for joy and happiness that lives in every human heart. To go beyond and against the tide, even if it costs commitment and personal sacrifice: because “it is worth the effort”; to overcome the need for material acquisitions and look for the truth, like a “star high in the heavens.” Without fear of committing oneself to life. Even if this goes against contemporary mentality.

In fact it is precisely this dominant tendency – fruit of a secularization that “leads to the exclusion of God from life,” and which is by now especially diffuse in Europe – “freedom without commitment to the truth is made into an absolute.” With disastrous consequences for human life, which is threatened in many ways, and for the family, weakened also by a flood of substitute ways of living matrimony.

Faced with this, a real “cultural shift” is required; one that can come to bear upon the entire European continent. To keep lit the flame of that precious lamp that is the Christian faith.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 20, 2019

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