Zagreb (Fides Service) – From 5-9 June Pope John Paul II will visit Croatia. This will be his 100th apostolic journey and the third to this Balkan nation. National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Croatia, Mgr Tomo Petic spoke to Fides Service about preparations for this important Papal Visit.
Why is the Pope making a third visit to Croatia?
The Pope is coming to visit the Church in Croatia for the third time after visits in 1994 and 1998. The main reason this time is the beatification of Sister Marija Petkovic during the Mass which the Holy Father will celebrate on 6 June at Dubrovnik. Marija Petkovic was born on 10 December 1892 at Blato, in the island of Korcula, in the diocese of Dubrovnik. While still a girl she devoted herself to helping the poor and later founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Mercy. She died a saintly death in Rome, 9 July 1966. Beside Dubrovnik, the Pope will visit four other towns Rijeka, Osijek, Dakovo and Zadar.
How are people preparing for the arrival of the Pope?
Our Church in Croatia and all the people of Croatia are very happy for this visit. Moreover it will be the 100th Papal Journey of this pontificate and so it is an important occasion. With this third visit the Pope wants to give another sign of his concern and care for our Church and our country, still a young nation.
What is different about this third visit by Pope John Paul II?
When the Holy Father came to Croatia for the first time in 1994 it was still the time of the terrible war and the Pope wished to reward our fidelity to the Church and to our Christian faith which we have kept for 13 centuries by showing us his gratitude. In those years his words of encouragement were very important for us. On the occasion of his second visit, in 1998, he went to the national Marian shrine Maria Districa near Zagreb and he beatified Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, who led the archdiocese of Zagreb in the terrible years of World War II. The Cardinal courageously defended human rights, trying to protect all those deprived of their rights by the war, Jews especially. Cardinal Stepinac saved the lives of many prisoners and deportees. In 1945 immediately after the war when the Communist regime wanted to separate us from the Church of Rome and start a national Church under state control, the Cardinal opposed this with all his strength and he paid for this resistance with his life. In 1946 he was sentenced to 16 years in prison and he died in prison in the parish where he was born, Krasic. He was a great example of fidelity to the Gospel and to the Church. During the decades under Communism he was for us the light from which the Church and the people drew the courage to resist.
With this third visit, besides beatifying Marija Petkovic, the Holy Father wishes also to sustain us in the difficulties we encounter as a Church at this time of transition. For fifty years we were excluded from the development of the universal Church from a point of view of theology and pastoral and this has left clear marks. As we strive to regain ground as quickly as possible, we often encounter setbacks because new structures can neither create new the spirit and new awareness which are lacking, nor can they compensate for what is lacking. Formation of the spirit and conscience takes the time necessary for growth and maturing, at times we are too impatient.
The local Church is preparing for the visit reflecting on the theme of the Family. Why was this theme chosen?
In preparation for the Papal Visit our Bishops addressed a letter to the faithful entitled “The Family – the way of the Church and the Nation”. In the letter the Bishops stress the importance of the family for the Church and for the state. It is the place where life is born from the biological point of view but also the place where the life of faith is born and grows. This is why the Bishops call on the people to reflect on the role of the family in the Church and in society and to work together to promote family values. It is in the family that the future forces of social and economic life are formed. So it is important to know which values are transmitted by families. Responsibility, seriousness, spirit of sacrifice, dedication, generosity, and lastly tolerance and respect for those who are different, are virtues which are learned first of all in the family. In this respect, the faith life of the family is of irreplaceable importance. Prayer, listening to the Word of God, taking part in Sunday Mass are the spiritual resources for the growth of a healthy faith life. The Bishops also express concern for the evils which threaten the family today, including economic difficulties in our country where unemployment is very high.
Lastly the Bishops indicate as models Croatia’s two new about to be Blesseds Marija Petkovic and Ivan Merz, a committed lay Catholic who lived 1896-1928 and whom the Holy Father will beatify when he visits Banja-Luka (Bosnia-Herzegovina). The new Blessed are the proof of what divine grace can achieve when a person puts himself totally at the disposal of the Lord. Following their example we must not be discouraged by present difficulties and situations of crisis. (MS) (Fides Service 20/5/2003 EM lines 64 Words: 949)
CROATIA – Info: from the Church’s book of statistics
Area 62,206 sq. km; Population 4.650.000; Catholics 3.745.000; ecclesiastical Circumscriptions 15; bishops 27; diocesan priests 1.449; religious priests 810; Brothers 98; Sisters 3.464; Catechists 1.512; major seminarians 385; charity and healthcare institutes: 120. (Fides Service 20/05/2003)