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Preview: Pope Benedict’s apostolic journey to Croatia

Catholic World News - June 03, 2011

On June 4, Pope Benedict will begin a two-day journey to Croatia, his nineteenth apostolic journey outside Italy. Blessed John Paul visited the nation three times following its 1991 independence.

According to Vatican statistics, the nation of 4.5 million is 89% Catholic. Some 2,315 priests minister in 1,571 parishes, and there are 3,624 sisters and 433 seminarians.

Despite the heavily Catholic population, the Church faces challenges, the Croatian-born Archbishop Nikolas Eterovic, who heads the office of the Synod of Bishops, told Vatican Radio. Only 20-30% of the Catholics attend Sunday Mass regularly, he said, and that figure is lower in the cities. Divorce is becoming more common, and the influence of secularism is growing.

Following a 90-minute flight, Pope Benedict will speak at a welcoming ceremony in Zagreb, the nation’s capital and a city of 685,000. After separate meetings with President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, the Pope will spend most of the afternoon at the apostolic nunciature before addressing political, academic, economic, and cultural leaders at the historic Croatian National Theatre. At 7:30 in the evening, Pope Benedict will address an estimated 40,000 young people taking part in a prayer vigil.

On June 5, the Pontiff will offer Sunday Mass at the Zagreb Hippodrome on the occasion of the National Day of Croatian Catholic Families; the proper prayers of the Mass, as well as the offertory, preface, and Eucharistic Prayer, will be said in Latin. At the conclusion of the Mass, he will deliver his Regina Caeli address.

After meeting with the nation’s bishops, Pope Benedict will preside at Vespers in Zagreb’s neo-Gothic cathedral. The Pope will then pray at the tomb of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac (1898-1960), described by Blessed John Paul in 1998 as “one of the outstanding figures of the Catholic Church”:

The Cardinal Archbishop of Zagreb, one of the outstanding figures of the Catholic Church, having endured in his own body and his own spirit the atrocities of the Communist system, is now entrusted to the memory of his fellow countrymen with the radiant badge of martyrdom.

Following a private meeting with Cardinal Josip Bozanic, the 62-year-old Archbishop of Zagreb, Pope Benedict will deliver a farewell address at Zagreb’s airport. He is scheduled to arrive back in Rome at 9:15, less than 36 hours after his journey began.

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