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Pope affirms heroism of Cardinal Stepinac

June 06, 2011

During his weekend visit to Croatia, Pope Benedict XVI mounted a strong defense of the memory of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, the wartime Archbishop of Zagreb who has been the object of a bitter propaganda campaign.

Cardinal Stepinac was an implacable opponent—and ultimately a martyr--of the Communist regime. In one of many public campaigns against him, the government accused him of siding with the fascist Ustase government that ruled during World War I. Pope Benedict implicitly rejected that charge as he spoke of Cardinal Stepinac:

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.

The courageous witness of Cardinal Stepinac invigorated the clergy, the Pope said: “The people saw that the priests never lost faith, hope and charity, and thus they remained always united.” As a result, the campaign of persecution intensified: “Croatian Catholics, and in particular the clergy, were objects of oppression and systematic abuse, aimed at destroying the Catholic Church.”

While he died during that persecution, Cardinal Stepinac never flagged in his devotion to the faith, the Pope said. He cited the words of the Croatian martyr, who said that “one of the greatest evils of our time is mediocrity in the questions of faith.”


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