Papal Vespers with Clergy and Religious - "Be effective workers in the new evangelization"
Wrapping the bell tower of the Cathedral dedicated to Our Lady and St Stefan of Hungary
like a birthday present, is a huge yellow and white cloth proclaiming “Benedictus
qui venit!” It’s not enough to hide the crumbling sandstone beneath the scaffolding
put up to restore the centuries-old shrine, built and re-built countless times after
earthquakes, fires and war. Thousands of flag waving faithful filled the square before
the Cathedral, in the shadow of the golden statue of Our Lady and a mega video screen
to follow the Vespers from outside.
The Pope probably felt he was passing through
a time warp when he walked into the richly ornate Baroque and neo Gothic interior.
He had just come from lunch and a visit to the spanking new, ultra-modern glass, steel
and marble headquarters of Croatia’s Bishops’ Conference where he placed a commemorative
plaque of his visit.
Inside awaiting him were some 1000 Cardinals, Bishops,
men and women religious, seminarians and lay people.
In welcoming the Holy
Father to the Cathedral, Cardinal Josip Bozanic of Zagreb recalled the Pope’s presence
here as Cardinal in 2001 for a commemorative liturgy for his predecessor at the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Franjo Seper, who is buried here. He also
congratulated the Pope on the sixtieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood
which he celebrates this year.
After a moving liturgy in Croatian and Latin
with uplifting hymns sung by the choir, Pope Benedict turned to the figure of Blessed
Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac of Zagreb, a name we’ve heard pronounced many times on
this brief trip. Calling him “a fearless pastor,” in those tumultuous war years of
the 20th century, the Pope said Blessed Stepinac’s “heroic life continues
today to illuminate the faithful” of Croatia.
“His martyrdom signals the culmination
of the violence perpetrated against the Church during the terrible period of communist
persecution,” the Pope said, explaining to an audience that knew the story only too
well, that “Croatian Catholics and in particular the Clergy, were objects of oppression
and systematic abuse aimed at destroying the Catholic Church,” beginning, he noted,
with the Cardinal himself – the Church’s highest authority here.
remembered that this “particularly difficult period” was full of bishops, priests
and religious willing to give up their lives rather than betray their faith, their
Church and the Pope. Amid all their trials, they remained united and never lost sight
of the Christian values of faith, hope and charity. “This unity,” he reflected, “explains
what is humanly inexplicable: that such a hardened regime could not make the Church
The Holy Father called on the Church in Croatia to be united to
face the social and other challenges confronting the country. Speaking to bishops,
he urged them to seek “ fruitful cooperation” with each other in communion with the
See of Peter to meet the difficulties of our age.
He invited bishops and priests
to strive for reconciliation with other Christian churches, and between Christians
and Muslims. In the words of Cardinal Stepinac, he decried “mediocrity in questions
of faith” as one of the “greatest evils of our time.” “Let us not deceive ourselves,”
the Blessed said, “Either we are Catholic or we are not. If we are, this must be
seen in every area of our life.”
And that was the Pope’s challenge to those
present Sunday evening. To priests, he said “persevere in communion with your bishops
and in mutual cooperation… be open and docile to the actions of the Holy Spirit” in
order to be “effective workers in the new evangelization” they are called to realize
with the laity.
To consecrated men and women, he said the Church “expects”
much of them and prayed that the heroic testimony of Blessed Stepinac will inspire
a renewal of vocations among young people.
And before moving to the rear of
the altar to pray at the tomb of this great Blessed, Pope Benedict offered another
reflection on conscience – the main theme of his address to Croatia’s political, intellectual
and cultural elite at the National Theater Saturday.
“Beloved Church of Croatia!”
he challenged, “with courage and humility take up the task of being the moral conscience
of society!” Be like your Blessed Aloysius Stepinac. Though the challenges of today’s
world are so different from those of the last century, more insidious and less obvious,
that’s a daunting task. But seeing the enthusiasm with which people here have welcomed
the Pope’s message, I’d say they’re not in the least put off by the test.
Pope Benedict in the Croatian capital, I’m Tracey McClure