Cardinal William Joseph Levada celebrated Mass for the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Croatian Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac last Wednesday at the church of St. Girolamo in Rome. In his homily, Cardinal Levada spoke of the fortitude and heroism of the 20th century martyr.
According to an article in L'Osservatore Romano last week, Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, preached at the Mass on the importance of staying true to the essence of the Gospel which, while it may not be easy, "doesn't discourage," as evidenced in the life of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac.
Cardinal Levada said that although the martyr was never able to wear the insignias of the cardinal because he was in prison, "he lived what they stand for... sacrificing his own life for the truth and the unity of the Church in Croatia with the Successor of Peter."
He described the Croatian cardinal as a "hero, and something more" for his refusal to give in to the "farse" of a legal process that took his liberty but wasn't able to take his honor or dignity.
He was "a man who loved justice, detesting every falsehood" and was thus "persecuted, slandered (and) tested but didn't fold," declared Cardinal Levada.
Cardinal Stepinac, who was made Archbishop of Zagreb in 1937,was imprisoned in 1946 by the ruling communist regime for alleged collaboration with the fascist Ustasa regime during World War II.
After five years in a Yugoslav jail, he was given the option of seeking refuge in Rome or be confined to house arrest in his home parish of Krasic. He opted for the latter.
In 1953, Pope Pius XII made him a cardinal, although he was never allowed travel to the Holy See to be officially elevated.
He died in 1960 of a blood disorder, which was said to have been caused by the conditions he endured in jail.
After the fall communism in Yugoslavia, the original court decision of 1946 was overturned and Pope John Paul II beatified him as a martyr for the faith in 1998.
In his homily, Cardinal Levada proposed that, as is true for all Christians, the secret to the life of the martyr was in his capacity to change his perspective, choosing to concentrate on God rather than the "limited reasonings of man." This ability to confront life with true faith, preached the cardinal, doesn't come about overnight, but must be reached through a life of true faith.
Cardinal Levada offered the model of the martyr as particularly relevant in the Year for Priests, since the Croatian cardinal stayed close to his people when he could have escaped oppression.
"His presence, despite being a prisoner, was a sign of hope and truth for all," added the prefect of the CDF, noting that this can be observed in those pilgrims who continue to visit his burial place, to confess their sins and participate in the Mass.
The Mass celebrated by Cardinal Levada was held simultaneously with Masses presided over by Cardinal Vinko Puljic in Krasic--the site of Cardinal Stepinac's imprisonment and death-- and by Cardinal Josip Bozanic in the cathedral of Zagreb, where the beatified martyr's tomb lies.