Pope Benedict XVI has given his backing to Croatia’s bid to join the European Union but says he understands a fear of an “overly strong centralized bureaucracy.”
“I think it is logical, just and necessary that it (Croatia) enters,” he told journalists on the plane from Rome to the Croatian capital Zagreb on June 4 to begin a two-day visit.
The Pope said he likes to refer to Croatia as “central Europe” rather than “the Balkans” because it reminds everybody that “Croatia is a nation at the heart of Europe, its history and its culture.” This is a point he reiterated upon his arrival to Zagreb Airport.
“From its earliest days, your nation has formed part of Europe, and has contributed, in its unique way, to the spiritual and moral values that for centuries have shaped the daily lives and the personal and national identity of Europe’s sons and daughters.”
Croatia declared independence from the rest of Yugoslavia in 1991. It applied to join the European Union in 2003 and is likely to join this year. The E.U. is a political and economic union now consisting of 27 states. Croatia’s entry hasn’t been without opposition though, with many Croats fearing a loss of independence while many others worry about an attack upon their Christian values. Croatia is 89 percent Catholic.
“One can understand there is perhaps a fear of an overly strong centralized bureaucracy and a rationalistic culture that doesn't sufficiently take into account the history - the richness of history and the richness of the diverse history that Croatia offers,” the Pope remarked aboard the plane.
But he also hoped that the entry of the Croatia into the E.U. would help reverse the tide of secularism washing across the continent.
“It seems to me that this aspect could be the very mission of this nation that joins now: to renew a unity within diversity. The European identity is an identity, precisely because of the richness of the different cultures which converge in the Christian faith and in the great Christian values,” a point Pope Benedict also emphasized upon touchdown in Croatia.
The Pope said that reinvigorating Europe’s Christian identity requires a “convinced witness and active dynamism aimed at promoting the fundamental moral values that underpin social living and the identity of the old continent.”
Pope Benedict was welcomed to the Zagreb airport by crowds waving Croat and Vatican flags. In his official welcoming address, the country’s president, Ivo Josipovic, told the Pope that “Your arrival comes at a happy time,” with Croatia celebrating the 12th anniversary of its independence.
The Pope is visiting the country to celebrate the Croatian Catholic Church’s annual family day, which will take place on June 5. Over 300,000 are expected to attend the Mass at a local Zagreb racetrack. The visit will last only two days and will conclude tomorrow.