The Pope has hailed Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, the late Cardinal Archbishop of Zagreb in Croatia, as “a great pastor and a great Christian.” The Pope made his comments during an in-flight interview with journalists as he traveled to Croatia for a two-day visit.
Cardinal Stepinac was the leader of the Catholic Church in Croatia during the Second World War when the country briefly regained independence under a Nazi puppet regime, the Ustase.
After the war, the Nazis were replaced with the communists. An outspoken critic of the regime, Cardinal Stepinac was imprisoned following a show-trial in 1946 and later died under house arrest in 1952.
Pope Benedict described both regimes – Nazi and communist – as “anti-humanist.”
The Ustase regime, he said, “seemed to fulfill the dream of autonomy and independence, but in reality it was an autonomy that was a lie because it was exploited by Hitler for his own purposes.”
The Pope said that in the midst of this turmoil, Cardinal Stepinac was a courageous defender of those oppressed by the Ustase, including Serbs, Jews and gypsies.
Cardinal Stepinac stood up against “the dictatorship of communism, where he again fought for the faith, for the presence of God in the world, the true humanity that is dependent on the presence of God,” the Pope concluded, calling the Croatian cardinal “a great example not only for the Croats, but all of us.”
Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac was declared a martyr and beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1998.
When Pope Benedict arrived at the Zagreb Airport, he urged all Croats to pray to Blessed Aloysius Stepinac.
“In view of the challenges confronting the Church and civil society today, I invoke upon this land and all its inhabitants the intercession and assistance of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, the beloved and venerable Shepherd of your people.”
“May he accompany the young generations as they strive to live by that charity which prompted the Lord Jesus Christ to give his life for all people.”