Saturday, 22 January 2022

Orthodox Fresco Depicting Blessed Stepinac in Hell Painted Over by White

ZAGREB, 22 Jan 2022 - An icon, which appeared in a Serb Orthodox Church in the town of Bela Crkva, Vojvodina, depicting the Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, a Catholic martyr, in the hell, has been painted over by white, the Croatian Catholic news agency IKA reported on Friday.

IKA quoted the Zrenjanin Catholic Bishop Ladislav Német as saying that the controversial icon was painted over by white and that news items about Bela Crkva and the icon depicting Stepinac in the hell were no longer topical.

The news about the controversial fresco was broken by the news website on 16 January. The fresco depicting the hell and the Blessed Stepinac in it was painted on a wall of the Serb Orthodox Church of Saint John in Bela Crkva, a town in the region of Banat, which is in the eastern parts of the Serbian province of Vojvodina.

The whole case prompted the Catholic Archbishop of Belgrade, Stanislav Hočevar, to say that depicting a saint in the hell was an insult to God.

He told the Croatian national broadcaster (HRT)  that he would try to solve this issue through dialogue.

He also apologised to the Catholic faithful in Croatia for the belated reaction of the Catholic Church in Vojvodina and Serbia to this case.

Archbishop Hočevar said that this would be also a topic of his talks with the Apostolic Nuncio in Serbia on Saturday.

Pope John Paul II declared Alojzije Stepinac a martyr and beatified him at a ceremony in the Croatian Marian shrine of Marija Bistrica in 1998, when hundreds of thousands of Croatians gathered for that mass.

Later, Pope Francis decided to initiate the establishment of a joint commission to study the historical truth on Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac and to shed light on the historical role of this Zagreb Archbishop at the time of the WWII Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and the Ustasha crimes in the Jasenovac concentration camp, before the decision on his canonisation.

After the Second World War, Stepinac was persecuted by the Communist authorities in the Tito-led Yugoslavia. In 1945 he declined Tito's proposal to establish a national Catholic church separate from Rome.

In July 2016, Zagreb County Court annulled the Communist-era rulings against Zagreb Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac, who was sentenced in 1946 to 16 years in prison and forced labour and was stripped of his political and civil rights for five years.

Zagreb County Court established that the guilty verdict had grossly violated the then and the current principles of the criminal law.

Cardinal Stepinac (1898-1960) was the leading person of the Catholic Church in Croatia during World War Two. After the war, Communist authorities charged him with collaborating with the Ustasha regime of the Independent State of Croatia (1941-1945), although he publicly denounced the crimes of the pro-Nazi regime and actively helped provide sanctuary for those persecuted. Subsequently, Stepinac spent five years in prison and nine years under house arrest until he died.

In October 1946 the then Supreme Court found him guilty of all charges in his indictment.

In February 1992, the Croatian parliament adopted the declaration condemning the court decision and the process that led to it. The declaration states that the true reason of Stepinac's imprisonment was his pointing out many Communist crimes and especially refusing to form a Croatian Catholic Church in schism with the Pope.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

60th Anniversary of Death of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac Commemorated

ZAGREB, February 11, 2020 - The 60th anniversary of the death of the Blessed Alojzije Stepinac was commemorated with a Mass and a formal meeting of the municipal council in his native town of Krašić on Monday.

The events were attended by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, several government ministers and local government officials.

Mass was celebrated by Bishop Ratko Perić of Mostar-Duvno, who said that "communist authorities feared Alojzije Stepinac more when he was dead than when he was alive because he was an intrepid defender of human and church rights, a resolute promoter of people's freedoms, while he himself was without external freedom."

After the Mass government officials laid wreaths at the monument to Stepinac and the faithful visited the memorial home where he died under house arrest 60 years ago.

At the municipal council meeting, Plenković pledged financial support for the renovation of the presbytery, a cultural heritage monument, and for other purposes relating to growing religious tourism in the area.

Plenković said that this was necessary because of the greatness of the Blessed Alojzije Stepinac who knew how to stand up to the racial laws of the Nazi-allied Ustasha regime during the Second World War. "He was persecuted by communist authorities, but successfully defended the Catholic Church and its affiliation with the Holy See," he said.

The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Željko Reiner, said that Stepinac refused to abandon his people even when his life was in danger, when he was offered to go abroad and save himself from persecution and death.

"This is shown by the fact that on 4 June 1945 he declined Tito's proposal to establish a national Catholic church separate from Rome, which would have put a stop to persecutions of him and the Church," Reiner said, adding that for him Stepinac was a saint even before his formal canonisation.

More news about Alojzije Stepinac can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Serb Orthodox Church Not Involved in Decision-Making on Stepinac

ZAGREB, May 10, 2019 - The Serb Orthodox Metropolitan of Ljubljana and Zagreb, Porfirije Perić, said on Thursday that the Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) was not involved in any way in the decision-making on the canonisation of the World War II Archbishop of Zagreb, Alojzije Stepinac, and that the SPC was the wrong address for the anger of those who were dissatisfied with Pope Francis's recent statement about that process.

Pope Francis recently said that in the process of Stepinac's canonisation there were some unclear historical points that needed to be clarified and that he had also sought assistance from the head of the SPC, Patriarch Irinej, in that regard.

"Everyone knows that if and when Stepinac will be declared saint is exclusively a matter for the Catholic Church to decide. We are in no way involved in the decision-making on that matter nor can we be," Perić told Hina.

With all due respect for all those who are dissatisfied with the current situation regarding the Blessed Alojzije Stepinac and the pope's statement on that topic, they should not be angry at the Serb Orthodox Church, he said. "We are the wrong address. By all accounts, the anger is directed at the Vatican, which is not an easy thing to say. It is simpler to... point the finger at someone else," said Perić.

We responded, he said, to the pope's kind request. "We talked with our brothers the bishops in the spirit of brotherhood, mutual respect and sincerity. We told them what we think," the Serb Orthodox dignitary said.

Croatian Bishops' Conference (HBK) president Želimir Puljić said earlier in the day that in Pope Francis's recent statement regarding the canonisation of Cardinal Stepinac "there is nothing contentious about the search for the truth" or anything "that would bring into question his sainthood and canonisation," but conceded that the statement "has agitated the public and challenged believers."

Archbishop Puljić said the pope's decision to consult the SPC regarding Stepinac was a precedent and that the SPC wanted to use this precedent to block the canonisation.

More news about the canonisation of Stepinac can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Bishops Conference Head Says Pope's Stepinac Statement Has Agitated Public

ZAGREB, May 9, 2019 - Croatian Bishops' Conference (HBK) president Želimir Puljić said on Thursday that in Pope Francis's recent statement regarding the canonisation of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac "there is nothing contentious about the search for the truth" or anything "that would bring into question his sainthood and canonisation," but conceded that the statement "has agitated the public and challenged believers."

In an interview with the Croatian Catholic Network, Archbishop Puljić called on the faithful to be patient and calm. "The pope said he cared about the truth and that, together with the patriarch, he wants to arrive at the truth... However, regarding Stepinac and what the Congregation has already done and concluded, there is nothing contentious that would... bring into question his sainthood and canonisation."

According to religion sociologist Ivan Markešić, the pope said that Stepinac, who was the Archbishop of Zagreb during World War II, had been a virtuous person, that he was beatified and could be prayed to, and that he said nothing bad about him.

But when he saw that there were doubts regarding some historical truths and undefined historical gaps, the pope asked the Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) and Patriarch Irinej for help as he cares about Irinej's opinion, said Markešić.

The pope did not find out about those doubts from the Catholic clergy but the SPC, and his statement is in line with his aspiration to bring Christians closer, as evidenced by his attitude to the Russian, Serb, Bulgarian and Macedonian churches, Markešić added.

He does not believe that the pope's statement is a sign that Stepinac will not be canonised or that work on that has been halted. The commission will continue to look for common ground, which is a path towards the reconciliation of churches, he said.

"If we listen to statements by Metropolitan Porfirije or Episcope Ćulibrk, we can see that tensions are slowly being defused. Talking about Croatian WWII death camp Jasenovac, Porfirije says it's not the number of victims that's important but how to arrive at forgiveness and reconciliation. I think the next stage is to find common ground on which the Catholic Church and the SPC can talk about declaring Stepinac saint," said Markešić.

Archbishop Puljić said the pope's decision to consult the SPC regarding Stepinac was a precedent and that the SPC wanted to use this precedent to block the canonisation.

Markešić said the SPC was not interfering and that the pope had requested its participation. "He could have declared Stepinac saint regardless of the SPC, but he is responsible and consistent in his pushing for reconciliation."

Puljić recalled that the HBK sent a letter to Patriarch Irinej last November which said that his statements elicited distrust of the SPC and Serbs in Croatia as well as deepening war wounds and inciting hate.

"We care about ecumenism. We too are trying to cultivate good relations with Orthodox believers. But we don't like it when Stepinac is put in a political context. Stepinac did what he could in those times. Stepinac was such a critic of the NDH (WWII Independent State of Croatia) that perhaps not even the Serbs were so critical of (NDH leader Ante Pavelić). And Stepinac, poor man, suffered because of that," said Puljić.

Markešić does not believe the HBK letter is conducive to the pope's rapprochement with the Orthodox brothers, saying it "makes the reconciliation process harder." The pope wants to be a Christian beyond any one church and sees Patriarch Irinej as a great and holy man, he added.

Stepinac can play a special role in connecting churches, but one should admit it if "there was something that should be admitted" about him as a man who could have made mistakes, said Markešić.

One should accept Pope Francis's path towards reconciliation and "those waiting for the day when a new pope will arrive should not look forward to it too much" because the Vatican's policy would not change much, he added.

What the church in Austria says about Bleiburg, that's what Pope Francis stands for, he said, adding that the Catholic Church supported the magnificent celebration of Victory Day in Paris, yet in Zagreb church bells did not toll.

More news about the canonisation of Stepinac can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Pope Francis Discusses Canonisation of Alojzije Stepinac, Praises Serbian Patriarch

On Tuesday, Pope Francis said that history still has to be being studied before Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac can be declared a saint. In reply to a question by Večernji List reporter Silvije Tomašević while returning from visits to Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia, the Pope commented on the discussions with the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding the canonisation process, reports Večernji List on May 8, 2019.

“There are historical issues between our churches. Some of them are old. For example, President of Northern Macedonia Ivanov told me today that the schism began in Macedonia. And now the Pope is coming for the first time to bring the schism together? I do not know,” said the Pope at the start of the conversation.

“The historical case is the canonisation of Stepinac. Stepinac is a man of virtues. The Church has announced this with his beatification. People can pray to him. He has been beatified. But at a certain moment in the process of canonisation unclear points appeared. These are historical points. And I, who needs to sign on the canonisation, have prayed, contemplated, sought advice and then realised that I needed to seek the help of Irinej (patriarch of Serbian Orthodox Church). Irinej is a great patriarch. And Irinej helped me. We established a historical commission together. We worked together. Because both Irinej and I are interested only in the truth, we must not make a mistake. What purpose would a statement of holiness serve if the truth is not clear? It would serve nobody. We know that Stepinac is a good man, but to make this step, I have asked Irinej for his help to do the truth. We are studying it. First, a commission was established to give its opinion. But now other points are being studied. Some points are being deepened so that the truth would be clear. I am not afraid of the truth. I am not scared,” said Pope Francis. This was the answer of Pope Francis regarding the situation surrounding the Stepinac canonisation.

Alojzije Stepinac was the Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to 1960. While the Serbian authorities claim that during the Second World War, he cooperated with the Ustasha regime in the Independent State of Croatia, the majority of Croats consider him to be a saint who helped those who were persecuted at the time. After the Second World War, Stepinac was imprisoned by the communist regime. Pope Francis established a special commission of Croatian Catholic and Serbian Orthodox officials who investigated the case. In Croatia, it is widely expected that Cardinal Stepinac will eventually be canonised.

More news on Alojzije Stepinac can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Pope Francis Coming to Croatia to Canonise Stepinac?

The decision is expected soon.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Plenković Discusses Stepinac Canonisation with Pope Francis

The Croatian Prime Minister is on his first visit to the Vatican.

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Stepinac Commission Finishes Work

The joint commission of the Catholic and the Serbian Orthodox Church has issued a final statement.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Catholic and Orthodox Church Meet Again to Discuss Cardinal Stepinac

At its latest meeting, the joint commission of the Catholic Church and the Serbian Orthodox Church analyzed the position of Croatian Cardinal Stepinac toward the Orthodox faithful from 1941 to 1945.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Pope Francis to Delay Canonization of Cardinal Stepinac?

According to latest reports, the Pope might let his successor decide.

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