June 16th, 2011 09:31 EST
Will the Pope Visit Serbia for the Edict of Milan in 2013?
Recently Pope Benedict visited Zagreb, Croatia where he supported Croatia`s membership in the European Union (EU) and took part in numerous religious celebrations.
During his visit from June 4 to June 5, 2011 Pope has met Croatian President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor. The Pope took part in a number of religious celebrations, including the National Day for Croatian Catholic Families and the Sunday Mass in the capital, Zagreb.
After the visit to Croatia, the Pope said at the Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter`s Square that the June visit was characterized by what he called "an intense spirit of faith." In his review of the trip, he said that he primarily wanted to highlight his message to families delivered at the first annual Croatian National Family Day on Sunday morning.
In an era of divorce and separation, the Pope said that "the fidelity of spouses has become in itself a significant sign of the love of Christ." He described this witness as "the first education in the faith" by which "children learn, without anything being said, that God is love, loyal, patient, respectful and generous."
President Josipovic also said the Roman Catholic Church played a key role in "ending aggression" against his country, a reference to attacks by then Yugoslav forces who opposed Croatia`s independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The president recalls that Croatia declared itself an independent democratic state 20 years ago and that the Vatican was among the first to recognize this Balkan nation.
Pope Benedict stood up, saying he supports European Union membership for Croatia. However, he also made clear that he expects Croatia to protect Christian values. Pope Benedict spoke of Croatia sharing its human and Christian values with other European countries, especially neighbouring, as it enters the European Union, and that he wants the country to help Europe preserve what he called the "common heritage" of Christian values.
The Vatican has expressed concerns about what it views as Europe straying away from Christianity, amid growing materialism and secularism. On which Orthodox Church also agrees.
During his visit the Pope prayed second vespers at the tomb of the former Archbishop of Zagreb, Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, in Zagreb`s cathedral. Stepinac was the leader of Croatia`s Catholics through the Nazi invasion of the Second World War and then the communist oppression in the subsequent years.
"Blessed" Alojzije (Aloysius) Viktor Cardinal Stepinac was a Croatian Catholic Prelate. He was Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to 1960. In 1946, in a verdict that polarised public opinion both in Yugoslavia and beyond, a Belgrade court found him guilty of collaborating with the Ustashe and complicity in allowing the forced conversion of Orthodox Serbs to Catholicism. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, but after five years was released and confined to his home parish of Krasic. He was appointed a Cardinal in 1952 by Pope Pius XII. In 1998 Pope John Paul II declared him a martyr and beatified him, which again polarised public opinion.
His beatification was controversial because some Serbian Orthodox and Jewish groups accused him of being a Nazi sympathizer during World War II.
According to Serbian media, Serbian Patriarchy is unhappy with the fact that the Pope visited the tomb of the former Archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac and did not visited Jasenovac and paid respect to victim of the concentration camp in which 700,000 Serbs and about 100,000 Jews and Roma were killed during the WWII.
Another report claims that Serbian Patriarchy sent protest letter to Vatican over Pope`s visit to Croatia, however that proved as untrue. There was a letter, but not protest one. When the Pope gave an interview on the way to Zagreb he was aware of the letter from Orthodox Church, the Pope said that the Ustashe regime was "inhuman" and that in the midst of this turmoil, Cardinal Stepinac was a courageous defender of those oppressed by the Ustase, including Serbs, Jews and gypsies.
Other reports expressed worries that the former Archbishop of Zagreb Stepinac will be declared saint by Pope Benedict. However, this also proved to be false.
Pope`s visit to tomb was not Canonisation. Pope did prayed on the Archbishop Stepinac tomb, but he did not decaled him a saint. His prayer to tomb was probably misinterpreted. Anyhow, Beatification or canonisation does not mean an approval of the ideas of the beatified or sanctified person. For instance, the same can apply to the Holy Justin Popovic whom Orthodox Church put in the dip ticks, yet not for his ideas against ecumenism and the pope. Holy Popovic was canonised for the conformity of his personal life to the gospel, and the same can be said for Stepinac.
Nevertheless, all above should not reflect Pope`s visit to Serbia in 2013, for the celebration of 1700 years of the Edict of Milan.
So, will the Pope Benedict visit Serbia in 2013?
On the Serbian side there are ones who opposes Pope`s visit for the celebration of the Edict; however, there are ones who are for the idea of Pope being present at the celebration.
Serbian Patriarch Irinej believes that all leaders of churches should be present at the celebration, including Pope. He believes that this celebration will show us where we stand after 17 centuries of history and will give us an idea what should we do in the future. "It is a good opportunity, it is for the good cause of all believers...how are we going to do it...we are yet to see", Patriarch Irinej said at one of his press conferences.
Many economist and politicians believes that Pope`s visit to Serbia will give further recognition of Serbia to the world community; they believe Serbia will only benefit from it, in financial, cultural and political way. As the moment Vatican firmly stands next to Serbia and supports future Serbia`s EU integration. Vatican did not recognize Kosovo independence from Serbia, and continues to supports Serbia`s rights concerning Kosovo.
Now, a week after the visit we can still see many on-going speculations about the link between the speeches of the pope in Zagreb and the letter from the Serbian Orthodox Assembly. However, there is no direct link, because as far as we know the speeches of the Pope were prepared some 3 months before the event, while the letter of the Assembly reached the Pope at the end of May. Since these speeches were written much before the letter of Orthodox Assembly, some words of Benedict XVI tucked more importance and still have to be understood for their real meaning.
Take his reference to Ustashe regime: the Pope clearly condemns it as `inhuman`. It is the first word on the matter from the Vatican side, which indirectly disavows those Catholics who supported, and still support ideals of Ustashe regime.
Consequently, the praise that the pope makes of Cardinal Stepinac, detaching him from any accuse of collaboration is debatable. At the beginning Stepinac was opened to the Ustashe regime, but the following year he distanced himself from it, similar what Serbian Patriarch Pavle did with President Milosevic, just not in same capacity.
The Pope seems to intend to officially open a public debate and research on the historical dispute between Serbs and Croats, according to which he will present official position of the Catholic Church on the matter, based on the acquired documentation. If there are supporting documents proving the opposite from the current Vatican believes of Stepinac and Ustashe, then let us investigated them and not make assumptions on the basis of the communist 50-years-old propaganda. Communist had all interest to condemn Stepinac, to portray him as a fascist and collaborator of the Ustashe regime.
Many say that with his words in favour of Stepinac, the Pope undermined his invitation to Nis in 2013 by the Orthodox Church. These same words by Pope make us think about his intentions. Did he say all that to help Orthodox Church and Patriarch Irinej to make a final decision about his presence in NiÅ¡ in 2013, and free them from this embarrassing situation?
So, what is really at the top of the expectations from the Vatican? Is it Nis, or rather the establishment of a new historical research about Stepinac and establishment of a new approach of the historical dispute between Serbs and Croats?
By Momo Jelic