Croatia Looks Forward to Papal Visit

Cardinal Josip Bozanic Calls 2-Day Trip a "Great Gift"

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ZAGREB, Croatia, JUNE 3, 2011 (Zenit.org).- All is ready in Zagreb for Benedict XVI's apostolic visit this weekend, during which he will mark the National Day of Croatian Catholic Families and preside over a National Youth Day.

Speaking to Vatican Radio, Cardinal Josip Bozanić, the archbishop of Zagreb, explained how Croatian Catholics are preparing to receive Benedict XVI for the first time.

Q: Eminence, how has Croatia prepared to receive the Pope?

Cardinal Bozanić: First of all I wish to say that in Croatia there is great expectation over Benedict XVI's visit. No sooner was the news of the apostolic visit made public officially than as a Church we began a course of preparation both at the diocesan as well as the national level. Each diocese has elaborated programs in which an attempt has been made to involve, above all, young people and families. Young people have prepared with several activities, with prayer meetings and adoration.

I must say that immediately many adhered to the invitation to take part in the meeting with the Pope: for them it will be the National Youth Day, which is held every two years, but it is the first in which the Holy Father will be present. And young people await him with much enthusiasm.

Special catecheses have been organized for families, which have taken place in parish groups. Since the pastoral visit was announced, parish priests have supported the whole preparation with intense prayer and profound gratitude. Everything revolves around the motto of the Holy Father's meeting with Croatia: "Together in Christ."

Q: Why was this motto chosen?

Cardinal Bozanić: We, the bishops of the Church in Croatia, chose this topic because the word "together" makes reference to the desire for encounter, for communion of every human being. And this aspect, which is the anthropological dimension, finds its fulfillment and its plenitude in the theological and Christological dimension, that is, in Christ, in the novelty of Christ. Christ is the rock on which every faithful, every Christian family must build their house to journey on the paths of life.

Q: What are the most urgent challenges of the Church in Croatia?

Cardinal Bozanić: I think the most important challenge is that of secularization, which is increasingly present in our society and which shows its influence above all in the new generations. The Church hears, moreover, the call to dedicate itself to families, which are also exposed to the secularized culture, and which at this time are hit by the lack of work, in this situation of generalized social and economic difficulties. Our concern for families includes also sensitizing civil institutions, so that they will be able to intervene in favor of the family, not only with words, but also with genuine interventions. The family is an institution that must be defended: In fact, in families lies the future of the Church and of society.

Q: On Saturday night, Benedict XVI will hold a meeting with young Croatians. What is the reality of youth in the country?

Cardinal Bozanić: The young people who will take part in the meeting with the Holy Father belong in the main to generations born after the fall of the Communist regime. Hence, they share the same reality as the rest of European young people, but they are also very sensitive to spiritual values and to initiatives of the Church, they feel that the Church is their home, which gives them space and is concerned about them. Often these same young people propose initiatives to parishes: prayer meetings, pilgrimages, etc. Our young people participate gladly in the sacramental life and they also try to go to confession.

Q: On Sunday, June 5, the Pope will pray at the tomb of Blessed Aloysius Viktor Stepinac (1898-1960), who was the archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to 1960 and who was imprisoned by the Communist regime for his defense of religious liberty. What meaning do the Croatian people attribute to this gesture?

Cardinal Bozanić: For the Church in Croatia, Cardinal Stepinac is a model of fidelity to Christ, to the Church, to the Holy See. Blessed Stepinac was a true pastor: he dedicated himself to defend the fundamental rights of all men and all peoples, to defend those who were victims of persecutions. For us and for the Church he was a living witness of Christian hope; with his life he was able to attest to Christian hope that is born from full confidence in God's fidelity, which leads to the victory of the good. Blessed Stepinac was also a man of conscience: In order not to betray his own conscience or break the word given to Christ and to the Church, he did not yield to any compromise, even consciously accepting martyrdom.

Q: What is Croatia's role in Europe today?

Cardinal Bozanić: Croatia is open to the European Union and is preparing to enter. On the part of the Church, we are open to this possibility: deep down, it can be said that Croatia lives in the realm of European civilization. We are also conscious of the difficulties and the possibilities that Croatia's entry in the European Union might imply. In the face of this step, it seems important to stress the logic of exchange: Only with reciprocal knowledge of one's identity, culture, history and customs will European peoples be able to construct together a "common home." Moreover, I believe that Croatia -- given that it is situated in a region of the continent in which both persons meet and coexist who profess the Christian faith (members of the Catholic Church or of the Orthodox Church as well as persons who profess the Muslim religion) -- is called to be a place of confessional and interreligious dialogue. Croatia is called to be a bridge for Europe.

Q: Eminence, what are the hopes of the Church and of the Croatian nation for the Pope's visit?

Cardinal Bozanić: For us it is a special gift to be able to spend these two days with the Holy Father, to meet with him and to pray with him. Our hearts are open and we desire to receive his words and his message. We see this event with great gratitude and we recognize in it an important opportunity to make our Christian response more alive, to be genuine witnesses of the faith, moved by hope and charity.