On the Trip to Croatia

"Fidelity of Spouses Has Itself Become a Meaningful Witness to the Love of Christ"

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 8, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. The Pope reviewed the trip he made last weekend to Croatia.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today I would like to speak with you about the pastoral visit to Croatia that I made last Saturday and Sunday. It was a brief apostolic journey that took place entirely within the capital Zagreb, and yet it was rich in encounters and, above all, in an intense spirit of faith, since the Croatians are such a profoundly Catholic people.

I renew my sincere thanks to Cardinal Bozanić, archbishop of Zagreb, to Archbishop Srakić, president of the Conference of Bishops, and to the other bishops of Croatia, as well as to the president of the republic, for the warm welcome they gave me. My appreciation goes to all the civil authorities and to all who collaborated in various ways in the event, especially to those persons who offered prayers and sacrifices for this intention.

"Together in Christ": This was the motto of my visit. It expresses, first and foremost, the experience of finding ourselves together united in the name of Christ, the experience of being Church, which is manifested by the gathering of the People of God around the Successor of Peter. However, in this case, "Together in Christ" referred in a particular way to the family: In fact, the principle occasion of my visit was the First National Day of Croatian Catholic Families, which culminated in the Sunday morning concelebration of the Holy Eucharist and saw the participation of a great multitude of the faithful in the area of the Zagreb Hippodrome.

It was very important for me to confirm in the faith especially these families that the Second Vatican Council called "domestic churches" (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11). Blessed John Paul II, who visited Croatia three times, placed great emphasis on the role of the family in the Church; thus, with this journey, I wanted to give continuity to this aspect of his teaching. In today's Europe, nations with a strong Christian tradition have a special responsibility to defend and promote the value of the family founded on marriage, which remains decisive both within the field of education as well as in the social sphere. This message therefore had particular relevance for Croatia which, rich in its spiritual, ethical and cultural patrimony, is now preparing to enter the European Union.

The Holy Mass was celebrated in the distinctive spiritual atmosphere of the Pentecost novena. As though in a great "cenacle" opened up to heaven, the Croatian families gathered in prayer, together invoking the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gave me occasion to underscore the gift and importance of communion in the Church, and also to encourage spouses in their mission. In our own day, while we unfortunately see an increase in separations and divorces, the fidelity of spouses has itself become a meaningful witness to the love of Christ, which permits marriage to be lived out for what it truly is: the union of one man and one woman who, with the grace of God, love one another and help one another for a lifetime, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health.

The first education in the faith consists precisely in the witness of this fidelity to the spousal covenant: Through it, children learn without words that God is faithful, patient, respectful and generous love. Faith in the God who is Love is handed on first of all by the witness of a fidelity to spousal love, which translates naturally into love for the children who are the fruit of this union. But this faithfulness is not possible without God's grace, without the support of the faith and of the Holy Spirit. This is why the Virgin Mary unceasingly intercedes with her Son, so that -- as at the Wedding Feast of Cana -- He might continually renew spouses in the gift of the "good wine"; that is, of Grace, which enables them to live as "one flesh" through the various seasons and situations of life.

Well placed within this context of great attention to the family was the Vigil with young people that took place on Saturday evening in Jelačić Square -- the heart of the city of Zagreb. There I was able to meet the new generation of Croatians, and there I felt all the strength of their youthful faith, animated as it was by a great impetus toward life and its meaning, toward the good, toward freedom -- that is to say -- toward God. It was beautiful and moving to hear these young people sing with joy and enthusiasm, and then, in the moments of listening and prayer, recollect themselves in profound silence! I repeated to them the question Jesus put to his first disciples: "What do you seek?" (John 1:38), but I told them that God is first seeking them, and more than they themselves seek Him. This is faith's joy: to discover that God first loves us! It is a discovery that keeps us always disciples, and therefore always young in spirit! During the Vigil, this mystery was lived out in prayer and Eucharistic adoration: In the silence, our being "together in Christ" found its fullness. My invitation to follow Jesus was thus an echo of the Word that He himself was addressing to the hearts of the young.

Another moment we may call a "cenacle" was the Celebration of Vespers in the cathedral, with the bishops, priests, religious and the young people in formation in seminaries and ecclesial communities. Here also, we experienced in a special way our being "family" as an ecclesial community. Zagreb's cathedral holds the monumental tomb of blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepanic, bishop and martyr. In the name of Christ, he first opposed the injustices of Nazism and Fascism, and then, those of the Communist regime. He was imprisoned and confined in his native village. Created cardinal by Pope Pius XII, he died in 1960 of an illness he contracted while in prison. In the light of his witness, I encouraged bishops and priests in their ministry, exhorting them to communion and to apostolic fervor; I reproposed to the consecrated the beauty and radicality of their way of life; I invited seminarians and novices to joyfully follow Christ who has called them by name. This moment of prayer, enriched by the presence of so many brothers and sisters who have dedicated their lives to the Lord, was a great comfort for me, and I pray that Croatian families may always be fertile ground for the birth of numerous and holy vocations to the service of God's Kingdom.

Also very significant was my meeting with representatives of civil society, of the political, academic, cultural and entrepreneurial world, with the diplomatic corps and with religious leaders, who gathered in Zagreb's National Theatre. Within this context, I had the joy of paying homage to the great Croatian cultural tradition, which is inseparable from its history of faith and the presence of the Church that, throughout the centuries, has been a promoter of numerous institutions and, above all, a teacher of illustrious seekers of truth and the common good. Among these I recalled in particular the Jesuit Father Ruđer Bošković, a great scientist whose anniversary we celebrate this year on the occasion of the third centenary of his birth.

Once again, Europe's most profound vocation was made evident to us all -- that of guarding and renewing a humanism rooted in Christianity that can be defined as "catholic"; that is, universal and integral. A humanism that places at its center man's conscience, his transcendent openness and, at the same time, his historic reality; [a humanism] capable of inspiring diversified political projects that nonetheless converge for the building of a sound democratic system, founded upon the ethical values rooted in the same human nature. Looking at Europe from the point of view of a nation with an ancient and strong Christian tradition -- and which is an integral part of European civilization -- while it prepares to enter the political Union, renewed the sense of urgency posed by the challenge that faces the peoples of this Continent: [the challenge,] that is, of not being afraid of God, of the God of Jesus Christ, Who is Love and Truth, and Who takes nothing away from freedom but rather restores it to itself, giving it the horizon of a dependable hope.

Dear friends, each time the Successor of Peter makes an apostolic journey, the whole ecclesial community participates in some way in the dynamism of communion and of mission proper to his ministry. I thank all of those who accompanied and supported me by their prayer, thereby enabling my pastoral visit to go so very well.

Now, as we thank the Lord for this great gift, let us ask Him, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Croatia, that what I was able to sow might bear abundant fruit, for Croatian families, for the entire nation and for all of Europe.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My recent Pastoral Visit to Croatia celebrated the First National Day of Croatian Catholic Families with a joyful Mass in the Zagreb Hippodrome. The motto of the Visit – Together in Christ – highlighted the special mission of the family in bearing witness to Christ. Croatia’s culture has been deeply shaped by the Catholic faith; thus, together with other European nations it has a particular responsibility to promote the fundamental role of the family in education and social life. During the evening Vigil in Jelačić Square, I invited young Croatians to seek Christ as the fulfilment of their quest for love and true freedom. At Sunday Vespers in Zagreb Cathedral I spoke words of encouragement to my brother bishops and priests, and to the many young seminarians and religious. Finally, in my address to the world of culture I spoke of the importance of renewing that humanism rooted in Christianity which can contribute much to the growth of a sound democratic system based on universal ethical values. With deep gratitude to all who assisted in my Visit, I commend the nation and its families to the prayers of Mary, Queen of Croatia.
I am pleased to greet the members of the seminar on Christianity and Culture sponsored by Seton Hall University. I also welcome the Council of International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services. My greeting also goes to the International Leadership Program for Lasallian Universities, to the Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres, and to the delegates to the World Congress on Menopause. Upon all present, especially the pilgrims from England, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, India, Singapore, the Philippines and the United States, I invoke God’s blessings of lasting joy and peace.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[He concluded in Italian:]

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick, and the newlyweds who are present. Next Sunday we will celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost. I exhort you, dear young people, to frequently invoke the Holy Spirit who makes you fearless witnesses of Christ. May the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, help you, dear sick, to receive the mystery of suffering in faith and to offer it for the salvation of all mankind; and may He sustain you, dear newlyweds, in building your families on the solid foundation of the Gospel.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]