This morning, Pope Francis met with the President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolić. According to the official report of the meeting by Sala Stampa the two spoke about “issues of mutual interest regarding the relationship between the ecclesial and civil communities, with particular reference to ecumenical dialogue and the contribution of the Catholic Church to the common good of Serbian society.”
They moved on to speak about Serbia entering the European Union and the current refugee crisis in which Serbia takes great part because the critical point of the crisis is the Serbian-Hungarian border.
Although there is no mention of it in the official report of the meeting, all major news media in Croatia (and some Serbian), report that the President and the Pope spoke also about the Catholic-Orthodox commission Pope Francis himself suggested to be formed.
This commission is one of those Pope Francis’ firsts. In June of 2014 the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej gave the then Archbishop Mamberti a letter for the Holy Father where he stated some of his objections regarding the canonization of Croatian Cardinal Stepinac. His Holiness replied in a letter given to the Patriarch by Cardinal Kurt Koch in February this year. (Cardinal Koch met the Patriarch in May too.)
In the letter to the Patriarch the Pope said that all of the concerns stated by the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding the canonization of Stepinac were already questioned by the commissions of the Holy See. The commissions concluded that the Cardinal was “a pastor dedicated to saving lives, a true follower of Christ and a model of Christian life” said the successor of Stepinac, Cardinal Bozanić.
Since to the Patriarch and the Serbian Orthodox Church these arguments are not very clear, the Holy Father, in that unexpected way of his, suggested that the Catholic Bishops Conference of Croatia (HBK) and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) form a commission that will consist of both Catholic and Orthodox experts which will review the questions raised by SPC.
There are actually 3 commissions between HBK and SPC as explained by Orthodox Bishop of Slavonija Jovan in a recent interview (the summary can be found here at Bitno.net). The first one is a dialogue commission, second the Board for Jasenovac and the last one, the Stepinac one, proposed by Francis.
Jasenovac is exactly why SPC questions the sanctity of Blessed Cardinal Stepinac. At the same time Stepinac was the Archbishop of Zagreb, Pius XII. made him the military vicar sine titulo. And Stepinac, unfortunately, was so during the fascist/nazi ustaša regime. The Cardinal did meet with the head of regime but he soon realized their crimes.
What SPC is forgetting is that Stepinac spoke various times against the regime (a German officer even said if he spoke like that in Germany, he would never get of the pulpit alive), saved the Serbian Orthodox bishop of Zagreb Dositej from jail, saved 200 Orthodox people from Pakrac, 20 from Sunja in 1945, 7000 (yes, you read it right, 7 thousand) orphans (all Orthodox) from Kozara and 53 Serbian children from Jasenovac (!) from being killed by ustaša regime!
Blessed Cardinal Stepinac is a true shepherd of the Church. He saved numerous lives (Serb and Jewish) and even gave up his own life. Even that was not enough. The communist police burned all of his organs so no one would know they poisoned him. Even his heart (that was stolen by the doctor who witnessed the “autopsy” to be used as a relic but the police soon found it) became ashes. He is now the Shepherd of Croatia again. Guiding his beloved Church towards a better dialogue with the Serbian Church.
Blessed Aloysius Stepinac,
Shepherd of Croatia,
whose heart was so viciously burnt,
the heart that lived for Christ,
the heart that loved Croatia,
pray for us all!