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Archbishop Gallagher: “Croatia is a land of great natural and cultural beauty, in which the Catholic faith is alive and rich.”

Zagreb (IKA )

The Secretary for Relations with States within the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, visited Croatia from October 9 through 12.

Archbishop Gallagher was welcomed at the Franjo Tuđman International Airport by the Archbishop Cardinal Josip Bozanić of Zagreb; the Apostolic Nuncio in the Republic of Croatia, Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto; the President of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, Archbishop Želimir Puljić of Zadar; the General Secretary of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, Bishop Petar Palić of Hvar; the Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in the Republic of Croatia, Msgr. Janusz Blachowiak; and the Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the Holy See, H.E. Neven Pelicarić.

On the afternoon of October 10, Archbishop Gallagher met with representatives of other religions in the Republic of Croatia at the Apostolic Nunciature in Zagreb. He was welcomed by the President of the Council of the Croatian Conference of Bishops for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, Bishop Antun Škvorčević of Požega. Archbishop Gallagher conveyed cordial greetings from Pope Francis to all. He pointed out the urgency of the need for mutual familiarity and acceptance in the profound spirit of mutual respect and understanding, in order to work together to eliminate the evils afflicting humankind today. He said that dialogue among religions is essential and indispensable in the service of the common good. He added that the interreligious cultural context in Croatia is conducive to deepening the “dialogue of friendship” that different religious communities can use in creating relations based on mutual trust, sharing and solidarity.

In the evening, Msgr. Gallagher presented a lecture at the Catholic University of Croatia on the topic “Twenty Years after the Ratification of the Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Croatia on Economic Cooperation.” The lecture was attended by the Grand Chancellor of the Catholic University of Croatia, Cardinal Bozanić; Nuncio Pinto, members of the diplomatic corps, the leadership and academic community of the Catholic University of Croatia, representatives of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, and prominent invited guests from academic, cultural, religious and public life. Cardinal Bozanić, among other things, spoke about the centuries-old relations between the Holy See and Croatia.

On Thursday, October 11, Archbishop Gallagher met with the Croatian bishops at the headquarters of the Croatian Conference of Bishops in Zagreb, as part of the Fifty-Seventh Plenary Session of the CCB. He also gave an interview to Croatian Catholic Radio on his impressions during his visit and general issues concerning the Church in Croatia. He noted that this was his third visit to Croatia, which he considers to be a land of great natural but also cultural beauty, in which the Catholic faith is alive and rich. Among other things, he said that they are generally satisfied with the implementation of the international agreements between the Holy See and Croatia, although “everything can work better, everything can be perfected.” These agreements exist in order to establish relations between countries and the Church where there is strong cooperation and the freedom of the Church and state is respected, in order to secure such cooperation for the common good, thereby making it possible for the Church to implement its mission. However, such cooperation is not only for the benefit of Catholics but also for the entire society, said Archbishop Gallagher, adding that this is particularly true in the case of charitable and social work, somewhat less so for education, but the Church always makes a contribution to the development of a country for the benefit of the country. “Therefore, if agreements can be improved by mutual negotiations and cooperation, this is always desirable but it is necessary to see the situation in the field, which generally varies from place to place,” he said. In response to a question on the migrant crisis, he said: “Here in Europe, we have a great responsibility, particularly the European Union, which has the resources not to leave the countries from the southern part of the world alone, through which many migrants pass from Africa, and also here through the Balkan countries where waves of migrants pass from the Near East,” and said that we need great solidarity at this historic moment, which is what the Pope asks from the Church. Regarding the Holy See’s relations with other countries of the world, Archbishop Gallagher said that this is a period when such relations are flourishing. Today, the Holy See has diplomatic relations with 183 countries, including the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He also spoke about the persecution of Christians, pointing out that much has been accomplished in the charitable area through diplomatic means, regarding the material and financial support of refugees in the countries of the Near East, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon, and everything possible is being done. The Church also attempts to help others because although Christian groups are most subjected to persecution at the moment, there are also others, the Yazidis in Iraq and other groups. Although he did not know the answer to questions about the date of the canonization of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac and whether Pope Francis would be coming to Croatia, Archbishop Gallagher emphasized that there is not the slightest doubt about the saintliness of Cardinal Stepinac: “He is a profoundly respected figure both here in Croatia and throughout the Croatian diaspora.”

In the evening, Archbishop Gallagher led a Mass of Thanksgiving in Đakovo on the occasion of the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the ecclesiastical territory of Đakovo-Osijek.

On Friday, October 12, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States met with Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenković, and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Marija Pejčinović Burić, at the Presidential Palace (Banski dvori) in Zagreb.

Archbishop Gallagher also visited the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Zagreb, including the tomb of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, where he remained in prayer. After touring the cathedral, Msgr. Gallagher said: “I see that this cathedral is a symbol of Catholic life in Croatia and in the city of Zagreb. I am very happy that I had the opportunity to pray before the grave of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac. As a priest and bishop, I prayed for his help to live my mission as profoundly as possible. The example of his martyred life speaks eloquently of a person who gave everything to Christ and the people of God. It is not possible to ask for anything more,” said Msgr. Gallagher.