Over a quarter of a million venerated the witness of mercy as part of the celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Zagreb, (IKA) – From April 13 to 18, the incorrupt body of St. Leopold Bogdan Mandić, witness of mercy, was in Zagreb, Croatia, where it was venerated by over a quarter of a million people as part of the celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pilgrims, including many children, pregnant women, the elderly and the disabled, came from all parts of Croatia, as wells as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia,to pay homage to the relics of the saint, which were exposed at the Zagreb Cathedral and the Capuchin Church of St. Leopold Mandić in Zagreb-Dubrava.
The ceremony of welcome and Solemn Vespers were led by the Archbishop of Zagreb, Josip Cardinal Bozanić: “Today before us is the frail body of a humble Croatian Capuchin from Herceg-Novi on the 150th anniversary of his birth, so that we do not become discouraged and may recognize God’s strength in weakness,” said Cardinal Bozanić. The body the saint was escorted by the rector of the Shrine of St. Leopold Mandić in Padua, Fr. FlavianoGusella;the provincial of the Capuchin Province of Venice, Roberto Genuin;and the guardian of the Capuchin monastery, Marco Putin.
Mass was then led by Bishop VladoKošić of Sisak. The cathedral was too small to accommodate all the faithful. The homilist particularly noted that Leopold was a patriot who prayed for the unity of Christians and an instrument of God’s mercy.
On the second day that the body of St. Leopold lay in the Zagreb Cathedral, the morning Masses there were served by the auxiliary bishops. Although it was raining, the faithful waited patiently outside the cathedral in a kilometer-long line in order to venerate the earthly remains of the saint. The evening Mass at the cathedral was led by Cardinal Bozanić, in concelebration with dozens of priests, a number of bishops, religious superiors and the Apostolic Nuncio in the Republic of Croatia, Msgr. Alessandro D’Errico. “In St. Leopold, the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation are clearly linked,” said the cardinal, adding that St Leopold was “a model for all confessors, because he had the fatherly heart that we want to encounter when we go to confession.” The cardinal also spoke about the connection between St. Leopold and the Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, whose tomb is in the Zagreb Cathedral. He recalled that the Blessed Alojzije Stepinac was the first in Croatia to spread devotion to St. Leopold and had his biography printed in the Croatian language.
After the body of St. Leopold was removed from the Zagreb Cathedral, accompanied by the tolling of bells, it was driven to the Capuchin church in the eastern part of the city, where a crowd of the faithful sang a hymn in honor of the saint. The welcoming ceremony was conducted by the Capuchin Provincial, Friar Jure Šarčević, who rejoiced that St. Leopold, the patron saint of the church and parish, had come among those who venerate him. He noted that this was the only Church in Croatia that had relics of both of the patron saints of the Year of Mercy, Padre Pio and St. Leopold.
Throughout the following days, Masses were celebrated in the presence of the body of St. Leopold. Evening vigils were held by priests and young people, with confession available until late at night. Choirs from all over Croatia sang at the Masses. On April 15, the evening Mass was led by Bishop Mate Uzinić of Dubrovnik, who is the member of the Croatian Conference of Bishops in charge of religious. He congratulated the Capuchins for “having among their ranks such people as St. Leopold, who today, not by his dead body but by his life, has assembled many and invites us to be witnesses of God’s mercy and love in the world.”
The greatest number of venerators of St. Leopold were gathered on Saturday, April 16, when the central afternoon Mass was celebrated by the Capuchin Bishop of Krk, Msgr. Ivica Petanjak, in concelebration with the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Gospić-Senj, Bishop Mile Bogović, and 160 priests. BishopPetanjakfocused upon mercy in St. Leopold’s mission, saying: “Let us turn around to look at this crowd assembled by a monk and priest who was humble and of small physical stature, who spent his whole lifeworking on himself so that he could intercede with God in order for others to receive God’s infinite mercy, aware that Jesus’ principle of obedience to the will of the Father is the foundation of all holiness.”
“I am personally convinced that St. Leopold is a great saint because he developed Christian virtues to a heroic level. He is an apostle of mercy, a great witness of the missionary and ecumenical spirit,” said Apostolic Nuncio Alessandro D’Errico, who conducted the evening Mass.
The central Mass on Sunday, April 17, was led by Bishop Ilija Janjićof St. Leopold’s native Kotor (Boka kotarska). Also present were the Serbian Orthodox Metropolitan PorfirijePerić of Zagreb-Ljubljana; the delegate of the President of the Republic of Croatia, and Mayor Milan Bandić of Zagreb. “Our St. Leopold, who by following Jesus was a friend to every person, became great through the Eucharist. It was the source of his strength and patience,” said the Bishop of Kotor. Prior to the Mass, members of the world’s oldest fraternity of seaman, Bokeljska mornarica 809 (Boka Navy 809), performed the historic Dance of St. Tryphon, accompanied by the Wind Orchestra of the Croatian Army.
Among the thousands of pilgrims at the evening Mass were those from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Mass was led by Archbishop VinkoCardinal Puljić of Sarajevo, in concelebration with Bishop FranjoKomarica of Banja Luka and the Rev. Ante Baković, who had a church and shrine dedicated to St. Leopold built in Maglaj, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Cardinal Puljićexpressed the hope that the veneration of the relics of St. Leopold would bring change to the society and encourage the faithful so that harmony and unity would prevail within the family and nation.
On April 18, the last Mass in Zagreb to be conducted in the presence of the relics of St. Leopold was led by the Provincial of the Croatian Capuchins, Friar Jure Šarčević. The area around the church was filled with those who venerate St. Leopold, including many children from the local elementary schools and their teachers. Friar Jure remarked that all these days, when so many had waited in line in order to stand before this holy body, present their prayers and supplications, and thank God for the wondrous gift of the holiness of this man, had been miraculous. The ceremony of farewell was then conducted by Cardinal Josip Bozanić. “All of us wanted to draw near, knowing the Leopold shows us the path to God, because those who are holy are close to God. Indeed, what we have experienced testifies to the faith and faithfulness of our Croatian nation,” said Cardinal Bozanić and thanked the Croatian Capuchins, who had initiated bringing the earthly remains of St. Leopold to Croatia.
The sarcophagus with the body was then removed from the church by Croatian Capuchins and volunteers, while the faithful applauded and sang Marijan hymns. Then it was taken to Ljubljana Slovenia.
The presence of the body of St. Leopold in Zagreb aroused powerful emotions. In an interview with the Zagreb daily newspaper Večernji list, Serbian Orthodox Metropolitan Porfirije said: “Leopold is a saint of God, who transcends the boundaries of time and space, national and state borders, as well as every other, because by belonging to Christ, he belongs to all people,” and also added”The faith that I had the opportunity to see this day simply delighted me! I was gratified and touched.”
“They were truly days of grace. Heaven opened,” said the Provincial of the Slovenian Capuchins, Friar Vlado Kolenko. Indeed, during those days confessions were heard in the Zagreb Cathedral and Church of St. Leopold until late at night, when the faithful were able to obtain a special indulgence. At the Masses held in the Church of St. Leopold, concelebrated by over 300 priests, communion was received by 80,000 persons.Young people dressed in folk costumes stood vigil over the body of St. Leopold. Around 300 volunteers maintained order, including a large number of members of Franciscan Youth. Members of the Franciscan Order renewed their vows in the presence of St. Leopold. Assistance was also provided by cooks, medical personnel, electricians, firefighters, Capuchin and Franciscan novices, and volunteers from the Croce Verde who had accompanied the body of the saint from Padua.This was an opportunity to witness the depth of the Croatian people’s devotion to St. Leopold. The presence of the relics of St. Leopold in Zagreb was covered by 23 media outlets. Masses were broadcast by the state-owned Hrvatska televizija, the private Catholic station Laudato TV, and several Catholic and secular radio stations.