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Interview with Cardinal Josip Bozanić: It is necessary to open the archives and revise the account of history created during the totalitarian regime in Croatia

Rim (IKA )

The Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Josip Bozanić, gave an extensive interview to the Croatian Catholic Network (HKM) during the last days of the ad limina visit by the Croatian bishops to Rome. He was interviewed by Slavko Antunović, a journalist and editor of the Catholic Press Agency—IKA—Zagreb, and spoke, among other things, about meeting with the Holy Father, Blessed Alojzije Stepinac and the need to open the historical archives in Croatia.

The members of the Croatian Conference of Bishops celebrated the Eucharist in all four Roman basilicas and held meetings on several topics in the discasteries, congregations and pontifical councils. The Croatian bishops also had the opportunity to visit to other important places and regularly conducted Masses at the Pontifical Croatian College and Church of St. Jerome.   

In response to a question about the topics, problems and challenges that dominated the official talks, Cardinal Bozanić said: “We can say that our ad limina apostolorum visit had several parts. One part was connected to the main Roman Basilicas of St. Peter, St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major.  The bishops always go to these basilicas on their ad limina visits. They come to our roots, where the first apostles sacrificed their lives, where the faithful have made pilgrimages for centuries. These are places of prayer, places where grace is sought from above,” explained the cardinal.

We cannot view meeting with the Holy Father, the Peter of our day, only from the outside, sociologically, or only from the worldly point of view. This is an encounter with the one who is presently holding the office of St. Peter. This is a mystery of the Church. It lives from Jesus Christ, who gathered the apostles and gave primacy to Peter. We today have Peter, who is Pope Francis.  We came with respect and loyalty to him as our father, brother in the episcopate and in a particular way experienced his openness, proximity and simplicity during a conversation that lasted over an hour and a half.

“This meeting occurred immediately after a Mass at the tomb of St. Peter. Seen through the eyes of faith, we were with the one who is the center and sign of the unity of the Church. We expressed our gratitude to him and he wished to speak with us. We asked him questions. We listened to his opinions. He listened to our opinions,” said the Archbishop of Zagreb, adding that the Holy See has always been open toward the local Churches.  

He mentioned Pope Hadrian, who over a thousand years ago permitted Croats to celebrate Mass in a language they understood, which was a sign of the Church’s proximity. The cardinal emphasized the following: “Visits ad limina go back centuries, from the time of Pope Sixtus V. This is something that continues in the Church—that communio—collegiality, community. Certainly, every time has it questions and challenges. In that sense, any orientation that Pope Francis gives us is precious to us.

Moreover, continued the cardinal, referring to the methodology of the work and preparations for the Synod of Bishops, their work, particularly during the preparatory period, especially concerning young people, is the fruit of the Second Vatican Council. Meetings of bishops and councils have been held previously but today there is increasing expression of an awareness of the people of God, as we experienced in Zagreb.

The most recent Second Synod of the Archdiocese of Zagreb assembled the laity, religious, priests, nuns, bishops and auxiliary bishops, while the First Synod of the Archdiocese, which was held in 1925, according to the code of that time, Church regulations, only assembled priests. This is a matter of development in the Church, and the Church is open to even greater breakthroughs

In response to a question whether there are any differences between the Holy See and the Church in Croatia regarding the cause of the canonization of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, Cardinal Bozanić said: “It must be clear to us that beatification and canonization are the work of the Holy See, which has proclaimed Cardinal Stepinac Blessed. Of course, the process starts from the base, from the local Church. In the cause of Stepinac, this was not possible due to the situation during the communist regime, so the beginning of the process occurred here. Thus, the Holy See was very generous to have begun the process during the communist era in the Diocese of Rome. Later, the process continued in the homeland, through the interrogation of many witnesses. It is certainly up to the Holy See to decide when someone is proclaimed a saint. In this case, the Holy See is, on the one hand, very open to the completion of this matter, and on the other hand, we can say that we have witnessed that the cult of Blessed Alojzije continues to grow in all the dioceses in Croatia and that divine providence is guiding us on its path.

Pope Francis has emphasized many times and continues to emphasize that he is convinced of the holiness of Blessed Alojzije. God is guiding us on the path. […] We are all within the Church and we profoundly believe that we shall be surprised by the gift that we shall receive on this path. What is happening, actually, will further strengthen the cult of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac. This is keenly felt in Croatia and also in the interest of the Universal Church.   

Cardinal Bozanić also spoke about the accumulation of wealth by political elites. The problem is that such wealth is sometimes concealed in tax havens in the world, and equals the amount of their countries’ public debts. It would be necessary to speak about this much more extensively but certainly, if we consider the situation globally and nationally, as described in the papal encyclical Laudato si, the danger in today’s world is that decisions are made somewhere far away. Like those other decisions that afterwards coordinate and organize life, first of all they are made somewhere far away, and the people are not aware of this. There is some early talk about certain conventions, as if they were not very important and did not entail obligations. Purportedly, [the authorities] do not want to speak too much about them. Conventions are easy to sign but then the signers are held responsible.   

You are a member of this club. You have to be responsible and bring everything down to the national level. It is said that we have to do some things but they will not be so important. However, in the end, we shall realize what is going into the laws, into the schools and into upbringing and education. Actually, this is a situation where there is very little democracy.  The cardinal repeated: “very little democracy.” […] “The people must become acquainted with those decisions that seem very far away because they have an impact on us, our country, our young people, the future, the economy and development. And I think that you journalists should speak more about this.”

In response to the final question, concerning what the bishops said to the Holy Father about two figures who are sacred to the Croatian people,  Miroslav Bulešić and Alojzije Stepinac, the cardinal spoke about the sufferings of individuals and a large part of the Croatian nation during the communist reign of terror, which is still difficult to shed light upon in our public discourse.  We must not fear the truth. To all of those who are afraid to open the archives, who speak to us about some historical revisionism, I should say that it is necessary to revise history, said the Archbishop of Zagreb, which was written during a totalitarian  regime, because it was not a genuine history. It was ideological history. .

This is a problem in our country. I understand some professors who defended their doctoral dissertations and now see that they were based on ideology and not the actual facts. It is necessary to open the archives. It is necessary to confront everything, from both the light and dark sides. We need to promote freedom of research and not fear the truth. Concerning those influential persons regarding this issue, the cardinal said that he would not want to judge but everyone should examine his or her conscience. We must certainly encourage the young to desire to seek the truth about our history. There are still many things that are hidden, warned Cardinal Bozanić.

At the conclusion of his interview for IKA and HKM, Cardinal Bozanić reiterated that it is necessary to open the archives responsibly, with all due respect, because until the truth sees the light of day, there will be bickering, which holds us back.