Mons. Zdenko Križić, gospićko-senjski biskup / Foto: HKM
On Saturday, May 15, the seventy-sixth anniversary of the Bleiburg tragedy, the Bishop of Gospić-Senji celebrated Mass in front of the Church of the Croatian Martyrs in Udbina.
At the beginning of the homily, Bishop Križić said that “our homeland is not territorially large but, nevertheless, there are too many places that have remained in our memories as sites where our people were executed, of which many would be worthy places to commemorate the victims. As it is not possible to conduct the regular commemoration in Bleiburg, the Croatian Conference of Bishops has chosen Udbina, overlooking the Krbava Field, as a place of remembrance for the casualties of Bleiburg and [the death marches and persecutions known collectively as] the Way of the Cross, because in a sense the great suffering of our nation and its Way of the Cross began here,” he added.
He noted that the bones of many of the victims from the Second World War, postwar period and the Homeland War have still not been buried and “await their final resting places.” “The Church of the Croatian Martyrs was built to unite all the casualties of our nation throughout its history,” said the bishop. “This is not a place where we invoke a curse, God’s wrath or God’s punishment upon anyone. This is not a place to fuel hatred or incite revenge against the criminals or the nations to whom they belonged. That would be a profanation of the victims and this holy place,” he said and added that “hatred never brings blessing and the future is not built upon it.” He also said that nurturing hatred is most dangerous for the soul.
Speaking about a postwar victim of the communist hatred of the Church, Blessed Miroslav Bulešić, Bishop Križić emphasized that forgiveness is
the best and only way for a disciple of Jesus.” “We do not come to this place to parade, to provoke anyone but rather to bear witness that God’s love overcomes hatred, that forgiveness overcomes all evil. We must not forget our casualties but must not avenge them in any way.
“This is a place where we pray to the Lord to receive all the victims into his embrace: the innocent as well as those burdened by guilt. We must not even exclude the criminal victims from our prayers because when someone decides to commit a crime, it is a sign that he is full of distress, that his soul is empty, that his heart is poisoned, that his mind is overwhelmed by darkness and he does not know what he is doing. That is why Jesus prayed to the Heavenly Father for his tormenters, stressing that they did not know what they did because they lived in darkness,” said Bishop Križić.
Then he spoke about the condemnations of the prayer gatherings and celebrations of Mass for the victims of the Bleiburg massacre and the Way of the Cross, which were particularly directed last year toward Archbishop Vinko Puljić of Sarajevo. “Only God is glorified and celebrated in the Mass. There is prayer for the deceased, regardless of whether the departed was a paragon or a great sinner. Such judgments are left to God,” explained the bishop.
Referring to the values of the twenty-first century, he said that uniform criteria have not been applied to the victims: all those who were slaughtered without trial have been declared criminals, while justification is offered for the killings that occurred immediately following the war. He expressed his astonishment that a statement by a member of parliament that many more should have been killed after the war was met with understanding in the Croatian media.
He also pointed out that everyone is entitled to a dignified burial. “I am not saying all of this with the intention of justifying the crimes committed by the members of our nation. Not at all! A crime is a crime, whoever committed it, and wherever it was committed. However, it is also a crime when only the crimes of one side are condemned, while the crimes of the other side are relativized or justified. This is not the path to truth, forgiveness or reconciliation,” said the Bishop of Gospić-Senj.
Referring to the reading from the Book of Genesis, he said that “every crime cries out to heaven, from the first one described in the Bible, when Cain killed his brother, to each that followed.” He added that “the blood of the victim is never silent but constantly cries out in condemnation of the crime. If criminals do not repent, they will be followed for life by the screams and shadows of their victims. These will haunt them and they will never have peace.”
Therefore, he urged people to pray for those who do us harm, instead of cursing them. “Brothers and sisters, it is much better to be a victim than a criminal. It is much better to suffer at the hands of someone than to cause someone else’s suffering. There are those who may not like this assertion but it is God’s logic and life confirms that it is true. People remember the victims and have compassion for them, but not for criminals,” said Msgr. Križić.
Observing that in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus focuses upon the Samaritan without commenting on the criminals, Bishop Križić said that “the greatest tragedy of a nation is not the presence of criminals and robbers, which every nation has, but the lack of compassionate people, the lack of people who stop, take pity upon the suffering of others and do something for them.”
“Despite the countless casualties we have endured throughout history, we have not perished as a nation. However, if we lack people of mercy, love and solidarity, I do not believe that we can have a future. It was not by chance that Jesus said that a sign of the end of the world would be when love cools,” concluded Bishop Križić, calling once again for prayer.
The concelebrants of the Mass were the President of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, Archbishop Želimir Puljić of Zadar; the Archbishop of Rijeka, Msgr. Ivan Devčić, the Archbishop Coadjutor of Rijeka and Apostolic Administrator of Dubrovnik, Msgr. Mate Uzinić; the Military Ordinary in the Republic of Croatia, Msgr. Jure Bogdan; the Bishop of Krk, Msgr. Ivica Petanjak; the Bishop of Bjelovar-Križevci, Msgr. Vjekoslav Huzjak; the Bishop of Šibenik, Msgr. Tomislav Rogić; the Bishop Emeritus of Šibenik, Msgr. Ante Ivas; the Bishop Emeritus of Varaždin, Msgr. Josip Mrzljak; the General Secretary of the Croatian Conference of Bishops, the Rev. Dr. Krunoslav Novak; religious provincials and other priests.
Together with the assembled faithful and pilgrims, the commemoration was attended by the Speaker of the Croatian Parliament, Gordan Jandroković; the Delegate of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia, Minister Gordan Grlić Radman, and other government representatives. The liturgical singing was led by the choir of the Cathedral of St. Anastasia from Zadar.
This year’s commemoration of the Bleiburg tragedy was organized by the Bleiburg Honor Guard, under the auspices of the Croatian Parliament, together with the Pastoral Ministry for Croats Abroad of the Croatian Conference of Bishops and the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina.