The war in Eastern Europe is one of the leading themes that have emerged in meetings the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, is having in Croatia, where he is on a visit to mark the 30th anniversary of the recognition of the country’s independence. In a speech on Thursday to the Croatian parliament, the cardinal reaffirmed the Holy See’s closeness to the country and its people.
By Benedetta Capelli
Thursday marked the last day of the Vatican Secretary of State’s visit to Croatia and its capital Zagreb to mark the 30th anniversary of the Holy See’s recognition of the independence of the Croatian Republic and the 25th anniversary of the ratification of three treaties between the Vatican and the Balkan country.
On Thursday morning, he met with the Speaker of the Croatian Parliament, Gordan Jandroković, during which the Cardinal recalled the appeals for peace for Ukraine, reiterated several times by Pope Francis since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.
For his part, Jandroković expressed concern about the possibility of the crisis spreading from Ukraine to south-eastern Europe, with a particular focus on Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the dialogue, the president spoke about the situation in Croatia, expressing fears for the country’s future and survival, and then called on the Holy See to help with a solution that would guarantee the equality of all three peoples.
The parliament president expressed satisfaction with the exceptionally good and friendly relations between Croatia and the Holy See, based on strong and historically long ties.
‘Beloved’ Croatian people
The good relations between the parties were at the centre of the detailed speech that Cardinal Pietro Parolin gave to the Zagreb Parliament, firmly reaffirming that “the Holy See is faithfully at the side of its beloved Croatian people.”
He called it a caring bond born over time which, according to the Cardinal, is well expressed by the presence of a Catholic church in the square in front of the Parliament.
“The development of St Mark’s Square,” Cardinal Parolin explained, “reflects the whole reality of the historical relations between the Croatian people and the Catholic Church. A reciprocal closeness that has grown with the special predilection and respect nurtured by St John Paul II.”
“Like no other,” the Cardinal added, “he understood the burden of history, injustice, and suffering to which the Croatians were exposed as a Slavic people in their centuries-long aspiration to have their own State.”
John Paul II and Croatia
It was Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Parolin recalled, who gave great impetus to intense juridical and diplomatic activity both before and during the creation of the contemporary Croatian state, particularly at the moment of independence, formally recognized by the Holy See on 13 January 1992, among the first to do so.
“This act,” emphasized the Secretary of State, “remains to this day a sign of strong faith, trust, closeness, dedication, and mutual support”, even more so confirmed in the three pastoral visits of John Paul II, in one of which he beatified Cardinal Stepinac, a strenuous opponent of Nazi-fascism and defender of religious freedom during the Tito regime.
Agreements to bring harmony
In his speech, the Cardinal recalled the value of the treaties signed, specifying that the agreements between the Holy See and the Republic of Croatia “must not be seen to the detriment of other religious communities”, but are to be considered as “a model” to prevent conflicts or disagreements.
They are, in general, “useful for regulating the life of the Church and guaranteeing its independence in the face of the desire to interfere in its organization”. They are also useful for “building a human, just, and united society” according to the perspective indicated by the conciliar constitution Gaudium et spes.
In this regard, Cardinal Parolin recalled the agreement on the appointment of bishops between the Holy See and China, signed on 22 September 2018, and quoted a phrase by Cardinal Casaroli: “The important thing is not the concordat but the concord”, because the value of agreements lies “in promoting harmony and coexistence in today’s societies.”
On the subject of religious freedom, the Cardinal stressed that “almost all European countries have chosen the system of confessional agreements” to guarantee it, and the Catholic Church intends “to obtain a statute that is as appropriate as possible to its specific needs.”
Recalling that “Christianity and Christian solidarity represent the foundations of Western culture and of Europe”, the Secretary of State added that nowadays there remain in Croatia damaging signs of the long decades of totalitarian destruction that must be healed with love and dedication.
“It is right to emphasize,” he concluded, “the firm faith of the Croatian people and the bona fides in relations between the Holy See and this people.”