VATICAN CITY: June 9, 2011. (CNS) Croatia has the responsibility to promote Christian values and the role of the family in education and social life as it prepares to enter the European Union, Pope Benedict XVI said.
In his first public appearance since returning from a pastoral trip to Croatian capital of Zagreb June 4-5, the pope also emphasized the essential role of marriage and marital fidelity in a Europe, which has rising rates of divorce and separations.
The pope spoke warmly of his brief visit to the overwhelmingly Catholic, former Yugoslavian country. One of the trip's highlights was the Croatian church's first National Catholic Family Day June 5. Some 400,000 people attended, including families, clergy and faithful from nearby countries.
Pope Benedict, who has often lamented the decline of Christianity in European society and public life, praised the still-strong Catholic traditions of Croatia, which he said should be encouraged in the rest of the continent.
"In today's Europe," the pope said, "the nations with solid Christian traditions have a special responsibility to defend and promote the role of the family based on marriage, which remains a decisive force in education and in social life."
This is especially true for Croatia, which is set to become part of the European Union later this year, the pope said.
The pope said that while divorce is on the increase in today's society, "fidelity within married couples has itself become a significant form of witness to the love of Christ." This fidelity is the cornerstone of the education of children because "the faith in God who is love is transmitted by the witness of faithful married love, which translates naturally into love for children, the fruit of the union."
Referring to his meeting with political, business, diplomatic and cultural leaders of Croatia, he again underscored the country's cultural and intellectual heritage, which he said was "inseparable from its history of faith and the vital presence of the church."
Croatia is a country with a "historic and solid Christian tradition" like the rest of Europe, the pope said. That tradition is at the base of a humanistic approach that is the basis of democracy, he said.
As it prepares to become part of the European Union, he said, Croatia can help the continent realize that it "need not be afraid of God, the God of Jesus Christ ... who doesn't take away freedom but gives it and offers a horizon of hope," he said.
He noted his visit to the tomb of a Croatian cardinal, Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, whom he said has "courageously opposed the oppression of Nazism, fascism, and later, the communist regime." He died in 1960 from illness he contracted in prison.
The cardinal, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II, is seen by Croats as a symbol of the church's resistance to communist oppression. His beatification was controversial because some Serbian Orthodox and Jewish groups accused him of being a Nazi sympathizer during World War II.