Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac

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Stepinac was born in Brezarici on the 8th May 1898.  He was one of eight children born to Josip Stepinac and his wife Barbara.  The family moved from Brezaric to Krasic in 1907.  It is for this reason that Krasic is often referred to as his birthplace.

His mother fasted and prayed three times a week for her son, just as Saint Monica had prayed for her son Augustine, in the hope that Stepinac would become a priest.

Education, national service and imprisonment contributed towards his own personal spiritual development and maturity, and led eventually to his decision to enter the priesthood. He began his theological studies in 1924.

He was ordained to the priesthood in Rome on the 26th October 1930.  He celebrated his first Mass in Rome in the church of St Mary Major, on the feast of All Saints, and his first Mass in Krasic on the 19th September 1931.

He was ordained a Bishop on the 24th June 1934 in the Cathedral of Zagreb.  His father had since passed away, but his mother was present for the ordination. On the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the re-discovery of the statue of Mary and the infant Jesus in the Croatian pilgrimage place of Marija Bistrica, Archbishop Bauer and Stepinac crowned the statue with a golden crown, similar to the one worn by ancient Croatian kings.  From then on, for all solemn occasions, the statue is adorned with this same crown, even to the present day.

Following the death of Archbishop Bauer in 1937, Stepinac accepted the office and title of Archbishop of Zagreb.

Stepinac advocated strongly for the human rights of those who suffered persecution.  This, coupled with his outspoken homilies in the Zagreb Cathedral, brought him into direct conflict with the prevailing authorities He said: “The Catholic Church would never recognise a system that would seek to take land away from a peasant, or business or property from tradesmen or workers who had gained it with hard and honest work.  Such actions are soul destroying.”

His public condemnation of the actions of government and communist authorities provoked an extensive anti-Church campaign.  The killing of Priests and assaults on Bishops became widespread.  Stepinac met with Vladimir Bakaric, the President of the NRH, and provided him with a list of the innocent civilians who were imprisoned at that time.

The Catholic Bishops, led by Stepinac, came into direct conflict with the communist regime.  As a result, Stepinac published a Pastoral Letter on behalf of the Bishops Conference in 1945 which stated the following: “When people with a Jewish or Orthodox faith come to you, who find themselves in mortal danger and express a wish to become Catholic, accept them to save their lives.  Don’t require of them any special religious knowledge, because Orthodox believers are Christians like us, and Christianity has its roots in Judaism.  The first priority for Christians is to save lives.  When this time of madness and savagery passes, those who converted for the right reasons will remain, while the others will return to their own faith.”

This letter is preserved in the Archdiocesan archive in Zagreb.

On the 18th September 1946, Stepinac was arrested under the directive of the Public Attorney Jacov Blazevic.

Even while under investigation, the Archbishop refused to defend himself.  The court appointed him defence counsel, who themselves were then prohibited from preparing his defence. Stepinac was found guilty of treason and war crimes, and was sentenced to 16 years hard labour, the first five without civil and political rights.  He was released from prison in 1951 and placed under house arrest in Krasic.

On the 12th January 1953, Pope Pius XII named him Cardinal of the Catholic Church.  At the same time, FNRJ severed diplomatic relations with the Holy See.  Stepinac was encouraged by the recognition bestowed upon him by the Church, and saw it as a sign from above to continue with his difficult life’s journey and mission.

His last mass was celebrated on the 7th February 1960.  The following day, he became so ill that he was unable to get out of bed.  On the 10th February he asked his Parish Priest to hear his confession, requested Last Rites to be performed, and sought the Pope’s Blessing for the Dying.  With great effort, he participated in praying the Rosary with the Religious Sisters who were caring for him, and at 2.15 in the afternoon he passed away, holding in his hand a special candle, whispering:

let your will be done.

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