Cardinal Kuharic, "Rock of Croatia," Dies

Symbol of Resistance to Communism, and of Peace in Fratricidal War

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2002 ( Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, archbishop emeritus of Zagreb, died this morning in the archdiocesan palace where he resided. He was 82.

According to an announcement by Archbishop Giulio Einaudi, the apostolic nuncio in Croatia, the cardinal died of cardiac arrest, although he had been ill for quite some time.

On hearing the news, John Paul II sent a telegram to Archbishop Josip Bozanic of Zagreb, in which he expressed his «sorrow for the death of this dear and worthy pastor, who knew how to serve generously, wisely and loyally the people of God entrusted to his pastoral care.»

The Holy Father recalled that «both during the period of the Communist regime as well as during the recent and difficult period of national history,» Cardinal Kuharic «committed himself with all his energies to the service of the defense of the liberty and dignity of the Croatian people, combining gentle charity with the authoritative firmness of the pastor responsible for his flock.»

«A man totally dedicated to the cause of the Gospel, he gave consistent witness of Christ, tirelessly infusing confidence and courage in the faithful during the harsh trials to which they were subjected in Croatian land,» the Pontiff concluded.

Franjo Kuharic was born April 15, 1919, in the village of Pribic. He was ordained a priest in 1945 by then Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac.

Paul VI named Kuharic auxiliary bishop of Zagreb in 1964. He was promoted to archbishop in 1970, succeeding Cardinal Franjo Seper, who was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. John Paul II made Archbishop Kuharic a cardinal in 1983.

«The rock of Croatia,» as he was known, was president of the Yugoslavian bishops´ conference for three terms. He was archbishop of Zagreb until July 5, 1997.

In a letter sent to Archbishop Bozanic, Croatian President Stipe Mesic paid homage to the cardinal´s work during the 1991-1995 war between Serbs and Croats.

«He preached peace, reconciliation and rejected every spirit of vengeance and crime, guided by evangelical principles and the values of justice and liberty,» the president stated.

Cardinal Kuharic´s funeral will be held Thursday morning in Zagreb´s cathedral, where he will be buried.

With his death, the College of Cardinals now has 177 members, including 129 electors under age 80.

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