President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia met with Pope Francis at the Vatican this morning.
Upon her arrival, the Croatian president greeted Pope Francis in his native Spanish. Grabar-Kitarović, who studied Spanish at the University of Zagreb, informed the Pope that she also spent time in Spain to learn the language.
Journalists present at today’s meeting said that the Holy Father and Grabar-Kitarović spoke in private for roughly 20 minutes.
Following the private meeting, the president of Croatia introduced the delegation accompanying her, which included her staff as well as the Croatian Ambassador to the Holy See, Filip Vučak.
During the exchange of gifts, the Head of State gave the Pope a corporal with an embroidered symbol of Lepoglava, the former Pauline monastery that was later converted into a penitentiary.
Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, the former Archbishop of Zagreb, was convicted and imprisoned at Lepoglava by the then Communist government following World War II. Although sentenced for 16 years, he was released to house arrest after serving five years. He was declared a martyr in 1997 and beatified by St. John Paul II during his apostolic trip to Croatia in 1998.
In a press conference at the Croatian Embassy to the Holy See, the Croatian president told journalists that the Holy Father told her that he personally had no doubts regarding the sanctity of Cardinal Stepinac. He also said that in order to move a canonization process forward, a commission comprised of Catholics, Orthodox and historians will verify aspects of his life disputed by Greek-Orthodox Serbians.
Although President Grabar-Kitarović invited Pope Francis to the country, there was no confirmation on whether he would visit or of the possible canonization of Blessed Stepinac.
The president also gave the Holy Father a national soccer jersey with his name in Croatian: Papa Franjo and the #9. According to HRT news agency, the #9 is a number traditionally given to the best players.
She also gave the Pope a series of books on the Holy Father translated in Croatian.
For his part, Pope Francis gave her a medal depicting St. Martin of Tours giving his cloak to a poor man, which is meant to convey the need to help the poor.
According to a communique by the Holy See Press Office, the Pope and Grabar-Kitarović discussed “themes of common interest,” such as “the collaboration between the Church and the State for the common good of Croatian society, especially the support of families and the young.”
“Attention then turned to the social consequences of the global economic crisis, and the main challenges at a regional level, with particular attention to the situation of Croatians in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the communique stated.
After her meeting with Pope Francis, President Grabar-Kitarović met with the Pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as well as Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.