INTERVIEW: Mixed Serbo-Croatian Commission Will Enable Blessed Stepinac to Be Model for All

Interview with Bernardo Ardura, President of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, and of the Mixed Commission That Is Backed by the Holy See

Photo by ZENIT- Deborah Castellano Lubov

The Mixed Commission of expert Croats and Serbs, which will work together on the figure and life of Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, met at the Vatican on July 12-13.

Its objective is to clarify, through a historical-scientific reading, the points that might seem controversial, so that a future canonization of the Archbishop of Zagreb is not the object of discord between Serbs and Croatians, but becomes a motive for union between them, which would also be true between Orthodox and Catholics, said today French priest Father Bernardo Ardura, President of the Pontifical Commission for Historical Sciences, and President of the Mixed Commission, which is backed by the Holy See. ZENIT had the opportunity to talk with him.

The Archbishop of Zagreb was accused of collaborating with the Ustasci Fascists of the Independent Croatian State. So Tito’s Communist regime sentenced him to 16 years in prison, where he was tortured and died, poisoned by radiation. Saint John Paul II declared him Blessed in 1998.

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ZENIT: How was this Commission born?

Father Ardura: The Commission came into being by a decision of Pope Francis, after having met with several representatives of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Serbia and of the Bishops of the Croatian Episcopal Conference. They realized that it was desirable to work in common to reread the figure and life of Blessed Cardinal Stepinac, in order to purify the memory.

ZENIT: Why is there difficulty in reading the life of the Blessed?

Father Ardura: Because, as has happened so many times between several European nations, there are events of the remote and recent past, that leave their mark. Therefore, it was decided to undertake a common study, a joint rereading of the life and activity of Blessed Stepinac before, during and after World War II – a historical-scientific reading different from the process of canonization.

ZENIT: And the Balkans War?

Father Ardura: The Balkans War has continued and aggravated these wounds of the past.

ZENIT: What is the key element that must be understood?

Father Ardura: The key element in all this is the relations between Serbs and Croats during the ephemeral Croatian Independent State, which existed during World War II.

ZENIT: Why the Orthodox?

Father Ardura: Because the Serbs are Orthodox and the Croats are Catholics and it is a context that is characteristic of the Slav nations. These peoples constitute nations that are not only an ethnic but also a cultural and religious complex, and each one defines itself by all that it is. Thus one thinks automatically of Serbs as Orthodox and Croats as Catholics. Like the Russians, the Serbs say they are Orthodox, and consider this a characteristic of their peoples, something that happens less in Western Europe.

ZENIT: How has the Commission been received? 

Father Ardura: It is much appreciated both by the Orthodox as well, of course, as the Catholics, and it has been interpreted as a great act of pastoral charity. The Pope suggested that each side choose its members, so there are five Serbian Orthodox chosen by the Patriarch and five Catholics chosen by the Croatian Episcopal Conference.

ZENIT: So, in the future, Blessed Stepinac won’t be a motive for controversy? 

Father Arduna: The Blessed’s canonization should make him a Saint for all. This is the Pope’s desire, which has been generously received by the Serbian Bishops.

ZENIT: How did the first meeting go?

Father Ardura: It went very well; it was held in Rome. The next will be held in Zagreb over two days in October. Every meeting has a topic. The Commission will then decide what will happen with the final document.

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