Three Church representatives from Croatia, two historians from the Great Britain and the USA and four members of the European Parliament highlighted the merits of the Blessed Aloysius Stepinac in rescuing Jews and Serbs at the conference titled “Blessed Aloysius Stepinac – a Testimony of Faith, Perseverance and Hope” held in the European Parliament on 22 March 2023. The Blessed Stepinac was in the convocation of the European Parliament presented to the European public as a Croatian and European whose character and work represent the heritage of the mankind. The speakers at the Conference talked a lot about how the Archbishop Stepinac intervened with the authorities for the persecuted Jews and Serbs.
Conseiller of the Apostolic Nunciature to the EU, Mgr Hrvoje Škrlec, said that many Croatian citizens perceived the Blessed Stepinac as one of the most important persons of the last century. He added that the European Parliament was the right place to talk about Stepinac, because the European democracy was visible there. He also referred to the comments that everything had already been said about Stepinac and that therefore, there was no need to talk about him any more at all. “But are those allegedly known facts the truth? Is it allowed to hate in the name of an ideology, is it allowed to disable someone to act and deny his very existence? Is it allowed to question the freedom of speech about the topics that are considered dangerous by some people?”, asked Mgr Škrlec during his introductory remarks.
The Pope and the Holy Seat were certain about Stepinac’s innocence when he was convicted in the rigged political court trial, confirmed Mgr Škrlec. He pointed out to Stepinac’s virtues: “Aloysius Stepinac was always aware of his identity. He was Croatian. He was absolutely faithful to the Catholic Church. But he had never been an extremist on any basis, be it national, religious or racial. (…) Today one can say he was politically correct. Still, when Croatia introduced the racist laws, Aloysius Stepinac did not remain silent. According to some historians, no other highly ranked Church official in Europe spoke as clearly and loudly against genocide. He did not only speak against it, but he also acted by bringing the prosecuted Jews and Serbs to safe places.”
The long-term Postulator of the Cause for Stepinac, Mgr Juraj Batelja warned about the fact that Stepinac’s mediation with the authorities for the sake of saving the endangered or imprisoned Jews and Serbs was belittled and misused, and interpreted as support to the authorities. “Even today many people want to compromise the words and acts of Aloysius Stepinac during World War II, primarily in relation to expelling Jews and the Nazi racist ideology, completely ignoring thousands of pages of written documents, and exaggerating and presenting defamatory accusations about expelling the Serbian population.”, said Mgr Batelja.
The Archbishop Stepinac supported the Serbs and took care of the Serbian children, war victims by putting them into Catholic institutions and monasteries. – said Mgr Batelja. “He established a reception centre for those kids next to the Archbishop’s Palace in Zagreb. He also turned the Archbishop’s Palace in Brezovica into an orphanage for war orphans, and arranged outbuildings for accommodation of 80 elderly Jews. Only the Caritas of the Zagreb Archbishopric took care of more than 7,500 Serbian children.”, said Mgr Batelja.
Mgr Batelja’s message that Archbishop Stepinac was one with the people, but without any political affiliation resonated strongly from the European Parliament. Stepinac was perceived a disloyal collocutor by the regime of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, whereas the NDH authorities mockingly called him “the one from Thessaloniki”. For Germans he was a “Judenfreund” (a friend of Jews), whereas for Jews, Ustashas and some other Germans, he was a “Germanofob” (a hater of Germans). The Partisans liked him at the time when they were fighting to take over power. When they succeeded, they proclaimed him an Ustasha and people’s enemy.
“Aloysius Stepinac was ardently supporting all Godly and human rights in the society. He was announcing the Evangelical truth and justice, he was the advocate of the people deprived of their rights, who had, as all other peoples, a right to their own state. He had never pronounced what its political system should look like. As a spiritual shepherd he was taking care of his flock on the Christ’s path towards the glory of Heaven and he was encouraging and inspiring them with hope that God would never forget them. Those who start from ideological and political motives, and not from the Christian values and historical truths, may not perceive the holiness of Stepinac. In fact, his holiness has inexhaustible value, attraction and inspiration, because it is built on the exemplary application of the Gospel principles of love for God and your neighbours that is so much needed in modern European and world society”, concluded Mgr Batelja.
The pastor of the Krašić Parish, Ivan Vučak, talked about the Blessed Aloysius and his attitude towards the Jews in Krašić and its surroundings during his youth. He mentioned four Jewish families – Spitzer, Weiss, Adlešić, Kunaj – and how young Aloysius Stepinac built very nice relations with Jews already from his childhood and youth. They are still remembered by people in Krašić. As their pastor I meet them on a daily basis and they all confirm that the young Stepinac was treating Jewish kids with respect and was socializing with them and their families.”, said Vučak.
Historian Dr. Robin Harris dedicated a part of his lecture to Mgr Batelja’s book in English titled “Blessed Alojzije Stepinac – Saving the Jews and Serbs in World War II” which is now presented for the first time. “The book draws attention to little-known facts in the English-speaking world related to the heroic role of Bl. Stepinac in the area. That’s material that can respond to a defamation campaign currently being carried out in the media, and that is a part of why Bl. Stepinac has not been canonized,” he said. Dr. Harris said that historians should not neglect such a huge amount of material.
Dr. Ester Gitman said that Stepinac was a Communist martyr who stood by his people and victims of the totalitarian regime: “Aloysius Stepinac was one of the few in Europe who stood up against the Communists tyranny, who spoke up against horrible racist law and opposed the Nazi terror, just to become the victim of a lie.”
The Conference was organized by Croatian Member of the European Parliament Željana Zovko, on the initiative of the Head of the Culture Department of the Croatian World Congress, Franjo Pavić. It is high time to value Stepinac for his actions and to finally end the belittlement and destruction of his personality, said MEP Zovko in her welcome speech. “The Croatian people know Stepinac’s greatness, thus for us he is already a saint. In the darkest moments of history he kept his strength, goodness and philanthropy and remained faithful to his mission – the Catholic Church in the Croatian people. Stepinac’s legacy obliges us to undertake this kind of activities in order to preserve the historical truth and promote the doctrine which Stepinac was promoting on his path of righteousness,” said MEP Zovko. Bulgarian MEP Andrej Kovačev addressed the participants at the beginning of the Conference.