A Controversial Archbishop
Note: Alojzije Viktor Stepinac (1898 – 1960) started out as a Croatian cardinal and ended up as the Archbishop of Zagreb. He served as Archbishop during World War II. On the one hand, he had close associations with the Ustaše (Croatian fascists), but on the other hand, he publicly protested the persecution of the Jews. Pope John Paul II had him beautified, the first step towards sainthood in the Catholic church.
Zagreb June 7, 2000
I spent most of yesterday walking around the city. Zagreb is not nearly so touristed as Prague. Of course, there really isn’t as much to see. It was a gray day, a little chilly with the constant threat of rain. In Balkan Ghosts the author claims that is the weather that best suits Zagreb. I don’t think I agree. Zagreb has colors and beautiful architecture just like any other European city. Unfortunately a lot of it is falling apart and in need of renovation.
Workers are fixing up Zagreb Cathedral right now. It’s quite interesting, I think it might be Stepinac Cathedral by the next time I see it. The front features a gigantic portrait of Archbishop Stepinac. Inside his resting place is no longer marked by just a simple tomb. Right in the middle of the cathedral is a monstrous monument of the sort with a statue likeness of Stepinac within a glass coffin. People pray to this monument. I found the entire display to be controversially disturbing.
I had a conversation with a Croat I met at the hostel, Marko, about Stepinac. He got defensive. “You don’t think Stepinac warrants so much honor?”
No, I don’t, but I didn’t want to get into an argument, so I said mildly, “You usually don’t see such big displays for ordinary cardinals.”
“Stepinac wasn’t exactly an ordinary cardinal,” Marko snapped.
True, most cardinals do not preside over racial massacres. Wise enough not to point this out, I remarked, “Well, you usually only see it for saints.”
Marko – an Aussie-born Croat, by the way, visiting his “homeland” for the first time – floored me by stating Stepinac would likely be named as a saint since the current pope [Polish-born Pope John Paul II] had beautified him. I changed the subject: to my mind, the beautification has to be a political statement since Stepinac had done nothing to warrant sainthood. Mother Theresa he wasn’t.
After my conversation with Marko, I wandered around Zagreb a bit more, but it was too chilly to just enjoy the day. So, I went in search of a movie theater I had seen earlier. I couldn't find it, but I did find a shop selling one of the wines my Croatian friend had recommended to me. Graševina. I didn't think I 'd like it, but it was actually quite delicious, tart and rich.