Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac,
"A Servant of God and the Croatian People"

Written by Michael Savor (Hamilton, Ontario, CANADA)
1997, revised in 2001

Aloysius Stepinac came from a peasant family, born in Brezani near Krasic on May 8, 1898. He was the eighth out of twelve children, and his mother always prayed that he might one day become a priest. In 1916, Stepinac was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army and fought on the Italian front until he was taken prisoner. In 1919 he returned to civilian life and entered the University of Zagreb to study agriculture. Stepinac decided to become a priest in 1924 and was sent to Rome to prepare, and was ordained six years later on October 26, 1930.

He returned to Zagreb in July, 1931 with the degrees of Doctor of Theology and Philosophy. Soon afterwards, Stepinac was chosen to become secretary to Archbishop Antun Bauer. On June 24, 1934 he was nominated as coadjutor to the Archbishop of Zagreb. After this nomination, Stepinac stated: "I love my Croatian people and for their benefit I am ready to give everything, as well as I am ready to give everything for the Catholic Church." After Bauer's death on December 7, 1937 Stepinac became the Archbishop of Zagreb.

During the Second World War, Stepinac never turned his back on refugees, or the prosecuted. His door was always open not only for Croatians, but also Jews, Serbs and Slovenes that needed his help. Stepinac always stood for political freedom and fundamental rights, and he always advocated the rights of the Croatian people. Stepinac wanted Croatia to be a country of God.

In May of 1943, he openly criticised the Nazis, and as a result, the Germans and Italians demanded that he be removed from office. Pope Pious XII refused, and warned Stepinac that his life was in danger. In July of 1943, the BBC and the Voice of America began to broadcast Stepinac's sermons to occupied Europe, and the BBC commented on Stepinac's criticism of the Ustasha regime.

At the end of the war, Stepinac was found guilty of Nazi collaboration at a mock trial, and was convicted and sentenced sixteen years' hard labour on October 11, 1946. At his trial when his life was on the line, Stepinac asked his communist prosecutors: "...every nation has the right to independence, then why should it be denied to the Croatians?" He spent five years in the prison of Lepoglava, and in 1951, Tito's government released him and confined him to the village of Krasic.

Even though he was forbidden by the government to resume his duties, Stepinac was named Cardinal by Pope Pius XII on January 12, 1953. Due to pain caused by the many illnesses he contracted while imprisoned, Cardinal Stepinac died in Krasic on February 10, 1960. On February 13th, he was buried behind the main altar in the cathedral in Zagreb. Pope Pious XII stated that "this Croatian Cardinal is the most important priest of the Catholic Church".

In 1985, his trial prosecutor Jakov Blazevic admited publically that Cardinal Stepinac's trial was entirely framed, and that Stepinac was tried only because he refused to sever thousand year old ties between Croatians and the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Spelman commented on Stepinac by stating that : "the only thing Cardinal Stepinac is guilty of was his love for God and his homeland". On October 3, 1998 in Marija Bistrica, Pope John Paul II beatified Cardinal Stepinac, and referred to him as one of the outstanding figures of the Catholic Church. Even though Serbs seriously opposed the beatification of Cardinal Stepinac, Ljubomir Rankovic, Deacon of the Serbian Orthodox Church supported the beatification : "...I, as a person and a priest, wish to express my admiration for this move." There were also prominent members of the Jewish community who testified to the generosity of aid Stepinac provided during the war.

Without a doubt, Blessed Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac is one of the greatest Croatian patriots of the 20th century. He spent his entire life serving God and the Croatian people, demonstrating the importance of faith, charity and virtue.

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