After months of anticipation, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Zagreb, Croatia, on Saturday, for his two-day visit to the predominately Catholic Balkan nation.
After a 90-minute flight from Rome, Italy to Zagreb, the Pope was welcomed at Pleso airport by Croatian president Ivo Josipovic and hundreds of young people and politicians who seemed to be in awe of the arrival of the Pope who they often refer to as Papa.
On Saturday afternoon, the 84-year-old Pope met with top Croatian leaders and expressed his support of Croatia joining the European Union in 2012 or 2013. He also acknowledged the uncertainty that may arise from skeptics given that Croatia is a small country entering an established bloc with values that have long strayed from Europe’s belief in Christianity.
According to Forbes, “One can understand there is perhaps a fear of an overly strong centralized bureaucracy and a rationalistic culture that doesn’t sufficiently take into account the history – the richness of history and the richness of the diverse history that Croatia offers,” he said.
On Saturday evening, Benedict held a prayer vigil in Zagreb’s Ban Josip Jelacic Square before 50,000 young people who repeatedly chanted “Benedict!” while clapping their hands.
The Pope’s strong message to the youth was to believe in Christ and to not give into the temptations of materialism.
As Yahoo News reports, “Do not yield to the temptation of putting all your trust in possessions, in material things, while abandoning the search for the truth which is always ‘greater,’ which guides us like a star high in the heavens to where Christ would lead us,” he said.
On the morning of Sunday, June 5, over 300,000 people attended the open air mass held at the Hippodrome in Zagreb. Since it was Croatia’s National Family Day, Benedict reinstated his views on family values and opposition to common-law partnership telling the crowd: “Dear families be courageous! Do not give into that secularised mentality which proposes living together as a preparation, or even a substitute for marriage!” reported by AFP.
After the homily ended, many people were overjoyed at the Pope’s message. According to AFP one woman said, “There are no words to describe how I feel right now. Karmen Serpic, 40, who attended the mass with her husband and their two youngest sons burst into tears of joy afterwards.”
Her husband Ivan told AFP, “We heard what is needed in these difficult times and the Pope came at the right moment. Our way of life has changed and faith can help us to face all those challenges.”
This was Benedict’s first visit to Croatia. Previously, the late Pope John Paul II had visited Croatia a total of three times; twice during the 1990’s when Croatia had received its independence from former Yugoslavia and his last visit in 2003. Benedict will return to Rome on Sunday evening after concluding his visit in Croatia.