PM Plenkovic again invites Pope Francis to visit Croatia

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Thursday invited Pope Francis to visit Croatia, expressing hope the visit would happen at the right time even though the pope usually visits smaller European countries without a Catholic majority, and as for the canonization of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, the pope's key message was "patience".

"I'm glad that we were received by Pope Francis today... I hope that he will visit Croatia at the right time," Plenkovic told reporters after meeting with the pontiff and the Holy See's Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

After the audience, which lasted about 20 minutes, the Croatian PM and the pope exchanged gifts, with Plenkovic giving the pope the crucifix "The Crucifixion of Jesus" by Damir Matausic and the second volume of the Beram Breviary in the Glagolitic script. He received from the pope a medal with key messages of solidarity and cooperation and several books authored by him.

Asked by reporters if today they had again discussed the canonization of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Plenkovic said that during their brief meeting they mentioned that topic as well.

"The position of the government and, I can say, the entire Croatian people, is that our expectations and wishes are well-known, there is nothing new about that. We expect the entire procedure to be completed within the Catholic Church, as it should. The message we received is 'patience'," said Plenkovic.

One of the topics of the meeting between the Croatian PM and Pope Francis was ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, notably in the context of two important events held as part of Croatia's EU presidency - a meeting with representatives of the Council of Bishops' Conferences of the EU and the Conference of European Churches, and the international conference "Human Fraternity - the Foundation of Security and Peace in the World", organised by the Muslim World League, the leadership of the Islamic Community in Croatia and the Croatian Bishops' Conference.

"I think that the message we have sent through our presidency is that we are not only using the very good model of relations between the Croatian authorities and the Islamic community in Croatia but that that model can serve as an example to other European countries," said Plenkovic.

Pope Francis also gave Plenkovic a copy of a document he signed a year ago with Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, the Secretary General of the Muslim World League who visited Zagreb earlier this week, with important messages on interreligious dialogue sent out in February 2019.

PM Plenkovic and Pope Francis also discussed topics related to Croatia's EU presidency and the pope's global role, given that Plenkovic today visited the Vatican, for the second time during his term, also in his capacity as the prime minister of the country chairing the EU.

Among those topics were the topic of migrations, ways of preventing illegal migrations and regulating legal ones, the fight against poverty and social exclusion, demographic challenges in Europe and joint efforts in fighting climate change.

Asked if they had discussed EU enlargement considering that the pope had visited Albania and North Macedonia, Plenkovic said that that topic had been mentioned as well, notably during the meeting with Cardinal Parolin, and that he had told them that the EU-Western Balkan summit, to be held in Zagreb in May, would send a strong message to neighbouring countries regarding the prospect of their EU membership.

This has been met with approval because we share the view that reform processes and the process of fulfilling the necessary standards can be encouraged only with a proactive policy and involvement, said Plenkovic.

He said that he expected the issue of opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania to be resolved ahead of the summit, notably after yesterday's report and proposal by the European Commission for a reform of the methodology of accession talks.

As regards Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was also discussed during the meeting, Croatia attaches great importance to relations with that country, notably with regard to the status of Croats as an equal, constituent ethnic group, he said.

"We have the Holy See's understanding regarding that topic," he said.

Text: Hina

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