6 Jun 2011

Pope celebrates Mass in Zagreb

7:04 am on 6 June 2011

Pope Benedict XVI has celebrated Mass, focusing on family values, in the Croatian capital, Zagreb. The visit is timed to mark Croatia's Family Day.

He spoke of the ''disintegration'' of the family, and urged couples not to give in to a ''secularised mentality'' of living together instead of marrying.

The BBC reports the visit is the first by this Pope and he received a warm welcome.

On his arrival on Saturday, Pope Benedict gave his backing to Croatia's bid to join the European Union.

He said he understood fears of a loss of cultural identity by joining the EU, but said Europe needed reminding of its Christian roots.

''From its beginning, your nation has belonged to Europe,'' he said when he arrived at the airport.

On Saturday evening, he led a prayer vigil for some 25,000 young people in Zagreb's main square.

Pope Benedict spoke on Sunday against practices such as abortion and called on citizens to back legislation that supports families in ''the task of giving birth to children and educating them''.

Prayers at Cardinal's tomb

After the mass, he prayed at the tomb of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac.

The BBC reports many Croatian Catholics regard Stepinac as a hero who spoke out against the Nazi-backed regime during World War II and later refused to bow to the communist rulers of Yugoslavia.

But critics say he did not sufficiently condemn the persecution of Serbs and Jews by the Nazis.

The late Pope John Paul II caused controversy when, during a visit to Croatia in 1998, he put Cardinal Stepinac on the road to sainthood.

As many as 400,000 people from across Croatia and neighbouring countries were thought to have attended Sunday's open-air Mass at the hippodrome in Zagreb.