Pope Francis met Thursday morning with Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Apostolic Nuncio to Croatia, in a private audience in the Vatican.
Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Alessandro Di Bussolo ahead of their encounter, the Archbishop reviewed the situation in the Balkan nation, and expressed the Croatian people’s steadfastness in the faith.
“I am presenting the Pope with a Croatia both very much alive and in pain,” he said. “It has been tested by the tragedy of two earthquakes over the past year: one in Zagreb (22 March 2020) measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale; the other in Petrinja (29 December 2020), in the Diocese of Sisak, measuring 6.4.”
At least 8 people died in the quakes, all but one in Petrinja, and thousands of buildings were heavily damaged.
Pained yet proud
Archbishop Lingua lamented the timing of the quakes, which took place as the country was entering its first Covid-19 lockdown and in the midst of its second.
“These two tragedies added to the damage already inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has severely crippled the tourism industry, which is the country’s primary resource,” he said.
Despite these trials, said the Nuncio, Croatians are “a proud people” who have a well-organized and living Church.
Archbishop Lingua said certain tinges of clericalism are evident in the local Church. But, he added, Croatian Catholics foster a strong devotion to Our Lady and care deeply for the Pope and the Church of Rome.
Difficulties facing migrants
Another issue facing Croatian society, admitted the Italian Archbishop, is that of lying along the so-called “Balkan route” taken by numerous migrants seeking to enter Europe.
“The situation,” he said, “is very difficult and complicated… Young people and adults—in some cases minors—are forced to endure harsh winters in deplorable conditions.”
Yet, now is not the time to point fingers, he added, but rather the time to seek solutions. “I personally think that when we make decisions it is better to err on the side of an excess of generosity, instead of rigidity.”
Archbishop Lingua said migrants along the Balkan route risk being doubly let down, both by their home countries and by the nations where they hope to settle.
“They risk letting their hearts become embittered and despairing,” he said, “perhaps because they left their home country naively but with great hope… If there is not even the slightest hope of a better future, disappointment could have serious negative consequences.”
Apostolic Journey to Iraq
Before being sent to Croatia, Archbishop Lingua served as the Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq and Jordan for nearly 5 years, until 2015.
In view of Pope Francis’ upcoming Apostolic Journey to Iraq, the Archbishop recalled his time there, which saw the departure of many foreign troops and the rise of the so-called Islamic State.
“I remember a suffering and strong Church,” he said. “I would like to highlight the strength of Iraqi Christians, who despite difficult times have keep the faith.”
Sure to be a blessing
Archbishop Lingua added that the Pope’s visit will “be a great blessing.”
“Perhaps there may be doubts about its success or the risks he runs, but I am sure that the Lord will assist the Holy Father and will be an important occasion to put into practice the message of Fratelli tutti.”
Archbishop Lingua concluded the interview expressing his optimism regarding the future of Iraq.
“I think several gestures are important—such as the Pope’s visit, international encouragement, and the construction of the university in Erbil—in order to give young Christians reasons to remain there to witness to their faith."