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News 14 Sep 17

Croatian Catholics Await Much-Loved Saint's Return

Thousands of Catholics are expected to queue up to see the preserved body of St Leopold, which is on temporary loan to cathedrals in Croatia from its normal resting place in Padua.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Believers visiting the body of St. Leopold in Zagreb Cathedral. Photo: Zagreb Archdiocese

The preserved relics of St Leopold, a 19th-century Croat, are visiting Croatian and Montenegrin coastal cities and town from Thursday to Tuesday next week, where his body is likely to draw thousands of Catholic believers to churches.

The saint's body is coming first to the Croatian coastal city of Zadar on Thursday. From there, it will travel to his birthpace of Herceg Novi in neighbouring Montenegro on Friday.

Frome Saturday to Monday, his body will be exposed in cathedrals in the coastal cities of Dubrovnik, Split and Rijeka, after which it will return to Padua in Italy, where his body is kept normally.

The cult of St Leopold, who was canonised in 1983, is very popular among Croatian Catholics. When his body was placed in Zagreb Cathedral and the city's local St Leopold Church in April 2016, it was the event of the month, attracting political leaders such as Tihomir Oreskovic, then the Prime Minister.

When his body was shown in Zagreb Cathedral, the line of people wishing to see and touch the glass coffin stretched for some 300 metres to the main square.

Around 250,000 people visited his body in Zagreb over six days, while thousands more watched live broadcasts of prayers in Leopold's honour on the public broadcaster, Croatian Radio-Television, HRT.

Not all media coverage was friendly however. The news site Index published a sarcastic story headlined, “Dead Men Live: Catholic Necrophilia Orgy is the Craziest Show on HRT”, which mocked “the arrival of a travelling one-hand [one hand is missing] dwarf saint” and accused the Church of “parading corpses”.

The articles drew angry reactions from right-wing media outlets and the Catholic community.

On the instigation of a right-wing politician, Ladislav Ilcic, Ombudsman Lora Vidovic confirmed the office would investigate the case, citing the number of complaints.

Over 10,000 people signed an online petition complaining “the spread of discrimination and hatred on the basis of religious orientation”.

Sasa Lekovic, president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association, also condemned the article, saying that the legitimate feelings of believers had been insulted “in the rudest way” while noting that Croatian laws ban “discrimination and spreading of hate speech”.

The conservative NGO "In the Name of the Family" – known for triggering the 2013 referendum which ended in a ban on gay marriage – was especially vocal and filed a lawsuit for discrimination against Index and its journalists and editors in July.

The trial started last December and is still ongoing.

Leopold Mandic was an ethnic Croat who was born in 1866 in Herceg Novi, which was then, like Croatia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He died in 1942 in Padua, Italy.

Although he wanted to be a missionary in Eastern Europe, he spent almost all of his adult life in Italy. Physically deformed, tiny and with a bad stutter, he refused to let these impediments get into the way of his life and vocation.

He spent a year in Italian prison during World War I because he did not want to renounce his Croatian nationality.

According to some Catholic scholars, he wanted to reunite the Catholic and Orthodox churches and was responsible for a prayer that prefigured contemporary ecumenism.

Pope Paul VI beatified Leopold in 1976 and he was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1983.

Much admired by the current Pope, Francis – who had his relics rbought to Rome for the 2015/16 Jubilee Year of Mercy – Leopold is known as the "Apostle of Unity".

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