CNS PHOTO | ALESSIA GIULIANI, CATHOLIC PRESS PHOTO
Pope Benedict walks near young people in traditional clothing during a prayer vigil with some 50,000 people in Ban Josip Jelacic Square in Zagreb, Croatia, June 4.
ZAGREB, CROATIA - Pope Benedict used his apostolic journey to the Croatian capital to encourage nations to build their communities on Christian values.
They should also support the traditional family and the sanctity of life, the pope said during his brief two-day pilgrimage June 4-5.
A culture guided by truth, reason and love not only will lead to peace, justice and solidarity, its very survival is dependent on such values, he said.
If religion, ethics and a moral conscience are banished from the public realm, "then the crisis of the West has no remedy and Europe is destined to collapse in on itself," he said.
Europe will risk falling prey to every form of tyranny, the pope said in an audience with Croatia's political, religious, cultural, business and academic leaders.
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Free and just democracies thrive when citizens' consciences have been formed by love and Christianity's "logic of gift," he said.
The good of the whole human family should be sought after, not narrow self-interests, he said.
All citizens should exercise a conscience that listens, not to subjective feelings, but to an objective truth that recognizes one's duty to God and all human beings, he said.
"The quality of social and civil life and the quality of democracy depend in large measure" on a nation's citizens having a lively moral conscience.
It is in Christian families, parishes and Catholic schools that such moral consciences are formed, he said.
The 84-year-old pope headed to the Croatian capital in an effort to encourage this predominantly Catholic country to resist secular temptations and hold strong to its Christian identity as it prepares for full integration into the European Union.
Nearly 90 per cent of Croatia's population declare themselves Catholic.
But the bishops say the country is experiencing fierce pressure to allow adoptions by same-sex couples, ease restrictions on artificial reproduction and legalize euthanasia. Divorce and abortion are legal and same-sex civil partnerships are recognized in Croatia.
In his homily, Pope Benedict called on the government to support families and he urged young men and women to be courageous and fend off trends that advocate "living together as a preparation, or even a substitute for marriage."
At Vespers on June 5, the pope urged bishops to guide the faithful to ensure the Church's moral teaching is correctly understood in light of the Gospel.
After Vespers, he prayed at the tomb of Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac - a national hero for Croats and a controversial figure for Serbian Orthodox and some Jewish groups who have accused him of being a Nazi sympathizer.
Pope Benedict praised the martyr of the Church saying the revered cleric became "a living image of Christ" and was able to withstand the suffering and torment brought about by his opposition to Nazi then communist oppression.
He defended Jews, Orthodox and gypsies who were targeted by the murderous World War II-era Ustase regime.
The pope said the cardinal is a role model for all people, not just Croatians, because he courageously defended "the truth and man's right to live with God."