Perhaps no other event in world
history illustrates the depths of
human cruelty like the Holocaust.
More than 60 years have passed, but
the shadows of that era linger. Apart
from the bravery and resolve of the
Jewish people—those who survived and
those who didn’t—few shards of light
penetrated such unparalleled darkness.
There were exceptions—people who
risked life and liberty to ensure the survival
of the innocent. Blessed Alojzije
(Aloysius) Stepinac was among them.
From the start, Stepinac devoted his
life to battling “isms.” He waged wars
on Communism, fascism and, most of
all, the evils of Nazism.
Born to a peasant family in Krašic,
Croatia, Stepinac lived under four
different governments, all of which
influenced his life and sculpted his
courageous resistance. After serving in
the military, Stepinac chose to be a
priest and was ordained in 1930. Deep
faith and a concern for human rights
dominated his life. His voice—which
defended people of all faiths—would be
his legacy. It would also be his undoing.
'To the Least of My Brothers'
Two years after he was consecrated
archbishop of Zagreb—the largest city
in Croatia—World War II began.
Almost immediately, Stepinac used his
position to speak out against the treatment
of Jews and Orthodox Christians.
He backed his statements with action,
instructing his priests to provide baptismal
certificates to any in need of protection.
He knew refugees might well
return to their own faith tradition “when these times of madness and savageness
are over,” as he once wrote.
Stepinac also allowed people—mostly Jews—to hide in monasteries.
Estimates of lives saved—directly or
indirectly—by Cardinal Stepinac are in
the hundreds, including 60 residents of
a Jewish home for the elderly.
After the war ended, Stepinac waged
a private war against Communism.
Such opposition garnered unwanted
attention: Falsely accused of war crimes,
he was arrested and tried in September
of 1946. Convicted, he was sentenced to
16 years of hard labor, despite vehement
opposition from many Jews who
credited Stepinac with saving their lives.
He was released from prison in 1951
but put under house arrest, dying nine
years later from arsenic poisoning, it is
suspected. But his memory endures.
May 8, 1898 Born in Krašic, Croatia
June 23, 1953 Made a cardinal by Pope Pius XII
February 10, 1960 Died while under house arrest, having
written 5,000 letters defending the Church
and denouncing Communism
October 3, 1998 Beatified by Pope John Paul II in Zagreb
What is it about heroism that captures
the human heart? I think these brave
men and women exhibit qualities that
speak to our own potential.
Stepinac—a defender of life in its
purest sense—was a restless, righteous
spirit: What the Nazis sought to destroy,
he fought to save. When nations
turned a blind eye to those cruelly victimized,
he shed a light as bright as
heaven on them. He spoke for those
whose own voices were muffled. Simply
put, Stepinac wasn’t afraid to stand up.
In my own life, I try to follow the
lead of this holy martyr. Stepinac
proves that speaking out is a noble act.
The many people he saved—and the
generations alive today because of
him—are the fruits of his life’s work.
Alojzije Stepinac’s life exemplifies the
passage from the Talmud which states:
“Whoever saves one life is as though he
had saved the entire world.”
Next: Rafka Pietra Choboq Ar-Rayes