The FIFA World Cup tournament is over and countries with deep Catholic roots fought for the title of world champions. France’s ties to Catholicism are well known and its many saints who have inspired countless Catholics around the world (e.g. St. Therese of Lisieux) as well known, too. However, few know that Croatia has an estimated (in 2018) 86.3% Catholic population.
While there are saints and other open causes for canonization of those who are of Croatian descent, there are many who were been martyred for their faith. Here are five Croatian martyrs that you’ll want to know more about from the little (predominantly) Catholic country.
Saint Nikola Tavelic
Saint Nikola was born around 1340 in Šibenik, Šibensko-Kninska, Croatia—try saying that name five times fast! He was a Franciscan friar who became a missionary to Bosnia for 12 years. He eventually went to Palestine in 1384 where he was martyred by being burned alive on November 14, 1391, by the Muslim authorities near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. He was the first Croatian saint canonized in the modern process by Pope Paul VI on June 21, 1970, by Pope Paul VI. His feast day is November 14.
Blessed Alojzije Stepinac
Blessed Alojzije was born on May 8, 1898, in Brezaric, Krasic, Croatia. He served as part of the Austrian army during World War I during which he was imprisoned and then released in December 1918. After the war, he began his journey to priesthood in 1924 and was ordained in 1930.
With the rise of the Nazi, Alojzijze tried to help people escape and instituted the Action for Assistance to Jewish Refugees in 1938. He became known for defending human rights regardless of their religion, race, social class, etc. He became an “enemy of the state” for not supporting Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavia’s new leader) who Fr. Alojzije to help the Croatian Catholic Church to break from Rome. He was arrested and eventually sentenced to sixteen years of hard labor in 1946.
As his health failed, he was sent from prison to house arrest in 1951. There, he was able to perform his priestly duties and receive visitors. He was created cardinal by Pope Piux XII in 1953. This act caused the Yugoslavs to break relations with the Vatican.
He was martyred by deliberate poisoning of arsenic on February 10, 1960, in Krasic, Croatia. His last words are said to have been, “Blessed be your name, Lord! May Your will be done!” He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 3, 1998. His memorial is February 10.
Blessed Kata Ivaniševic
Born on November 25, 1893, in Odinjak, Požeško-Slavonska, Blessed Kata (a member of the Daughters of Divine Charity) was martyred while fighting off Chetnik rapists on December 15, 1941. She was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on September 24, 2011. Her memorial is on December 15.
Blessed Terezija Banja
Blessed Terezija was born on June 18, 1912, in Veliki Grdjevac, Bjelovarsko-Bilogorska, Croatia. Like Blessed Kata, she was a member of the Daughters of Divine Charity and was also martyred while fighting off Chetnik rapists on the same way and in the same manner (thrown from a 3rd story floor). Along with Blessed Kata, she was beatified by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on September 24, 2011, and shares the December 15 memorial.
Blessed Miroslav Bulešic
Blessed Miroslav, a young Croatian priest, was born on May 13, 1920, in Cabrunici, Svetvincenat, Istarska, Croatia. He studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy before being called into service back in Croatia at the beginning of World War II. He became a vocal opponent of the abuses by Communist forces. He was martyred (stabbed in the neck) on August 24, 1947, in Lanišce, Istarska, Croatia by a group of Communist sympathizers. He was beatified by Pope Francis on September 28, 2013. His memorial is August 24.
Aside from the World Cup and whichever team you cheered for, let us remember that just as a big sports tournament can help us forget about the political and religious tensions and bring us together, so can our faith. There are many heroes and examples of the faith that often overlooked or unknown. Let us be inspired by the saints and faithful of Croatia say a prayer for those who continue to be under religious persecution, especially after the hype of the World Cup calms down.