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12.05.2012 | 23:50 | IKA E - 141684/5

Commemoration of the Victims of the Bleiburg Tragedy and Death Marches, Known as the Croatian Way of the Cross

"The truth has become the greatest victim of today's world order at all levels," cautioned Bishop Ante Ivas at the Bleiburg Field.

Bleiburg, (IKA) – The central event in the 67th consecutive commemoration of the victims of the Bleiburg tragedy and death marches was held on Saturday, May 12, at the Bleiburg Field in Austria. It was organized by the Office of Croatian Pastoral Ministry outside Croatia and the Bleiburg Honor Guard, under the sponsorship of Osijek-Baranja County and the co-sponsorship of Western Herzegovina County. A Solemn Mass was led by Bishop Ante Ivas of Šibenik in concelebration with the Head of the Office for Croatian Pastoral Ministry outside Croatia, Fr. Josip Bebić, and priests who arrived with pilgrims from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and many European countries. "And also this year, Divine providence has brought us to this place of memorial, a symbol of Croatian suffering and tragedy, from all over the world," said Fr. Bebić in a welcoming address at the beginning of the commemoration, on behalf of the Council of the Croatian Conference of Bishops and the Bishops' Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina for Croatian Pastoral Ministry outside Croatia, adding that in this fellowship, "a moment of grace when there is contact between Croatian history and the present, heaven and earth, sadness and pride, hope and joy" is evident.
"We are here today in a place that has become a symbol of merciless crime against many innocent people, our brothers and sisters, who were killed before and after Bleiburg by the 'liberator,' driven through a hell of hatred and crucified on death marches. We stand here today with profound respect, bowing before all the crosses, pits and graves, to commemorate their unknown names and fates," said the Bishop of Šibenik during the homily. "Bleiburg—a city of lead, is the collective name for the hundreds of thousands of betrayed, surrendered, humiliated and exchanged men, women and children of all ages, destinies in life, world views and ethnicities, mostly Croats, who were tortured in the most horrible manner. We come here not to judge, despise or denigrate any victims, camps or graves. We are not here to conceal or justify any crimes but we are here because of the historical truth that for more than 65 years was denied by the 'people's authorities' that you exist, that you, our deceased brothers and sisters, deserve any kind of monument except hatred and contempt. We are here because the real truth about you and the crimes perpetrated against you were not permitted to be known, disclosed or mentioned. Even less could be said about the commanders and perpetrators of the crimes," said Bishop Ivas.
"While many nations were released from the terrors of fascism and Nazism after the end of World War II, unfortunately, instead of a period of freedom, the Croatian nation entered into a second difficult period of retaliations, mass liquidations, crimes, executions and deportations. Communism, like fascism and Nazism, was led by hatred toward God, faith and man," said Msgr. Ivas, adding that the result was terrible: so far there have been 1,800 grave sites discovered in the former Yugoslavia: 900 in Croatia, 600 in Slovenia, 200 in Serbia, and 100 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and investigations are still continuing. Many that were destroyed, ploughed over, or turned into building sites or garbage dumps have still not been discovered, without names or monuments, and no one today is held guilty or responsible. Bishop Ivas further stated that 385 priests had been shot to death, of whom 355 were killed by partisans, and that thousands of priests and religious were held in camps and prisons, including the Blessed Archbishop Stepinac.
Although the number of victims of communism in the world has been estimated at 100 million people, and communist regimes in Europe killed approximately a million people during the first ten years after the war, there is still a conspiracy of silence, falsification of the truth and dangerous ignorance among people of all ages, especially the young, said Bishop Ivas, adding: "We are here because it is increasingly obvious that denial and impunity for crimes of communism have again become acceptable. Deliberately unspoken historical events have become the 'black holes' of Croatian history."
"We are also here today due to the unfortunate and disturbing decision by the Croatian Parliament that it will no longer be a sponsor of this commemoration," said Bishop Ivas, "because they say that there were no victims here but only some armies. We heard the assertion that crime and death marches occurred here as a momentary outburst of the hatred that has supposedly always been and will be part of human nature, as if the systematic process of extermination and death, which lasted for nearly 45 years, had not begun here in the most terrifying manner." At the same time, vitally important laws with consequences for the entire nation are being proposed and adopted according to an "expedited procedure," without proper public and democratic debate, which concern life, family, conception, birth, public education and religious education, warned the Bishop of Šibenik.
"Today, we do not want Bleiburg to be a banner of hatred toward anyone. We sincerely mourn all victims here. We have come here today as sincere seekers of the truth. We are not coming as prisoners of history and the past but as lovers of the undistorted history of our nation. This is our obligation as faithful Christians," said Bishop Ivas. He warned that it is increasingly obvious that the denial and fear of the truth have acquired forms of a new totalitarianism, which strikes at the very foundations of society, morality, human dignity from conception to death, the family, marriage, education and freedom of conscience. The truth has become the greatest victim of the present world order on all levels. The specter of meaninglessness and hopelessness is increasingly circling the world because all the value concepts of truth, love and freedom have been confused. Freedom without truth and love becomes unobtainable and meaningless. Meaningless freedom without limits ultimately becomes hell and damnation for the individual and society. Regarding the truth, it is necessary to use just and honest means. We, therefore, pray and beseech here today. Do not set us against each other, divide us and oppose us with the labels of 'Croatian guilt and genocide'! Let us open opportunities and help each other to become new people, to build a better world," urged Bishop Ivas, emphasizing that we need lasting spiritual, moral and ethical values to harmonize our relationships better; we need God who is Love and Truth.
"During this celebration of the Mass, we pray to Almighty God for all the victims and for all perpetrators. We repent all our sins, for the sins of Christians and the sins of others who sinned here. We pray for God's forgiveness and mercy so that we can forgive, that the still painful wounds may heal, in order to cleanse our memories and consciences. We pray for God's light so that the real truth comes to light, for us to recognize and admit the truth, each in his or her responsibility, no matter how difficult and binding—for the sake of the victims and their dignity, the honor of our nation and peace, without which there is no genuine freedom, prosperity or God's blessing," said the Bishop of Šibenik.

The celebration of the Mass was enhanced by the St. Michael Choir of Murter conducted by Vedranko Šikić Balara and accompanied on the organ by Prof. Sanja Arkus.
The memorial commemoration began with a prayer for absolution at the Croatian grave in the local cemetery in Unterloibach. At the beginning of the commemorative assembly, which was directly broadcast by HRT, after the singing of the Croatian anthem and a minute of silence in tribute to all the victims of the Bleiburg tragedy and death marches, greetings were expressed on behalf of the organizers, the Bleiburg Honor Guard, by Dr. Zlatko Hasanbegović; on behalf of the co-sponsor of the commemoration, the Prime Minister of the West Herzegovina Canton, Zdenko Ćosić; and on behalf of the sponsor of the commemoration, the Prefect of Osijek-Baranja County, Dr. Vladimir Šišljagić, who, among other things, strongly condemned the decision by the Croatian Parliament to withdraw its patronage from the commemoration of the Bleiburg tragedy and the Croatian Way of the Cross. A prayer for victims of the Muslim faith was led by Imam Idriz Bešić of Gunja. At the conclusion of the Mass, representatives of the Croatian Parliament, Government of the Republic of Croatia, Bleiburg Honor Guard and many associations, communities and individuals from the homeland and diaspora laid wreaths and lit candles.

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