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Rivista di etica e scienze sociali / Journal of Ethics & Social Sciences

The Catholic Movement in Croatia

during the 20th Century

Ivana Zavcar

In this short article, I would like to present my interest in the Catholic movements in Europe. Since it is a wide area of interest, I will make some open comments on Catholic movements in general, but then I will focus on movements in Croatia.pdf

Christianity as a religion cannot be based only on theoretical beliefs. Since the beginning of both Judaism and Christianity, emphasis is placed on the activity of believers. In the Epistle of James, we find a section on the relationship between faith and works (James 2, 14-26) in which faith is called “dead” without deeds. From this, we can conclude that our specific work in life will also include deeds in the social sphere.

First, we need to define the term “Catholic Movement”: a set of organized Catholic lay associations and initiatives that emerge and operate in the first half of the 20th century, with the aim of spiritual and intellectual youth education, the spread of education in the population, the struggle for social justice and a just society pervaded by Christian values. It was the response of Catholics to the ever-greater liberalization of society and to public change. The foundation of the Catholic movement in Europe had its causes in earlier events and movements of society. Feudal organization had disappeared in the French Revolution, and further development of technology changed the working and economic system. During the restructuring of the social order, the Church lost its function of determining social norms. An interesting paradox in the Church is that, while in this period it was attacked and persecuted from outside, from within it was lively, missionary, and attracted opponents and unbelievers.

The pontificate of Pope Leo XIII brought a great change in the relationship between the world and the Church. By issuing his actions and encyclicals, he greatly contributed to the dialogue between the world and the Church, which was then reflected in the area of social action.

The third part of the 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum” is one of the main sources for stimulating the creation of Catholic movements, although we know that Catholic movements themselves emerged much earlier.

It is important to observe the Catholic movements in Croatia from the perspective of the political situation in which the Croatian people find themselves in the 19th and 20th centuries. At the beginning of the 20th century, the area of Slavonia was governed by Budapest, while Istria and Dalmatia were governed by Vienna. Among the first important members of the Catholic movement were Josip Juraj Strossmayer and Franjo Rački. The first stimulus for Catholic activity was given by Pope Leo XIII in proclaiming the anniversary of 1900 (nineteen hundred), and the Croatian Catholics organized pilgrimages to Rome and dedicated the Croatian youth to the Heart of Jesus.

During the first Croatian Catholic meeting, held in September 1900 in Zagreb, the theme of Christianity was emphasized. Some of the main topics of this meeting were: Catholic life, charitable societies, the relationship between the state and the Church, Catholic press, social issues, ecclesiastical art.

In 1904, the Catholic newspaper Hrvatstvo was launched, and the Cultural Political Club Immaculata was established, which was later linked to Bishop Mahnić; together they founded the Croatian Catholic Press Society. At this time there are other newspapers such as the Croatian Guard, the Catholic newspaper and Vrhbosnia (in Bosnia and Hercegovina). There are generally two groups of Catholics: the moderates (the followers of Strossmayer gathered around the newspaper Obzor) and the more radical (under the leadership of Bishop Mahnić and Stadler and gathered around the Hrvatstvo newspaper).

The next important person, one of the founders of the Croatian Catholic movement, is Antun Mahnić, the bishop of Krk. He emphasizes the role of lay people in society, especially in politics. In 1903 he launched the Croatian Guard newspaper. Bishop Mahnić and the priest Ivan Butković established in 1903 in Vienna a society called Croatia, which was the Croatian Catholic Academic Society. In 1905, the newspaper Luč was published, first in Vienna, then in Zagreb. The three fundamental motives of the movement were: religious (Catholic), national (Croatian) and democratic.

Now it was necessary to set up a company in Zagreb, and on November 10th, 1906, the Croatian Catholic Academic Society Domagoj was founded; over subsequent years, it had a leading role in expanding the Catholic movement in Croatia. The movement continued to evolve in all parts of Croatia among high school students. In 1908, the Pius society was set up and had the goal of spreading and promoting Christian ideas through the press. It established a newspaper “Morning”, which led to divisions within the Catholic community. The problem was that all the societies of the Catholic movement were linked to political positions. During the same year, Leo's society and Croatian Catholic student alliance were established.

An important magazine that emerges in 1910 is the Bogoslovska smotra, which is still active today. At the end of 1913, there were several Catholic organizations: Croatia in Vienna, Domagoj in Zagreb, Kacic in Innsbruck, Preporod in Graz and Antunovic in Budapest.

The Eagle organization is a Catholic reaction to the Falcon movement (the influence of the Hus descendants). On 23 October 1921, the Yugoslavian Eagles organization was founded in Ljubljana, and in Zagreb during 1923 the Croatian Eagles organization was established. The state forbade all gatherings related to Catholic doctrine and the Catholic Church, which made the work of societies more difficult.

It is also interesting to note the Catholic movements among women. Although the church has recognized The Eagle women organization in 1925 as the first female association of Catholic action, earlier women acted in the Catholic movement through journals: For Religion and Home, Women's Thought, Spring Flowers and Honor. The main motives of the action of the women's Catholic movement are social motives (exploitation in the industry), a movement organization that would differ from feminist secular movements, the return of women's identity and ideals, the defense of Catholicism from liberalism and from feminist fluctuations.

After the introduction of the personal rule (dictatorships) of King Alexander I. Karadjordjevic and the bans on all Catholic cultural organizations, the Eagle alliance founded the Organisation of Crusaders in 1930 (which was modeled on the French Crusaders with the encouragement of Blessed John Merz) as exclusively a religious organization. It began to publish the weekly “Sunday”, the journal “Crusade Guard” and the monthly “Social Work”.

In December 1932, Domagoj held the First Croatian Social Week, focusing on social issues. As the conflict between the Catholic Church and state was still active, the leadership of the Catholic organizations turned to more radical solutions, including the idea of a sovereign Croatian state. The Catholic movement started to ask itself: for whom and for what is the movement? The tensions between the Domagoj and the Crusaders still existed. During the Independent State of Croatia, the Domagoj was dissolved, while the Crusaders continued to operate, but with the arrival of the Communists in power, all organizations of the Croatian Catholic Movement disappeared in 1945.

In conclusion, I consider it important to recognise these efforts, by both clergy and laypeople. Their contribution to society is certainly immeasurable, either in the social realm or in the field of spirituality. I find that too little is said about these activities and that they are under-researched. Catholic movements in the countries of Europe are indicators of the activities of the spirit and faith in spreading Catholic thought and directing the development of society according to Catholic principles.

The effort invested in the creation and functioning of the Catholic Movement is difficult to recognize without being aware of the difficulty of doing so for a certain period of time in a particular place. The creators and supporters of the Catholic movements, the editors and readers of the Catholic press, distinguished members as well as members of the lower classes, should be recognized as true listeners of the word of the Father, the doers of His will and potential life models.


Ivana Zavcar


The Main Sources

ANIĆ, Rebeka, Ženski katolički pokret od 1907. do 1925. godine, zbornik radova s Međunarodnog skupa održanog u Zagrebu i Krku od 29. do 31. ožujka 2001., KS, 2002., str. 331-346.
KRIŠTO, Jure, Hrvatski katolički pokret, Glas Koncila, Zagreb, 2004.
MARKEŠIĆ, Ivan, Katolički pokreti- europski kontekst, u: Hrvatski katolički pokret, zbornik radova s Međunarodnog skupa održanog u Zagrebu i Krku od 29. do 31. ožujka 2001., KS, 2002.
ZNIDARČIĆ, Lav, Hrvatski katolički pokret i hrvatska Katolička akcija, zbornik radova s Međunarodnog skupa održanog u Zagrebu i Krku od 29. do 31. ožujka 2001., KS, 2002., str. 629-638.
ZUBAC, Ivan, Hrvatski katolički pokret na početku 20. stoljeća, u: Obnovljeni život, Vol. 73, No. 3, str. 329-342.