On the occasion of the death of Pope Benedict XVI, we remembered his many services to which he owed the Croatian people, including his visit to our homeland in 2011. Saying goodbye to him, our duty requires us to gratefully remember and highlight his interest in our Blessed Ivan Merz and to emphasize his special and great recognition of the holiness of our Blessed One when he included him among the 18 greatest saints of the Catholic Church who especially worshiped the Eucharist.

Even as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he met Ivan Merz. He was a member of the cardinal commission that approves beatifications and canonizations, so in that capacity, he read the entire Position of blessed Merz, i.e. the document that proves that a certain candidate for the altar had and performed heroic virtues. The position of bl. Merz is an extensive biography, and it has over a thousand pages. When Cardinal Ratzinger read it, he was delighted with Blessed Merz, and not only his familiarity with and interest in him, but also his veneration, which manifested itself when he was elected pope, dated from that time. In the following, we will provide information about all his interventions where the interest of Pope Benedict XVI for our Blessed One was manifested.

Bl. I. Merz at the Bishops’ Synod in the Vatican

The 11th regular Synod of Bishops was held in the Vatican in October 2005, which was devoted to the Eucharist. Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banjo Luka participated as a delegate of the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In front of numerous bishops from all over the world, Bishop Komarica spoke about the example of the Eucharistic life of Blessed Ivan Merz. Pope Benedict XVI, who was elected as Peter’s successor that year, also participated in the Synod.

Bishop Komarica gave his speech in front of the Pope and numerous bishops from all over the world on October 12, 2005, and he began it as follows:

“Holy Father, honorable Synodal Fathers! In my address, I would like to rely first on number 76 of the working document of the Synod “Instrumentum laboris-a”, where it is warned about the necessity “to encourage knowledge of the lives of saints and blessed who were models of spirituality and Eucharistic life”. Among the names of a large number of saints and blessed from various centuries listed in the working document of the Synod, starting with Ignatius of Antioch and Augustine, then Benedict, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, there is the name of a young layman, blessed Ivan Merz. Not without reason. Due to its topicality, I want to give you some information about it.”

Then Bishop Komarica presented basic biographical information about Blessed Ivan Merz, whom Pope John Paul II. two years later, that is, on June 22, 2003, he was declared blessed in Banja Luka. Among others, Bishop Komarica said: “Based on his multinational origin, his intellectual education, his spiritual formation, and his apostolic activity, Blessed Ivan Merz connects in his person a whole series of European nations and countries: in addition to BiH and Croatia, also the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Austria, France, and Italy. A true Christian European, highly educated in Vienna and Paris, who managed to unite science and religion. Forty years before II. During the Vatican Council, he practiced and promoted much of the Council’s teaching on liturgy and the role of the laity in the Church. The main characteristic of his Eucharistic devotion was his living faith in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.”

In the second part of his speech, Bishop Komarica informed the Synodal Fathers about the severe suffering and consequences of the war that hit his diocese, where as many as 95% of the faithful were exiled and one-fifth of the priests were killed. When Bishop Komarica finished his presentation, the synod hall erupted into a big round of applause, which is not normally customary and it is a real rarity that speakers are applauded after a presentation.

After the presentation, many bishops approached Bishop Komarica, congratulated him on a nice presentation, and thanked him for introducing them to Blessed Ivan Merza and his current affairs, as well as the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some told him that his performance with its content was a true refreshment and revelation. Many bishops immediately acquired the biography of Blessed Ivan Merz in Italian, which was published by the editorial office of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

Pope Benedict XVI was interested in Blessed Ivan Merz during the Synod

During the session of the Synod, Pope Benedict XVI received the Synodal Fathers in groups in a special audience. When he saw Bishop Komarica, he immediately said with joy: “We have Blessed Ivan Merz!” Shall we declare him a saint?! How is his cause for canonization going?” After Bishop Komarica briefly told the Holy Father what was being done to promote the knowledge and veneration of the new Blessed One, the Pope encouraged him with words to continue working in that direction. Bl. Ivan Merz is one of the few God-pleasing people who attracted the attention of the Holy Father at the Bishops’ Synod.

Pope Benedict XVI prays to Blessed Ivan Merz

From February 23 to 28, 2006, the bishops of Bosnia and Herzegovina were in Rome on an ad limin visit, which includes a visit to the Holy Father and a personal meeting with him. Thus, on the first day of the campaign, on Thursday, February 23, 2006, Bishop Franjo Komarica was admitted to an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

At the end of the official conversation, the Holy Father surprised him with the question: “How is the veneration of blessed Ivan Merz spreading?” The bishop, pleasantly surprised by this question, thanked the Holy Father for taking an interest in our youngest Blessed, and the Pope immediately added: “Of course, Ivan Merz is truly an extraordinary person. I know him well and I pray to him!”

Bishop Komarica then informed the Holy Father about the details of how Blessed John is venerated in the Banja Luka diocese. He said that the feast of Blessed John will be solemnly celebrated on May 10 this year in the Banja Luka Cathedral, where a large gathering of believers is expected. The Pope replied: “Very well, I’m glad and I’m already giving my blessing to everyone who will gather that day in your cathedral to celebrate the feast of Blessed Ivan Merz.”

Blessed Ivan Merz in the latest papal document on the Eucharist

On March 13, 2007, the first Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI “Sacramentum Caritatis” was presented to the public in the Vatican, during the Eucharist, the source and pinnacle of the Church’s life and mission. At the beginning of the conclusion of the petition, in no. 94, the Pope mentions Blessed Ivan Merz as the only Croat among the chosen 18 great saints from the history of the Catholic Church as a model of the worship of the Eucharist. Here is that part from this important papal document:

“Dear brothers and sisters, the Eucharist stands at the source of every form of holiness and each of us is called to the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit. How many saints made their lives authentic thanks to their Eucharistic devotion! From St. Ignatius of Antioch to St. Augustine, from St. Anthony the Abbot to St. Benedict, from St. Francis of Assisi to St. Thomas Aquinas, from St. Clare of Assisi to St. Catherine of Siena, from St. Pasquale Baylon to St. Peter Julian Eymard, from St. Alfonso M. Liguori to Blessed Charles Foucauld, from St. Ivan M. Vianney to St. Therese of Lisieux, from St. Pius of Pietrelcina to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, from Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati to Blessed Ivan Merz, to mention only a few of the many names, holiness always found its center in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

The mention of Blessed John Merz in this Papal document is a great recognition of the holiness of Blessed John, but also a recognition of the Church in Croatia that has such a well-pleaser of God who can represent it before the whole world in this chosen company of great saints, worshipers of the Eucharist. But it is also an encouragement to all Croatian believers to get to know our Blessed One better by reading his writings.

June 26, 2007
Pope Benedict XVI is again interested in Blessed Ivan Merz

and sends his blessing to his worshippers

Banja Luka Bishop Franjo Komarica stayed in Rome from June 19 to 21, 2007. During the general audience, on Wednesday, June 20, he met with Pope Benedict XVI, who on that occasion again showed interest in the Croatian Blessed Ivan Merz.

Bishop Komarica presented the Pope with a monograph on the sufferings of the Banja Luka diocese and its Croatian believers, 95% of whom were exiled from their homes and land. This time too, the Pope was interested in Blessed Ivan Merz and expressed his joy by saying: “I gladly bless you, your priests, monks and nuns and all the members of your suffering diocese as well as all the worshipers of blessed Ivan Merz”.

March 5, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI again about Blessed Ivan Merz

Banja Luka Bishop Franjo Komarica met with the Holy Father Benedict XVI at the end of the general audience on Wednesday, March 5, 2008. On that occasion, the Pope was the first to mention Blessed Ivan Merz again and added that he prays to him every day. Here is what Bishop Franjo Komarica told us about his reunion: “When it was my turn to approach the Pope, he exclaimed with a smiling face and outstretched arms towards me in German: “Well, Bishop Komarica, you have the great Blessed One with you, the truly great Blessed Ivan Merz!” I answered him smiling: “Yes, Holy Father, we hope and pray that he will be declared a saint as soon as possible.” The Pope replied to that: “I hope so too I pray to him every day!”

June 18, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI recalled the 5th anniversary of the beatification of Ivan Merz

On Wednesday, June 18, 2008, at the general audience, the Holy Father addressed the Croatian pilgrims in the Croatian language, in which he mentioned the fifth anniversary of the beatification of Ivan Merz and encouraged the faithful to follow his example of faith and piety. Here are the Pope’s words: “I send a special greeting to the Croatian pilgrims. On the upcoming fifth anniversary of the beatification of Ivan Merz, I encourage you to confirm your faith daily with piety and acts of love. Praised Jesus and Mary!”

June 22, 2008
Telegram from Pope Benedict XVI for the 5th anniversary of the beatification of Ivan Merz

For the celebration of the fifth anniversary of the beatification of Blessed Ivan Merz, which took place in Banja Luka on June 22, 2008, the Holy Father Benedict XVI sent a congratulatory telegram that was read at the beginning of the solemn Holy Mass on Petrićevca, led by the Papal Apostolic Nuncio Alessandro D’ Errico. In the telegram that he sent through his State Secretary, the Holy Father expresses his strong desire that the figure of Blessed Ivan Merz and his life “permanently inspire all Christian people.” The telegram reads in its entirety:

“On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the beatification of Ivan Merz, the Holy Father Benedict XVI sends you his sincere congratulations, mentioning this dear witness of ardent love for Christ, an authentic model of Christian virtues and a busy promoter of evangelical values. His Holiness wishes from the bottom of his heart that his image and life permanently inspire all Christian people, and in a special way young lay people, that guided by enthusiasm for God and responsibility for society, always confirm their faith with deeds. Using the intercession of the Blessed, the Successor of Peter is happy to bestow the requested apostolic blessing on you, the participants of this significant celebration, and on all those who will generously contribute and help the restoration of this local Church.”

Zagreb, June 4, 2011.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke about Blessed I. Merz at a meeting with young people

The inclusion of Blessed Ivan Merz in the document on the Eucharist Sacramentum Caritatis back in 2007 was the most important act of Pope Benedict in recognizing the sanctity of our Blessed One, by which he indirectly already canonized him, placing him alongside the great saints in the history of the Church. However, the second most important intervention of Pope Benedict about our Blessed One was during his visit to Croatia in 2011, when he spoke about Blessed Ivan Merz at a meeting with young people in Ban Jelačić Square on Saturday, June 4, 2007.

“How many young saints and saints in the great wing of the Church! But here, in Croatia, you and I fix our thoughts on blessed Ivan Merz. A great young man, fully involved in social life, who is embarking on the university path. In the years of the First World War, he is faced with destruction and death, but all these shapes and builds him, allowing him to overcome moments of crisis and spiritual struggle. John’s faith became so strong that he dedicated himself to the study of the liturgy and began a strong apostolate among the youth themselves. He discovers the beauty of the Catholic faith and realizes that his vocation in life is to live, and live friendship with Christ. How many wonderful acts of love and kindness fill his path. He died on May 10, 1928, at the age of only 32, after several months of illness, presenting his life for the Church and young people. That young life, given out of love, carries the fragrance of Christ, and it is a call to everyone not to be afraid to entrust ourselves to the Lord.”

Pope Benedict XVI wanted to visit the grave of Blessed Ivan Merz
but was prevented from doing so

During his visit to Croatia in June 2011, Pope Benedict had the intention and desire to visit the grave of Blessed Ivan Merz. As soon as it was announced to the public that he was coming to Croatia, he let the organizers of his trip know that his visit would include a visit to the grave of Blessed Ivan Merz. When the organizers of his trip came to Zagreb two months earlier to determine and organize the details of his visit, they also came to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus where they reviewed everything and determined how the visit to the grave of Blessed Merz would take place. The Pope was supposed to visit the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the grave of Blessed Ivan Merz on Saturday afternoon, June 4, 2011, after he meets with representatives of science and the world of culture, heading towards Ban Jelačić Square, where the meeting with young people was held. Ten minutes were enough for him, as planned, to get out of his car and enter the Basilica to the grave of Blessed Merz, to say a short prayer there and continue on his way to Ban Jelačić Square. However, to the great regret of many admirers of Blessed Ivan Merz, this did not happen. Who and for what reason made it impossible for Pope Benedict, who wanted to visit the grave of Blessed Ivan Merz, to be known, but for now this sad information is not yet available to the public. However, this of course does not diminish anything that Pope Benedict has said and done throughout the years of his pontificate for our Croatian Blessed One, with whom he is now in heaven and continues to pray and intercede for the Croatian people.