Pope Benedict arrived in Croatia Saturday for a two-day visit, reiterating his support for that country’s bid to join the European Union.
On the plane to the Croatian capital, Zagreb, the pope told reporters that EU membership for Croatia is “logical, just and necessary.” But he acknowledged that a fear of joining the EU is understandable, describing it as a fear of an overly strong “centralized bureaucracy” and a “rationalistic culture.”
He encouraged Croatia to work against that and reintroduce into the EU the richness of diverse cultures that Christianity represents.
Pope Benedict was welcomed at the airport by Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, who said it is because of the Croatian people’s Christian roots that he is convinced most of them will support EU membership.
Croatia is expected to be the next country to join the 27-member bloc, possibly as early as 2013.
This is Pope Benedict’s first visit to Croatia, which is nearly 90 percent Roman Catholic.
The pontiff will take part in several religious celebrations, including the National Day for Croatian Catholic Families, and the Sunday Mass in Zagreb.
The late pope John Paul visited Croatia three times after its independence in 1991, and the Vatican was one of the first institutions to recognize Croatia’s independence.