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Photograph: EPA/GIUSEPPE LAMI

Serbian Patriarch Irinej has said that he sees nothing wrong in Pope Francis's wish to visit Serbia but that, in the context of intentions to canonise Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, "perhaps the conditions have not been met yet" for such a visit, Beta news agency said on Thursday.

Irinej told the Serbian agency on a visit to Canada that the proposal to canonise Stepinac was not good because his action was "irreconcilable with sainthood." He said he saw nothing wrong in the pope's desire to visit Serbia, "but given that a large number of refugees from Croatia live in Serbia, who still carry the trauma and wounds of persecution and other consequences of that persecution, perhaps the time has still not come for the pope's visit." 

Irinej said "the history of events in NDH (1941-45 Independent State of Croatia) is known, the Serbs experienced genocide then," and that as head of the Catholic Church in Croatia at that time "Stepinac couldn't not have known what was happening." He said "Stepinac gave statements which were not at all a desire to protect the Serb people" and that he "wholeheartedly assisted (Ante) Pavelic's Ustasha movement."

Irinej recalled that last year Pope Francis suggested a meeting between representatives of historians of the Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) and the Catholic Church in Croatia, saying this was a good idea also in the context of Croatian-Serb relations.

Earlier in January, Belgrade media carried excerpts from letters in which Patriarch Irinej informed Pope Francis of the SPC's views as to why Stepinac could not be canonised. The media said that with those letters Irinej "succeeded in postponing indefinitely" the canonisation.

After an SPC delegation visited the Vatican last month, the metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, Amfilohije Radovic, told Serbian media that Pope Francis would not adopt a decision on Stepinac's canonisation until a joint commission of the two churches examined his role in World War II.

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