CELJE, Slovenia – CELJE, Slovenia (AP) — A Slovenian student who was captured, tortured and killed by communists during World War II was beatified on Sunday by Pope Benedict XVI's state secretary at a Mass attended by thousands.
Lojze Grozde, who died at the age of 20, is the first beatified martyr in the predominantly Roman Catholic country where the church was long suppressed.
Grozde, a high school student, was captured in Jan. 1943, when Slovenia was occupied by Italy and Germany. Communist-run antifascist rebels — known as partisans — reportedly found a Latin prayer book in his possession and suspected him of collaborating with Italian fascists. His mutilated body was found a month later in a forest.
Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state of the Holy See, declared Grozde a martyr of faith before 32,000 of the faithful and 750 priests — many from abroad — at the Celje football stadium.
The church in Slovenia, a target of "violent persecution" in the past, has been the source of "support, power and comfort" for the Slovenians, the state-run news agency STA quoted Bertone as saying.
After WWII, the country of 2 million became part of the communist-ruled Yugoslavia. The church regained its strength in 1991, when Slovenia declared independence.
Slovenia started the beatification process in 1992 and Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints established there is enough evidence for martyrdom due to hostility toward Catholic religion at the time.
The beatification, declared earlier this year by the pope, is based on evidence that Grozde lost his life for faith.
The process, however, raised some criticism. A group representing some of the wartime antifascists said Grozde was actually a fascist spy, who reported on locals who cooperated with partisans. The church denies that.
Grozde is the second Slovenian to be beatified: In 1999, late Pope John Paul II beatified 19th century bishop Anton Martin Slomsek.
Beatification is a step toward possible sainthood, and should be backed up by proven cases of miracles attributed to the candidate.
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