What You Need To Know

Religion in Croatia: Catholics, Politics, Education & Diversity

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A look at religion in Croatia, a very Catholic country. Other faiths, holy days, religious education in school, politics and the Catholic Church.

Religion in Croatia, an overwhelmingly Catholic affair

Croatia is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and religion is an important part of the national psyche. According to the 2001 census, the religious faiths of Croatians were broken down as follows - Roman Catholic 87.8%, Orthodox 4.4%, other Christian 0.4%, Muslim 1.3%, other and unspecified 0.9%, none 5.2% (and 57 people claimed Hajduk Split as their official religion in the 2011 census, but that is another story).

religion in croatia faiths

The Catholic Church has a very strong connection with the State. Indeed a billion kuna leaves the Ministry of Finance each year for the Catholic Church.

Croatia's strong affiliation to its religion is all the more understandable when one looks at the country's history and neighbours. Aggressive armies from Orthodox and Muslim countries have attacked Croatia throughout history. Add to that the Communist era of former Yugoslavia. Croatia's Catholic church was not only religion but an essential part of its national identity.

Despite its laid-back lifestyle, Croatia is a very conservative country. Sunday mass is attended by many, and religious holidays are observed, well, religiously.

There are many religious processions throughout the year, as Croatians celebrate various events and patron saints. These are often spectacular in character, but it should be remembered that they are not tourist attractions. What to do if a procession passes through the square where you are enjoying a well-earned cocktail? You should stand in silence, putting the drink out of sight if possible, until the procession has passed.

Which other faiths have status in Croatia?

Despite being overwhelmingly Catholic, there is considerable religious diversity in Croatia. Did you know, for example, that there is both a mosque and a synogogue within the walls of Diocletian's Palace in Split?

Total Split did an overview of non-Catholic services in the city a few years ago.

In line with the concordats signed with the Roman Catholic Church and in an effort to further define their rights and privileges within a legal framework, the government has additional agreements with the following 14 religious and Faith communities:

Serbian Orthodox Church/Patriarchy (Canonical) (SPC), Islamic Community of Croatia, Evangelical Church, Reformed Christian Church in Croatia, Protestant Reformed Christian Church in Croatia, Pentecostal Church, Union of Pentecostal Churches of Christ, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Union of Baptist Churches, Church of God, Church of Christ, Reformed Movement of Seventh-day Adventists, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church, and the Croatian Old Catholic Church.

religion in croatia map

English-language religious services in Croatia.

There is a very active Anglican church community in Zagreb, and they meet regularly to worship. You can learn more on their website. I am sure they will be helpful for people looking for other forms of English-language worship in Croatia.

You can also try some of the contacts in this overview of non-Catholic worshipping options in Split.

Religious education in Croatian schools

Religion is taught in Croatian schools from the first grade. In reality, this means - at least in the early years - religion from a very Catholic standpoint.

Religious instruction, known as vjeronauk, is a voluntary subject. If parents decide not to enrol their kids in the subject, there is usually no alternative subject on offer. Kids therefore spend that lesson in the library.

Having been educated in a Jesuit boarding school in the UK for 9 years, the approach to teaching religion in Croatia is a lot more intense than anything I experienced.

If you want to enrol your child in religious instruction in Croatian schools for another religion, that option is currently not available.

The extent of religious education in Croatian schools is often a national debate. In this modern era where more practical subjects are required to equip kids for the modern world, some feel that there is too much emphasis on religion and not enough on more practical subjects.

Religious also spills over into the way of life in the community. Sunday Mass is always full. The morning coffees on the main squares of Croatian towns and villages afterwards are an opportunity to catch up with friends.

I have noticed in recent years just how much more money and show goes on what were once very simple religious events, such as First Communion and Confirmation. These now almost resemble small weddings, and there is considerable social pressure on the child in question.

Politics and Religion in Croatia

Is there a separation between Church and State in Croatia?

You will get a different answer depending on who you speak to. But one thing is for sure: the relationship is very close. Conservative politicians have become adept at using the power of the Church for their own political ends.

The Church has been very active on subjects such as the referendum on gay marriage and the Istanbul Convention. And it is always a joy to watch elections taking place on a Sunday. Some priests are very political, and the congregation often goes straight from the sermon to the voting booth before sitting for that coffee.

The main religious holidays in Croatia

As you can see from the public holidays in Croatia, celebration religious holidays is important.

Of the 13 national public holidays each year, no less than 7 are religious. These are the Epiphany (January 6), Easter Monday, Corpus Christi (June 20), the Assumption (August 15), All Saints Day (November 1), Christmas and Boxing Day.