Pope John Paul II reflected on his recent visit to Slovakia during his general audience Sept. 17 with 12,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square. The Holy Father has made it a custom to assess his trips during the general audience following his return. This was his 102nd apostolic trip.
“Faithful to Christ and to the Church: These words express Slovakia's history,” the Holy Father noted. “By going there in person, I wanted to strengthen her in this faithfulness as she embarks confidently toward the future.” Slovakia is among the countries that will be joining the European Union in May 2004.
“Slovakia possesses a rich spiritual heritage that she has been able to staunchly preserve despite the harsh persecution she endured in the past,” John Paul said. He especially pointed out that vocations to the priesthood and religious life are flourishing in Slovakia. “When they enter the European Union, I am certain that the Slovak people will be able to make a valuable contribution to building Europe, including the area of moral values,” the Holy Father said.
The Pope reviewed the various stops during his trip. A highlight, he said, was the beatification of two victims of the atrocious persecutions of the '50s by the communists: Bishop Vasil Hopko and Sister Zdenka Schelingová. He ended the audience by entrusting Slovakia to the care of Our Lady of Sorrows, who is the patroness of that country.
Today I would like to reflect on the apostolic trip that I had the joy of making last week to Slovakia. I would like to thank the Lord for allowing me to visit that noble country for the third time. I would like to express once again my gratitude to all those who welcomed me with so much kindness. I would like to especially thank my venerable brothers of the episcopate, the president of the republic and the other civil authorities, as well as all those who took care of every aspect of my stay in that land.
Faithful to Christ and to the Church: These words express Slovakia's history. By going there in person, I wanted to strengthen her in this faithfulness as she embarks confidently toward the future. It was with pleasure that I was able to admire the economic and social progress that has been made during these last few years. When they enter the European Union, I am certain that the Slovak people will be able to make a valuable contribution to building Europe, including the area of moral values. Indeed, thanks to God, Slovakia possesses a rich spiritual heritage that she has been able to staunchly preserve despite the harsh persecution she endured in the past. An eloquent testimony of this is the blossoming of Christian life and priestly and religious vocations that is so promising and so evident today. I pray that this beloved nation will continue with confidence on this path.
The first stop on my pilgrimage was my visit to the cathedral of Trnava, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Bratislava-Trnava. At that church, which is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, I asked Christians to be more and more fearless witnesses to the Gospel.
The following days were focused on the beautiful and moving Eucharistic celebrations, whose liturgies and songs were well prepared and in which the Christian people took part intensely and devoutly. The first liturgy took place in the square at Banská Bystrica, in the heart of the country. Commenting on the Gospel of the Annunciation, I stressed the need to cultivate, starting with the family, a mature freedom. Following the Virgin Mary's example, this is the only way in which we can be ready to respond to God's call.
While I was in Banská Bystrica, I met with members of the bishops' conference of Slovakia. I encouraged them to continue their extensive work in promoting Christian life after years of isolation and communist dictatorship.
Rooted in Christ
I then went to Roznava, capital of an agricultural region. Within that context, the Gospel parable of the sower resounded with a great deal of eloquence. Yes! The Word of God is the seed of new life. In a special address to those who live in the country, I stressed the importance of their contribution to building up the nation. It is necessary, however, that they remain solidly rooted in their centuries-old Christian tradition. In Roznava, I also had the opportunity to greet many people from the Hungarian-speaking community.
The last and principal stop on my apostolic trip took place in the capital city, Bratislava. During a solemn Holy Mass, I had the joy of beatifying two children of that land: Bishop Vasil Hopko and Sister Zdenka Cecilia Schelingová, who were victims of the communist regime's atrocious persecutions in the '50s. Both were 20th-century witnesses to the faith, and they were raised to the honor of the altar precisely on the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. They remind us that the Slovak people, in their tragic moments of suffering, found strength and hope in the cross of Christ: O Crux, ave spes unica! Hail, O Cross, our only hope!
Our Lady of Sorrows
Our Lady of Sorrows has been the support for the Church in Slovakia and her principal patroness. United to her — the one who remained next to her Son on Calvary — our Slovak brothers wish to remain faithful to Christ and the Church even at this time. May Our Lady of Sorrows protect Slovakia so that she may jealously guard the Gospel, which is the most precious possession that we are to proclaim and to which we are to bear witness, along with our holiness of life!
May God bless you, dear Slovakia! Thank you for your love for the Church and for the Successor of Peter!