Nitra (Fides Service) – On the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Slovakia, the third, 11-14 September, Fides Service asked Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec, Bishop of Nitra to say something about the situation in his country. In the article below the Cardinal recalls the travailed history of the Catholic community and years of Communist persecution which he himself lived in prison for 12 years in a small windowless cell, then under house arrest. But he also speaks of the re-birth of religious sentiment since the fall of Communism and of the joy for another visit by the Holy Father.
“Slovakia, today the Republic of Slovakia, is an ancient nation situated in central Europe near Poland, Austria and Ukraine among the Tatra mountains and the River Danube. The first Christian church was consecrated in Nitra by the archbishop of Salzburg Adalramo. In 863 Saints Cyril and Methodius came to preach to our forefathers in Slovakia laying the roots of Christianity deep in our soil. Today these Saints are co-patrons of Europe. While Saint Methodius was still alive, the first diocese of all central and eastern Europe was created at Nitra. After this event Slovakia lived for a thousand years as part of the Hungarian Empire, founded by the holy King St Stephen around 1000. Slovakia was part of the bulwark of Christian Europe and resisted repeated attacks by the Tartars and later those of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
Today Slovakia is an independent nation. But it experienced two world wars and its people, especially its Christians – were the victims of one of fiercest Communist persecutions from 1948 to 1989 when the regime collapsed. Bishops, clergy and laity were imprisoned, religious orders suppressed, diocesan seminaries closed, and Catholic organisations and press banned. Those were years of barbarism and terror.
In 1989 we found our freedom once again. In our struggle for liberty from the Communist regime, we were helped greatly by the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, elected tot he Chair of Peter in 1978. Here in Slovakia we have always listened to his words, followed his travels, thanks mainly to Austrian television. His activities gave us immense courage and strength. He more than anyone knew our situation, he had known about it since he was Archbishop of Krakow, on the other side of the Tatra mountains. When communism fell, in April 1999 he made his first visit to Slovakia. He appointed bishops for diocese that were without one for 30-40 years. This was a source of great encouragement and blessing for all of us. Church life began suddenly to flourish again – religious Orders, of men and women, resumed their community life, seminaries were re-opened, Catholic schools, even a Catholic university were opened.
In 1995 John Paul II made a second visit of four days. On his pilgrimage to Slovakia he was welcomed by hundreds of thousands of people. Now, the Pope is 83 and we await his third visit to our country. We have prepared with prayers, especially the rosary, with novenas, as well as various activities of a spiritual and charitable nature. As a gesture of gratitude to the Successor of Saint Peter, a group of our young people will present the Holy Father with a beautiful version of the New testament which they have written by hand. This exceptional leather bound volume weights about ten kilos. It is also mean to be an expression of our loyalty to the Holy Father.
We expect the visit to bring us encouragement for unity, deeper faith, greater reciprocal collaboration which we need so much particularly at this time when we are surrounded by so many difficulties. From Slovakia, at the heart of Europe, the Holy Father may address our continent, encouraging everyone to help Europe grow from those same solid roots which led it to grow spiritually and culturally for centuries. The Pope’s visit will be important not only for us in Slovakia but for the test of the world. Today once again, as it did in the past, the Church in Slovakia sends missionaries out to the world. Our missionaries – ever more numerous – work in Japan, Indonesia, Africa and Latin America.
We pray that the Holy Father’s visit will give new thrust for evangelisation and deeper rooting of the faith, so necessary today for us and for the whole world. Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec, Bishop of Nitra.
SL (Fides Service 9/9/2003 EM lines 54 Words: 768)