Bratislava (Fides Service) – Sunday 14 September was the fourth and final day of the Pope’s third apostolic visit to Slovakia 11-14 September. Welcomed everywhere by enthusiastic flag waving crowds, including many young people, Pope John Paul II visited those dioceses not included on his previous visits in 1990 and 1995.
On Friday 12 in the main square of Banska Bystika the Holy Father presided Mass for the opening of the diocesan Synod. It was the feast day of the Holy Name of Mary and in his homily the Pope indicated the Blessed Virgin Mary as an example: “Mary shows us the path towards a mature freedom. In our days, many baptised Christians have not yet made the faith their own in an adult and conscious way. They call themselves Christians and yet they do not respond in a fully responsible way to the grace they have received; they still do not know what they want and why they want it. This is the lesson to be learned today: an education to freedom is urgently needed. Especially in the family, parents must educate their children to a correct freedom, so as to prepare them to respond properly to God’s call.”
In a message to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Slovakia, on the 10th anniversary of its constitution, the Pope wrote: “ In recent years, having come out of the dark times of persecution and silence during which it gave splendid proof of fidelity to the Gospel, the Church of God in Slovakia has been able to resume its activity and build structures necessary in order to freely exercise its mission”. In particular the Pope mentioned the Basic General Agreement signed with the Slovak Republic in 2000, the work of a Mixed Commission to draft other partial agreements, the erection of a Military Ordinate, the opening of a Catholic University at Ruzomberok and the enlarging of Radio Lumen. “Besides these achievements you are working more in general to revive Christian life at different levels. The results are comforting…this apostolic activity is bearing fruit” the Pope said, urging the Bishops to “continue with courage along this path” giving special attention to the formation of future priests, the promotion of vocations, lay participation, assistance for youth, families, the weak and the poor. “Do not lose courage and or let yourselves be disheartened by difficulties”.
On Saturday 13 the Pope said Mass at Podrakps Park in Roznava. Among the crowds attending, there was a large group of Hungarians representing about 500,000 Hungarians who live in Slovakia. Addressing them in Hungarian the Pope said: “Proud of your traditions, dear Brothers and Sisters, and faithful to the teachings of your Ancestors, you keep your faith firm and your hope alive and you draw strength from your attachment to Christ and to his Church. Your presence constantly enriches Slovakia, and I know that the Pastors of this local Church are attentive to meet your spiritual aspirations, while always safeguarding ecclesial unity, a factor of human and spiritual growth for the entire Slovak society”. During his homily the Pope mentioned a national proverb: “A Slovak proverb says: “Words admonish, examples move”. Yes, dear Brothers and Sisters, you too, with the “style” of your Christian life, can make a great contribution to the evangelisation of today’s world and to the construction of a more just and more fraternal society. And so I say with the Apostle Paul: “Consider your calling”.
Commenting the Gospel parable of the Sower the Pope said: “We, Dear Brothers and Sisters, are the soil in which the Lord tirelessly plants the seed of his word and his love…The Pope entrusts to all of you today the treasure of this word; just like a confident sower who plants in the secret of each heart the “good news” of the Kingdom. Be the good and fruitful soil which, with the abundance of its produce, comforts the expectations of the Church and of the world.”
On Sunday 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Pope John Paul II said the last Mass of his visit in Petrzalka Square in Bratislava. During the Mass he beatified Bishop Vasil’ Hopko and Sister Zdenka Schelingová martyrs of communist persecution against the Catholic Church as the Pope said in his homily: “Both shine before us as radiant examples of faithfulness in times of harsh and ruthless religious persecution. Bishop Vasil’ never repudiated his attachment to the Catholic Church and to the Pope. Sister Zdenka did not hesitate to risk her life so as to assist God’s ministers. Both faced up to an unjust trial and an ignoble condemnation, to torture, humiliation, solitude, death. And so the Cross became for them the way that led them to life, a source of fortitude and hope, a proof of love for God and man”. At the end of Mass the Pope introduced the Angelus prayer calling on those present to stand “at the foot of the Cross of Christ and to receive from him the sublime gift of his Mother who from that moment on became the Mother of the Church”. “Like St John the Apostle, we too welcome her to our home (cfr Jn 19,27) in order to learn from her inner openness to listen and humble generosity in service which distinguished her as the first of the Lord’s disciples.” The Pope then entrusted to Mary’s intercession the Christian community in Slovakia that it may be “a Church rich in holiness, bold in good works and strong in witness.” SL (Fides Service 15/9/2003 EM lines 66 Words: 964)