Visiting Slovakia and Hungary, Pope Preaches Church as ‘Home’


The world needs Christians who are “signs of contradiction,” who demonstrate the beauty of the Gospel rather than hostility toward others, Pope Francis said.

Celebrating Mass on the final day of his apostolic trip to Slovakia Sept. 15, the pope said the country needed such prophets who are “models of fraternal life, where society is experiencing tension and hostility,” especially toward those who often feel unwelcome.

Slovakia needs Christians who are “bringers of the sweet fragrance of hospitality and solidarity, where personal and collective selfishness too often prevails, protectors and guardians of life where the culture of death reigns,” he said.

The Marian basilica in Šaštin, which draws thousands of pilgrims each year, features a 16th-century statue of Our Lady of Sorrows venerated by Slovak Catholics. The pope’s visit to the shrine coincided with the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Following in the footsteps of St. John Paul II, who visited the shrine in 1995, Pope Francis visited the basilica privately to pray before the statue of Mary with Slovakia’s bishops, the Vatican said.

Pope Francis was in Slovakia Sept. 12-15 for a brief pastoral visit. He traveled to Prešov from the capital, Bratislava, where he stayed each night.

After the Divine Liturgy, the pope made an unscheduled stop at the Jesuit house in Prešov.

Pope Francis made sure that while the world often disregards the young and the marginalized, in the Catholic Church, “no one ought ever to feel out of place or set aside.”

He met with members of Slovakia’s Roma community and with more than 20,000 young people Sept. 14.

“The Church is indeed a home; it is your home,” the pope told the Roma community living in the Luník IX neighborhood of Košice.

“Always feel at home in the Church, and don’t ever worry about whether you will be at home there. Nobody ought to ever keep you or anyone else away from the Church!”

According to the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, the Roma, also known as Gypsies, make up roughly 9 percent of the population, or about 500,000 people.

An estimated 4,300 people are believed to be living in Luník IX neighborhood, one of the highest concentrations of Roma in Slovakia.

According to the Vatican, the Luník IX neighborhood is plagued with notable infrastructure problems, including limited gas and running water and lack of heating. Several apartment buildings were also razed due to structural deterioration. Despite the circumstances, the Catholic Church has maintained a steady presence under the care of Salesian priests since 2008. The mission aided the material and spiritual needs of the community, including building a church and a pastoral center.

After departing the neighborhood, Pope Francis made his way to Lokomotiva Stadium in Košice where more than 20,000 young people spent the day singing and celebrating the anticipated arrival of the Roman pontiff.

Bernadeta Hrebenarova, 28, told Catholic News Service she found it “incredible that the pope decided to visit my beloved city of Košice.”

In his address, the pope encouraged young people to rebel against “the culture of the ephemeral” that seeks only momentary pleasures that come and go.

Love and heroism, he continued, go hand-in-hand as evidenced by the life of Blessed Anna Kolesárová.

Known as the “Slovak St. Maria Goretti,” Blessed Kolesárová was killed in 1944 at the hands of a Soviet soldier after she refused his unwanted sexual advances.

Calling her a “heroine of love,” Pope Francis encouraged young people to “aim high” and not “let your lives just pass by like so many episodes in a soap opera.”

Falling into the temptation of rejecting the cross and choosing a triumphalist form of Christianity leads to a faith that is superficial and sterile, Pope Francis said as he presided over a Divine Liturgy Sept. 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The liturgy took place in a square outside the Mestská športová hala stadium. A plaque outside the stadium commemorates St. John Paul II’s meeting in Prešov with Slovakia’s Byzantine Catholics in 1995.

More than 30,000 people, the majority wearing masks, were present at the Divine Liturgy. Arriving in his popemobile, the pope greeted the thousands of faithful present, many of whom had waited several hours outside for his arrival. As he rode around the square, the pope waved and blessed the crowd as they sang and waved the yellow and white papal flags.

Spending time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can heal Christians from a self-absorbed religiosity that is ostentatious and triumphalist, Pope Francis said.

Presiding over the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress Sept. 12, the pope urged people to make time for Eucharistic Adoration.

“Let us allow Jesus, the living bread, to heal us of our self-absorption, open our hearts to self-giving, liberate us from our rigidity and self-concern, free us from the paralyzing slavery of defending our image, and inspire us to follow Him wherever He would lead us,” he said.

Landing in Budapest, the pope was welcomed by Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén. He then made his way to the Museum of Fine Arts near the site of the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress.

The Vatican said Pope Francis met privately with Hungarian President János Áder, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Semjén for roughly 40 minutes “in a cordial atmosphere.”

“Among the various topics discussed were the role of the Church in the country, the commitment to the protection of the environment, the protection and promotion of the family,” the Vatican said.

Before celebrating the closing Mass, Pope Francis met in private with the country’s bishops. He then met with Hungary’s Ecumenical Council of Churches, along with several Jewish communities. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was among those at the Mass and the meeting with religious leaders.

Noting the recent celebration of Rosh Hashanah and the Sept. 15-16 observance of Yom Kippur, Pope Francis offered best wishes and expressed his appreciation for the Jewish communities’ efforts “to break down the walls that separated” Jews and Christians in the past.

Drawing a parallel on the famed Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which links the eastern and western sides of Budapest, the pope noted that the bridge “does not fuse those two parts together, but rather holds them together.”