"From September 12 to 15 next, God willing, I will go to Slovakia for a Pastoral Visit, on the evening of the 12th," this was announced by Pope Francis after the Angelus prayer on Sunday, noting that the Slovaks are rejoicing at this news. "I will first concelebrate in Budapest the concluding Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress," the Pope added. "I heartily thank all those who are preparing for this trip and I pray for them. We all pray for this trip and for the people who are working to organize it."
Mateo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, has specified the cities that the Pope will visit: "As the Holy Father announced at the Angelus this morning, at the invitation of the civil authorities and episcopal conferences, on Sunday, September 12, 2021, Pope Francis will travel to Budapest on the occasion of the concluding Holy Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress; then, from September 12 to 15, 2021, he will travel to Slovakia, visiting the cities of Bratislava, Prešov, Košice and Šaštin. The program of the trip will be published in due course".
This is the Pope's second apostolic journey after the Covid-19 pandemic. At the beginning of March, Francis visited Iraq on a historic trip, in which he strengthened ties of friendship with the Shiite Muslim community, and held a meeting in the millenary city of Abraham's birth, Ur of the Chaldees, with representatives of Jews and Muslims, and urged them to walk a path of peace.
Moreover, a few days ago, at a meeting of prayer for peace and reflection on Lebanon together with Christian, Orthodox and Protestant representatives, the Roman Pontiff expressed "great concern at seeing this country - which I hold in my heart and which I have the desire to visit - plunged into a serious crisis".
Cardinal Erdö: Sign of Hope
"The community of Catholic believers are waiting with great joy and affection for the arrival of the Holy Father," said Cardinal Péter Erdö, Archbishop of Budapest and Primate of Hungary. "We are praying that his visit will be a sign of hope and a new beginning for us with the attenuation of the pandemic," he added.
Cardinal Erdo also pointed out that it is of great importance that the Holy Father personally attend the Closing Mass, since it is usually the papal legate who represents the Holy Father at Eucharistic Congresses. This was also the case during the last Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, where Pope Francis sent a video message".
The same joy was expressed by Monsignor András Veres, Bishop of Győr and President of the Hungarian Bishops' Conference, when he signed a press release together with Cardinal Peter Erdö on March 8, following Pope Francis' announcement that he would travel to the Hungarian country to celebrate the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress to be held from September 5 to 12.
Monsignor Zvolenský: strengthening our faith
The bulk of the papal trip, however, will take place in Slovakia, a small Central European country of almost 5.5 million inhabitants, whose capital is Bratislava, and whose currency is the euro. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and after 23 years of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia, the departure of Russian soldiers was activated in June 1991. Two years later, in 1993, Czechoslovakia was divided into the Czech Republic on the one hand, and Slovakia on the other. In 2018, 25 years had already passed since the split.
The Archbishop of Bratislava and President of the Slovak Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Stanislav Zvolenský, said that the announcement of the Pope's trip to his country, "is particularly joyful news, and I am very happy. I believe that many of us are also at this moment returning with great joy to the memory of the visit of the Holy Father John Paul II. And once again we can say that the successor of the apostles, now Pope Francis, will come to Slovakia".
The president of the Slovak bishops' conference added that this announcement "comes in connection with the solemnity of our Saints Cyril and Methodius, heralds of the faith. It was they who taught us to respect the Pope. And now we will be able to welcome the Successor of the Apostle Peter in Slovakia, to receive him among us".
Monsignor Zvolenský invited everyone to begin to prepare themselves internally to be able to listen well to the message of Pope Francis, the official Vatican agency reports. "It is a message of sensitivity towards those who suffer, those who are on the margins of society, those in need, both materially and spiritually. There is also his great concern for the good of the family, his great sensitivity to the needs of young people. These themes will certainly be part of Pope Francis' visit to Slovakia. I think we can expect a great spiritual strengthening".
On March 23 of this year, during a joint meeting, the Slovak bishops supported an initiative submitted to the Constitutional Court of the Republic in view of the ban on public worship due to the pandemic, according to media reports.