By Lydia O’Kane - Šaštín
As one approaches Šaštín, the two imposing spires of the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows loom large over the skyline and give the first hint of the splendor to come.
This glimpse gives way on approach to Slovakia’s National Shrine in all its glory. At the door of the Basilica, workmen are busy drilling and hammering, making sure that everything is in order for Pope’s visit here, the final event, as part of his Apostolic Journey to Slovakia.
Inside this place of worship which has been welcoming pilgrims for centuries, the golden statue of Our Lady of Sorrows looks down from on high towards the main altar.
Over the years, thematic pilgrimages have become traditional here; there is the pilgrimage of ministrants, of motorcyclists, and even a pilgrimage for broken hearts.
On either side of the altar, two plaques commemorating the visits of St John Paul II and St Mother Teresa of Calcutta take pride of place.
The Pope is coming to this Marian Shrine on the 15 September, the feast of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, and Patron of Slovakia.
Just a stone’s throw away from the Basilica itself, work underway gives clues as to what pilgrims can expect on Wednesday morning.
The stage where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in this nearby field is in the final throws of preparation.
A number of artists have been commissioned to provide artwork which includes a painting of St Joseph and a sliver Crucifix
This Crucifix, which provides an imposing backdrop, has its own story to tell: Above it sits a wooden cross which was made from wood taken from a Church destroyed in a storm in the Moravia region. Taking pride of place is also a 3D version of the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows.
The architect responsible for the project is keen to point out that this event has an ecological dimension, with the use of recycled materials; an aspect which no doubt Pope Francis would approve of. “What’s very important for us is to take this whole project as an ecological project,” says Michal Bogar.
Much of the material used has been recycled, and Mr. Bogar’s intention is that items such as wood can be reused again in other projects.
He goes on to say that they have been reading the text of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si, and have been touched by his reference of the earth as a garden which is given to people to protect.
Mr. Bogar’s studio of architects won the commission to design the space for the Mass here on Wednesday after taking part in an architects and urbanists competition at the end of June.
“The main idea of our proposal was to be a part of this landscape and plus we wanted to orient our main axis to the whole area towards the towers of the Basilica of Šaštín, this was very important to us,” he says.
Mr. Bogar explains that the focal point of the whole area is the altar, where the Eucharist will be celebrated, adding that his studio wanted to create a minimalist design for the space.
Here in Šaštín, the stage is now set for a pilgrim Pope to pay homage to a Blessed Mother.