By Lydia O’Kane - Petržalka
Outside the Bethlehem Centre, which is situated in Petržalka, a district of Bratislava, the community here had been preparing all day for their very special guest.
Children held Vatican and Slovak flags, and were practicing their waving stills ahead of the Pope’s arrival.
The strains of music and singing could be heard as the mini-orchestra and choir rehearsed diligently; even the parish priest, Fr Juraj Vittek got into the spirit of the occasion by playing the guitar.
From the windows of the high rise flats above the centre, residents watched attentively, hoping to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis.
Joy for a special day
This Centre which provides care and support to the homeless and needy is run by the Missionary Sisters of Charity, and they too could be seen busying themselves with last-minute details.
Waiting to greet the Pope was Daniela Martinkovičova: “l listen to Vatican Radio every day,” she said, going on to describe her joy at being invited to be part of this very special day.
When the Pope finally arrived he was greeted by the sisters with a garland of flowers which was placed over his head. Just above him on a wall near the centre’s entrance was a drawing of Pope Francis with an inscription, when translated read, “We don’t forget to pray for you.”
This was a private visit, but as the Pope made his way inside, he said, “Many thanks to the Sisters for all the work they do offering welcome, help and accompaniment .” He also added, the Lord “is with us when we have moments of trial: he never abandons us, the Lord is always close to us."
There can be no doubt this really was a day to remember for those gathered here, and certainly something to tell the grandchildren in years to come.