By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis kicked off his visit to Slovakia on Sunday afternoon by meeting with the country’s Ecumenical Council of Churches.
The event was held at the Apostolic Nunciature, where he is staying, and included representatives from the eleven member Churches of the Ecumenical Council, in which Slovakia’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference enjoys observer status.
Seed of unity and fraternity
In his speech to those gathered, the Pope expressed his appreciation for the chance to become “a pilgrim in Slovakia”, and said he was pleased that his first meeting in the EU member nation had an ecumenical nature.
“It is a sign,” he added, “that the Christian faith is – and desires to be – a seed of unity and leaven of fraternity in this country.”
Pope Francis recalled the many years of atheistic persecution under the Soviet Union, “when religious freedom was stifled or harshly repressed.”
After the fall of the Iron Curtain freedom returned, he said. “Now you are sharing a similar experience of growth in which you are coming to discover how beautiful, but also how difficult it is to live your faith in freedom.”
Temptation toward interior slavery
The Pope then warned Slovakians against the temptation to return to a worse slavery: “an interior bondage”.
He made reference to Dostoevsky’s “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazov, in which Jesus returns to earth and is once again imprisoned.
The inquisitor who questions Jesus accuses Him of overestimating human freedom, saying people prefer to barter their freedom for “a more comfortable slavery”.
Pope Francis appealed to Christians not to fall into this same trap of trading freedom for “bread and little else”, meaning “spaces and privileges.”
“Here, from the heart of Europe, we can ask: have we Christians lost some of our zeal for the preaching of the Gospel and for prophetic witness? Does the truth of the Gospel set us free?”
Fraternal communion in Jesus
Pope Francis recalled the evangelizing zeal of Sts. Cyril and Methodius who are known as the “Apostles to the Slavs”. They can help Slovakian Christians rediscover fraternal communion in the name of Jesus, and put religious and interior freedom at the heart of relations among various confessions.
The Pope added that it is impossible to hope for a Europe which is influenced by the Gospel if Christians are not united amongst themselves.
“May Saints Cyril and Methodius, ‘precursors of ecumenism’,” he prayed, “help us make every effort to work for a reconciliation of diversity in the Holy Spirit.”
Contemplation and action
The Pope then offered two suggestions to help renew the freedom and faith of Slovakian Christians: contemplation and action.
Contemplation, he said, is a “distinctive feature of the Slavic peoples”, which can help them rediscover the “beauty of the worship of God” and overcome a narrow focus on “organizational efficiency.”
Action, added the Pope, complements contemplation, and leads Christians to unite under the shared cause of assisting the poor and marginalized.
“Sharing in works of charity can open up broader horizons and help us to make greater progress in overcoming prejudice and misunderstanding,” he said.
Finally, Pope Francis concluded his address at the ecumenical meeting by expressing his hopes that all Christians might one day reunite around the Eucharistic table of the Lord.
“May the gift of God be present on the table of all,” he prayed, “so that, even though we are not yet able to share the same Eucharistic meal, we can welcome Jesus together by serving him in the poor.”