By Lydia O’Kane
During the Sunday Angelus on 5 September, Pope Francis reminded the faithful that he would be making a pilgrimage the following week to Budapest and Slovakia. In particular, he noted that the visit would conclude “with the great popular celebration of Our Lady of Sorrows, Patron saint of that country.” (Slovakia)
The Pope is known for his ardent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and makes a trip both before and after an Apostolic Visit to the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome to pray before the icon of Our Lady, under the title, Salus Populi Romani.
History of the Shrine
The origins of the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows at Šaštín dates back many centuries: to the year 1564 to be exact.
At that time, there was a local aristocrat who constantly behaved badly towards his wife. The wife, a woman named Countess Angelika Bakič, had prayed to Our Lady for years so that her husband would change his ways.
One day her husband got into an argument with her while riding in their carriage and pushed her out onto the road.
That same day she made a promise to have a statue erected to the Virgin Mary if her husband would change his behaviour.
From that day on, he came back for her, changed his behaviour, and asked her forgiveness.
The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was then built on the side of the road where the countess had been pushed out. The spot became a popular place of pilgrimage and soon a small chapel was built there.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, Šaštín is one of the places where the Virgin Mary of Seven Sorrows in Slovakia is venerated. The church was consecrated in the presence of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband Emperor Francis I Stephen of Lorraine. The national shrine was promoted to a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
Miroslav Janak is Media Manager at the Shrine for the Pope’s visit. He says that there are “many stories, experiences and personal miracles achieved after visiting this place dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows.”
Pilgrimages to the Shrine draw tens of thousands of people every year. “There are around 200 domestic pilgrimages to the Shrine at Šaštín and around 40 foreign pilgrimages to the shine every year. We have pilgrimage groups from Spain, even from Mexico in 2019. Altogether there are almost 200,000 pilgrims a year,” says Mr. Janak.
Speaking about the Papal visit, the Media Manager says that it is a “great honour” to have Pope Francis come to Slovakia and visit the Shrine, which, he adds, is something that happens “once in a generation”.
However, he underlines that this Apostolic Visit comes amid “difficult times” for Slovakia.
“Slovakia is a wonderful country; it has all the conditions for a good life; if there would be Jesus visiting Slovakia today, he would not find a united nation.”
Facing the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, he emphasizes, has left the country polarized and divided by issues such as anti-vaccination campaigns. “Some people say he (the Pope) can bring us to peace. Well, I would say let’s hope he can bring peace to us.”
Mr. Janak notes that due to the current situation in the country, many people “are praying for guidance and they are praying that Our Lady can make us united. “
“I think this is a unique connection, this visit of the Pope and the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (15th September) and it connects the idea of being able to accept the help of Our Lady,” he says.
Asked about preparations for the Pope’s visit, Mr. Janak says that there are many people preparing to visit the shrine, and there are a great number of volunteers giving of their time.
He says the preparations have been running smoothly and the numbers of volunteers in Šaštín alone stand at 1,500, adding that he believes the visit “will be a wonderful moment, not only for Slovakia but for all the people watching it and all the people of goodwill.”
The Media Manager is also keen to point out that it is important that people prepare personally for the Pope’s visit as if he was coming to their home, “Let’s just prepare, not just technically, not just professionally, let’s prepare also personally because it is probably the most important thing.”