By Lydia O’Kane
Despite being a journey which lasts just four days, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Visit to Slovakia is one that encompasses many elements.
Two of the highlights are the celebration of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy in Prešov and a visit to the National Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows at Šaštín.
There is also a visit to a homeless centre, a meeting with young people, and an encounter with priests and religious.
Fr Marek Vanus, SVD, works in the parish of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the district of Petržalka in Bratislava. He is also a lecturer in Biblical Theology.
A living faith
Speaking about the anticipation in his parish ahead of the Pope’s visit, Fr Vanus says “the general expectation is joy.” People are “expecting some encouragement in the faith and to show that the faith is one to be lived, not just through the liturgy but also in helping those less fortunate such as the poor and marginalized.”
He explains that the Pope’s encouragement is important because there is a sense that people are becoming more “indifferent” towards the faith.
Fr Vanus is also hoping that the visit will inspire people who have become lukewarm in the faith to draw nearer.
During his journey, Pope Francis is expected to preside over the Byzantine Divine Liturgy in Prešov and pay a visit to the National Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows at Šaštín.
Fr Vanus points out that the first of these celebrations concerns the Greek Catholic Rite, while the visit to the Shrine is a meeting of the Roman Rite. With both these celebrations, he says, the Pope is showing his “respect to both traditions that are co-existing in Slovakia.”
Dialogue and fraternity
Alluding to the Pope’s most recent encyclical Fratelli tutti, Fr Vanus notes that it is significant that Pope Francis is “presenting this idea of Fraternity of Brotherhood,” adding that it is “important to recognize in the other the brother with whom I can talk and lead a dialogue, and I think it would be important in our country.”
He goes on to say he had the impression that during the last period of COVID both in Slovakia and beyond, “some people became very critical and not satisfied with anything and criticizing everybody, and I think this is not the way. I think we have to recognize the good in the other one and try to find a way of leading a dialogue and not already judging the other one.”
Economy in Slovakia
Asked about the economic challenges people in Slovakia face, especially in light of the current pandemic, Fr Vanus notes that there is not much difference between his country and other European nations as far as economic progression is concerned, but he also notes the continuing distinction between “the eastern and the western parts of Europe.”
The country’s history, he points out, “is signed by Communism,” which restricted economic development. However, in these last 30 years, “Slovakia is doing well and people can travel wherever they want.”
Priests and religious
During his visit to Slovakia, Pope Francis will address priests and religious, which Fr Vanus says is an aspect of the journey he is looking forward to the most in terms of words of encouragement. “We are experiencing diminishing vocations as it is very present in other countries in Europe, and so I am looking forward to this moment to hear from him some words of encouragement.”
Fr Vanus is also hoping this visit will help the Pope learn more about the situation of the Church in Slovakia, and on the other hand, that people will experience the Pope and his words on their native soil.