By Lydia O’Kane - Bratislava
Over the course of his Pontificate, Pope Francis has made it one of his priorities to engage with young people. Whether it be the 2018 Youth Synod, World Youth Days, or meeting with the younger generation during Apostolic Visits, the Pope has been a steadfast father figure.
Pope Francis’ visit to Slovakia will be no exception, as the youth of the country get ready to give him a rousing reception at Košice’s Lokomotiva Stadium.
“There are great expectations for this visit” and many young people want to be able to participate in the event at Lokomotiva Stadium,” says Pavol Hižnay, communications co-ordinator for the youth event.
“For the young people, the Holy Father is a spiritual authority” who the youth of Slovakia can relate to because he is “charismatic and very open. He can get close to young people, and I think young people like listening to him.”
Effects of the pandemic
Like much of Europe and beyond, Slovakia was forced to implement strict measures to deal with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many young people, this meant being away from schools and universities and switching to remote learning.
“The pandemic made the last year probably the worst year for the young people. Almost half of all pupils had to stay at home and study remotely,” Mr Hižnay says, which “limited their possibilities for the future” and their ability to receive a proper education.
“Also many young people seek work and studies abroad, so the situation for young people at the moment is not the best. We hope for a better school year starting from September; also there are expectations for the third wave of this pandemic,” he notes.
Hižnay describes being involved in the organization of the youth event as “a great honour," but very demanding and requires focus”. He goes on to say that they have had only three months to organize events surrounding this visit, which would usually take one year to prepare.
With COVID-19 curbs still in place, he explains that the basic rule for taking part in any event with the Holy Father is that every person must be vaccinated.
So what can the Pope expect when he arrives at the Lokomotiva stadium on Tuesday afternoon? Giving a sneak preview, Mr Hižnay says, “There will be a very extensive programme comprising many artists, music groups and many spiritual activities.”
The programme starts before the arrival of the Holy Father, and there will be testimonies from young people talking about their own faith experiences, and questions from young people which Pope Francis is expected to respond to.
Many young people, says the communications co-ordinator, are looking forward to the Pope’s words to them.
In his 2020 diocesan World Youth Day message, Pope Francis invited young people to take a risk and change the world, giving their passions and dreams free rein. As the youth in Slovakia await the Pope, perhaps this may provide a hint of what they can expect at Lokomotiva Stadium.