Pope Francis in Slovakia: culture wars and isolationism will not strengthen freedom


Pope Francis walks with Slovak President Zuzana Caputová upon his arrival at Bratislava International Airport, Slovakia, September 12, 2021. (CNS Photo / Paul Haring)

Editor’s Note: This story was updated with the reporting of Pope Francis’ visit to Rybne Square.

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA – Slovakia’s fragile freedom will not be enhanced by isolationism or engaging in cultural wars, Pope Francis said on September 13, but rather through genuine dialogue and open-mindedness.

The pope’s remarks came on his first full day in the Slovak capital, where he spent the morning meeting with the president and civilian leaders of the country, as well as its bishops, priests and Catholic clerics. In back-to-back meetings, the Pope has addressed similar themes, drawing on the country’s rich Christian heritage to chart a course for the future.

“We are all fragile and need others. None can stand out, either as an individual or as a nation,” François said during his opening speech at the presidential palace.

“Your mountains combine in a single chain a variety of peaks and landscapes, transcending national borders in order to bring together different peoples in beauty,” he said. “Cultivate this beauty, the beauty of the whole.”

The young democracy, where more than 60% of its citizens identify as Catholics, became sovereign in 1993 and entered the European Union and NATO in 2004. François encouraged the country to continue to be “A message of peace at the heart of Europe” by pursuing just economic structures, generous migration policies and genuine religious freedom.

“I hope you will never let the rich flavors of your best traditions be spoiled by the superficiality of consumerism and material gain,” Francis said. He then warned against the temptation of the “profit lure” which “rather than bringing people together, only divides”.

“In these lands, until just a few decades ago, a single system of thought stifled freedom,” said the Pope, referring to the country’s communist past. “Today, another unique thought system empties freedom of meaning, reducing progress to profit and rights to individual needs only.”

A just society, François said, is a society that allows “every person to receive the bread of work, so that no one feels marginalized or forced to leave their family and homeland in search of a better life.”

Just a day after the Pope told religious and civil leaders in neighboring Hungary, known for its harsh immigration policies, that the cross of Christ demands to be welcoming and hospitable, the Pope urged Slovakia to remain open. to those who need it.

“Even though battles for supremacy are being fought on various fronts, may this country reaffirm its message of integration and peace,” François said. “And that Europe is distinguished by a solidarity which, by transcending borders, can bring it back to the center of history.”

“No one should be stigmatized or discriminated against,” he added. “Our Christian way of looking at others refuses to see them as a burden or a problem, but rather as brothers and sisters to be helped and protected.”

Pope Francis speaks as he visits the "Bethlehem Center" in Bratislava, Slovakia, on September 13.  (CNS / Paul Haring)

Pope Francis speaks during his visit to the “Bethlehem Center” in Bratislava, Slovakia on September 13. (CNS / Paul Haring)

While the pope’s seven-hour stay in Hungary on September 12 was closely watched for his meeting with his ultranationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Francis is expected to receive a more sympathetic reception from Slovak President Zuzana ÄŒaputová during her stay in three days in the country. .

Čaputová, elected in 2019 on an anti-corruption platform, met François at the Vatican in December 2020 and the two leaders are aligned on a number of signing issues, including immigration and environmental concerns.

Despite the Vatican’s disagreement with the Slovak government on some social issues, including reproductive rights and LGBTQ policies, the Pope stressed the need for collaboration and dialogue rather than strict opposition.

“The salt of faith works not by reacting in worldly terms, by engaging in wars of culture, but by quietly and humbly sowing the seeds of the kingdom of God, in particular by the witness of charity”, a- he declared.

The Pope reiterated this message when he met the country’s bishops, priests and religious in St. Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava.

“The church is not a fortress, a fortress, a high castle, self-sufficient and open to the world below,” he said.

Instead, he told the historically traditionalist Catholic community to adopt a posture of humility and be ready to engage with the world around it, especially its young and marginalized.

“What is the beauty of a humble church, a church which does not stand aside from the world, which looks at life with a detached gaze, but which lives its life in the world,” he said . “Living in the world means being ready to share and understand people’s problems, hopes and expectations.”

“This will help us to escape our egocentricity, because the center of the church is not the church!” Francis continued. “We must leave behind an undue concern for ourselves, for our structures, for what society thinks of us.”

The Pope, who made the themes of accompaniment and discernment the touchstones of his papacy, asked the country’s religious leaders to “immerse themselves in the real life of the people”.

While acknowledging that such an approach carries certain risks and can be uncomfortable for many Catholics, the Pope said the church must have room “for the adventure of freedom” which is diverse in its expression.

“Many others – especially the younger generations – are not drawn to a faith that leaves them no interior freedom, to a church in which all are supposed to think alike and obey blindly,” he said. declared.

“What is the beauty of a humble church, a church which does not stand aside from the world, which looks at life with a detached gaze, but which lives its life in the world.”

– Pope Francis

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During his address, a lively and engaged pope often spoke without a script, telling the cathedral full of young priests and seminarians to shorten their homilies and not focus on themes or arguments that few understand.

“Everyone must discover the freedom of the Gospel by gradually entering into a relationship with God, confident that they can bring their history and personal wounds into their presence without fear or pretension, without feeling the need to protect their own image”, a- he continued.

“May the proclamation of the Gospel be liberating, never oppressive,” said Francis. “And may the church be a sign of freedom and welcome!”

After a morning calling on Catholics to engage the world around him, the Pope put his own words into action, first visiting a center for the homeless and marginalized on the outskirts of the city run by the Missionaries of la Charité, followed by a visit to Rybné Place in the old Jewish quarter.

There, the Pope paid homage to the 105,000 Slovak Jews killed in the Holocaust, and as he had done the day before in Hungary, Francis once again reiterated his condemnation of anti-Semitism.

“Let us unite to condemn all violence and all forms of anti-Semitism, and let us work so that the image of God, present in the humanity he created, is never desecrated”, he pleaded.

On the very grounds of an old synagogue demolished under Communist rule, the Pope reminded those in attendance that “the darkness is dispelled by the message that destruction and death do not have the last word, but rather renewal. And life”.

“Our world needs open doors,” said Francis, welcoming interfaith efforts between Christians and Jews in recent years and urging continued collaboration.

“The blessing of the Most High is poured out on us whenever he sees a family of brothers and sisters who respect and love each other and work together,” he concluded.

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