SLOVAKS ENDURED RELENTLESS PERSECUTION
Pope John Paul II
General Audience July 5, 1995
1. Today I would like to thank God for my visit to Slovakia, which I was able to begin the day after the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, and to continue during the days that followed until 3 July.
I thank the Bishops of Slovakia for the invitation and the pastoral preparation for this visit. I also thank the civil authorities, the President of the Slovak Republic, the Prime Minister and the Government, the representatives of Parliament and the local authorities. My pilgrimage was accompanied by the great cordiality resulting from that historic moment: in fact, it was the first time that the Pope has visited the independent Slovak State.
The Slovak nation has a long past going back to the times of Cyril and Methodius, and their mission within the borders of the Kingdom of Greater Moravia. The episcopal see of Nitra, one of the most ancient sees in all of Central Europe, also dates back to that time. In the course of their history, Slovaks first lived within Greater Moravia, and then became part of the Kingdom of Hungary. This lasted until the First World War. In 1918 the Republic of Czechoslovakia came into being. It was in this context that Slovaksexcept for the period during the Second World Warcontinued to exist as a State until 1993. With deep admiration, credit must be given to the two now independent Czech and Slovak Republics for separating peacefully without conflict and bloodshed, as compared to what unfortunately occurred in the former Yugoslav Republic. The separation was based on the many differences between the two nations, although they are similar in many respects, especially regarding language. Thus the Slovak nation now has its own State which extends over the vast and fertile plains to the south of the Carpathians and the Tatra Mountains.
This visit to Slovakia enabled me to become better acquainted with this country and its inhabitants, especially in the main centres of national and religious life.
So I spent my first day in Bratislava, the country's capital, and then went to meet young people in Nitra. On the second day, I visited the Marian shrine of Sastin, located to the north of Bratislava, in the region of western Slovakia. The morning of Sunday, 2 July, was devoted to the canonization of the three Martyrs of Kosicethe town where they were martyred in the 17th century. Representatives from the Episcopates of all of Central Europe took part in the canonization. In the afternoon I went to Presov, and in the evening of the same day to Spis, from where I left for the Marian shrine of Levoca. Spis is located in the part of Slovakia which extends to the foot of the Tatra Mountains, so that on my last day I could again see these slopes to which I was so attached in my youth. The last stop on my journey was the city of Poprad, from where I left for Rome.
2. The main reason for my visit to Slovakia was the canonization of the three Martyrs of Kosice and I want to devote special attention to this event. Those martyrs are: Marek Krizin, Croatian, a canon of Esztergom Cathedral, and two Jesuits, Melichar Grodziecky, Polish, from Silesia, and Stefan Pongracz, Hungarian. Their martyrdom took place at the same period of European history as the martyrdom, in the city of Olomouc, Moravia, of St. Jan Sarkander, whom I had the joy of enrolling among saints a short time ago. The Martyrs of Kosice gave their lives for their fidelity to the Church and did not yield to the brutal pressure of the civil authorities, of the rulers who wished to force them into apostasy. All three accepted their martyrdom in a spirit of faith and love for their persecutors. Immediately after their death, they became the object of devotion in Slovakia, and at the beginning of this century, after a careful canonical process, the Church proclaimed them blessed. Once their canonization cause had been completed, I was able to proclaim them saints during my stay in Kosice, with the broad participation of the local Catholic population.
This canonization was also an important ecumenical event, as was evident both at my meeting with representatives of the Protestant denominations and during my visit to the place that commemorates the death of a group of the faithful of the Reformation, condemned in the 17th century in the name of the principle "cuius regio eius religio". A monument erected in the city of Presov recalls the event. I paused to pray before it.
3. Presov is also the place where the Greek Catholic Bishop resides. The Eastern Church, whose faithful live on both sides of the Carpathians, was born of the Union established 350 years ago in Uzhorod, in territory that belonged first to Hungary, then to the Republic of Czechoslovakia and now is part of Ukraine. The Eparchy of Presov, in a certain sense, belongs to this Church in the far western region where the Slovak and Transcarpathian Ruthenian Greek Catholics are concentrated. If, at the time of the communist government in Czechoslovakia, the entire Catholic Church was subjected to harsh persecution, the Slovak Greek Catholics of the Eparchy of Presov were hit with particular severity.
4. It should not be forgotten that the whole Church of Slovakia, situated within the communist Republic of Czechoslovakia at the time, suffered painful persecution. Almost all the Bishops were unable to exercise their pastoral service.
Many endured cruel imprisonment. Some ended their lives as true martyrsI am thinking, in particular, of Bishop Wojtassak of the Diocese of Spis, and the Greek Catholic Bishop Pavel Gojdic of Presov. Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec, the present Ordinary of Nitra, is a particular witness of this generation of Bishops imprisoned for their faith.
The Church in Slovakia has enjoyed religious freedom for only a few years, and perhaps this fact accounts for the great vitality that I could see and feel during my visit. The problem of the Church's persecution in Slovakia and the question of her martyrs needs further examination, which must be included in the spiritual preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000.
If we ask from where did the Slovaks draw their strength during the period of persecution, we find a particular answer by visiting the Marian shrines. During that difficult period for the nation and for the Church in Slovakia, the shrines became a great support for the faith of the People of God. There, no prohibition by the police or the administration was able to prevail. From Marin shrines such as Sastin and Levoca, this strength spread to the faithful, to families, to parishes and to all of Slovakia.
5. As you see from what I have said, my visit to the Church in Slovakia is part of the broad history of salvation in our century. At the same time, it is written in the history of the Slovak nation and its place in Europe. In no small measure, it is thanks to the Church's mission that the Slovak nation obtained its independence and, as a nation whose citizens are mostly Catholic, it has joined the great community of peoples of the whole world, and of Europe in particular. It contributes its own cultural identity to these communities; it also brings the willingness to build its own inheritance and that of Europe on the principles which spring from the rights of nations, suitably recognized and safeguarded in the international assembly, including, obviously, all those regarding minorities.
The Apostolic See and the Pope express their gratitude for the heritage of independent Slovakia, thus emphasizing this nation's right to its own place in the family of European nations as a fully-fledged member.
Weekly Edition in English
12 July 1995, p. 11
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