The Pope has urged Slovak clergy to help build unity between Christian confessions and nations, while calling on politicians to make their country “a message of peace in the heart of Europe”.
“The Church is not a fortress, a bastion or castle placed on high, looking at the world with distance and self-sufficiency – it is a community which seeks to draw people to Christ with the joy of the Gospel,” Francis told a gathering of bishops, priests and religious order members in Bratislava’s St Martin Cathedral.
“The dramatic periods in your country's history offer a great lesson. When freedom was wounded, raped and killed, humanity was also degraded …. At the same time, however, freedom is not some automatic gain, won once and for all. It is always a process, sometimes difficult, that must be constantly renewed and struggled for.”
The Pope was speaking on Monday, a day after arriving from a seven-hour stopover in neighbouring Hungary to close the International Eucharistic Congress.
He said the contemporary world expected the Church to be “free of rigorist religiousness”, adding that “responsible and mature Christians” should not expect “to have everything regulated” and “set out from above, with rules to be obeyed in safety and uniformity”. He declared that the Church across Europe now urgently needed “a new alphabet for proclaiming the faith”.
The Pope told political leaders that Slovakia had peacefully “overcome numerous trials and attained integration and distinctiveness” since its post-communist independence in January 1993, but also urged them to ensure care was extended to the vulnerable and marginalised, while resisting a “single thought-system” which “empties freedom of meaning, reduces progress to profit and rights only to individual needs”.
“It is my hope you will never allow the rich flavours of your finest traditions to be spoiled by … consumerism … or by forms of ideological colonisation,” Francis told the meeting, hosted by President Zuzana Caputova at her Bratislava palace. “And may Europe be distinguished by a solidarity that, by transcending borders, can bring it back to the centre of history.”
The Pope held a private meeting with 52 Slovak Jesuit priests at the nunciature after arriving on Sunday evening, before addressing leaders of a dozen Christian churches and associations making up the country's Ecumenical Council.
“Now you are … coming to discover how beautiful, but also how difficult it is to live your faith in freedom. For there is always the temptation to return to bondage, not that of a regime, but one even worse: an interior bondage,” Francis told the ecumenical meeting.
On Monday, he also paid a private visit to a homeless centre run in Bratislava by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and met Jewish representatives. The visit is due to run until tomorrow, and include a city-centre Divine Liturgy in the largely Greek Catholic eastern city of Presov, a visit to a Roma suburb, a stadium encounter with young people in Kosice, and an open-air Mass at Slovakia's national sanctuary of Sastin.