Slovakia. From 12 to 15 September 2021, Pope Francis made his 34th International trip to Slovakia. The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians from the Province of St. John Bosco (SLK) were present at some moments in Bratislava, Košice, and Šaštín.
The apostolic journey of the Holy Father arrived by plane in Bratislava on the afternoon of 12 September and continued with the Ecumenical Meeting and the private meeting with the members of the Society of Jesus at the Apostolic Nunciature.
On 13 September, in the garden of the Presidential Palace in Bratislava, there took place the Meeting with the Authorities, the Civil Society, and the Diplomatic Corps attended by Sr. Mária Nagyová, FMA of Mary Immaculate Community of Bratislava, representing the Association Young Laura, which deals with the integral development of children and young people. The Pope recalled the importance of motivating young people to generously commit themselves for others. “You are the salt of the earth “(Mt 5:13). … And just as salt gives flavor only by dissolving, so too does society regain taste through the free generosity of those who spend themselves for others. It is beautiful that young people in particular are motivated in this, so that they realize they are protagonists of the future of the country and take it to heart, enriching the history that preceded them with their dreams and creativity. There is no renewal without young people”.
Before the meeting with Bishops, priests, consecrated persons, seminarians, and catechists in the Cathedral of St. Martin, Pope Francis greeted Sr. Slavka Butkova and Sr. Martina Alaxova, FMA missionaries in Azerbaijan. “We asked him to pray for this country and he told us to seek to spread peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan”.
At the meeting of the Holy Father with the Rom Community of the quarter Luník IX of Košice, on 14 September, Sr. Zuzana Saloňová and Sr. Monika Foltýnová were present, engaged in the educational mission with the Rom in the new work of Maria Romero School, a resident school for the girls of Luník IX. Sr. Monika recounts her impressions. “I was happy that Pope Francis came to Lunik IX, where he spoke with great respect for the Rom. He expressed the hope that we can walk together as brothers and sisters, without prejudice and with the conviction that patient work and sincere love will bring the expected fruits.”
In fact, the Pope was grateful for the work with the Rom, “Dear priests, religious, and laity, dear friends who dedicate your time to offer integral development to your brothers and sisters, thank you! Thanks for all the work with those on the sidelines.”
The Salesian Family in Slovakia has been working for 30 years in the field of pastoral care for the Rom population. On the occasion of the Pope’s visit, the Salesians of Don Bosco prepared the video-documentary “Don Bosco and the Rom in Slovakia” with the testimonies of members of the Salesian Family, including Sr. Eva Pullmanová, Animator of the FMA Community of Nitra, and of the Rom of Luník IX (Košice), Orechov dvor (Nitra), and Poštárka (Bardejov).
Also present in Košice were the Rom representatives of the Orechov dvor di Nitra quarter where the FMA of Blessed Maria Troncatti Community have been involved for seven years. During the moment prepared on the stage, Sr. Anna Chrkavá, FMA, prayed a decade of the Rosary together with the Rom.
At the stadium of Lokomotiva di Košice, Pope Francis listened to the testimonies and questions of young people. Numerous FMA participated with the young people of the Salesian centers throughout Slovakia. Answering the questions, the Pope spoke, among other things, of the importance of taking care of one’s roots so as not to become uprooted. “Filled with virtual messages, we risk losing our real roots. … God wants us well planted in the ground, connected to life, never closed, but always open to everyone! Rooted and open.” In the entertainment program, Sr. Lamiya Jalilova, FMA, who runs a YouTube channel to communicate with young people, also took the stage. In her testimony on her relationship with Mary she said, “The Virgin Mary is our Mother, she supports us, she puts her hands on our shoulders and is always ready to intervene and help us. Take Mary’s hand and let her lead you to Christ.”
The last meeting of the Holy Father with the faithful of Slovakia was the Eucharistic Celebration in the esplanade of the National Shrine of Šaštin, on 15 September. Two FMA, Sr. Helena and Sr. Mária, made themselves available as volunteers. “We arrived the day before to prepare with the volunteers and be ready early in the morning. In our sector there were about 4 thousand people. The Holy Father passed by us. For me it was all wonderful and moving,” recounts Sr. Mária.
In his homily, Pope Francis reread the journey-pilgrimage in a Marian key. “In the logo of this Apostolic Journey there is a road drawn into a heart surmounted by the Cross. Mary is the road that leads us into the Heart of Christ, who gave His life for love of us.” Then he greeted the crowd, “The time has now come to say goodbye to your country. In this Eucharist I gave thanks to God for the gift of coming among you, and to conclude my pilgrimage in the devoted embrace of your people, celebrating together the great religious and national feast of the Patroness, the Sorrowful Virgin.”
An FMA who participated in several moments summarized her impressions of the event. “I still need to meditate on his words, but the emotions speak for themselves! He is a man of great humanity, it is enough to perceive this in his gestures, his extraordinary tenderness and attention.”