John Paul II Thanks Slovak Catholics for Their Faithfulness

At the Start of His Third Visit to the Country

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia, SEPT. 11, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II paid tribute to the faithfulness of Slovakia's Catholics under Communism, and warned about the dangers of a new Europe based solely on economic interests.



"Bring to the construction of Europe's new identity the contribution of your rich Christian tradition!" the Pope told the Slovaks on his arrival today at Bratislava's airport.

The Holy Father was greeted at the capital's airport by the nation's leaders. "I give thanks to the Lord for allowing me to set foot today on the beloved Slovakian soil for the third time," the Pope said in Slovak. "I come as a pilgrim of the Gospel to bring greetings of peace and hope to all."

He read the first and last part of his address in Slovak, and let Monsignor Rober Urland, an aide from the Vatican Secretariat of State, read the rest.

Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls told journalists that "although the Pope would have liked to continue reading his address, it seems logical that, if in some way extra efforts on his part can be avoided on this trip, they should be avoided." He said it was probably the first time the Holy Father turned over the text like that, at a welcome ceremony.

In his address John Paul II warned: "Do not be satisfied with the sole quest for economic advantages. Great affluence, in fact, can also generate great poverty."

"Only by building up, not without sacrifices and difficulties, a society respectful of human life in all its expressions, which promotes the family as a place of reciprocal love and growth of persons, which seeks the common good and is attentive to the needs of the weakest, will there be guarantees of a future based on solid foundations and rich in goods for all," the Pope said.

The Holy Father wished to speak as Slovakia prepares to enter the European Union next May 1. It will enter along with Poland; the Czech Republic; Hungary; the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; Slovenia; and the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta. The Slovaks overwhelmingly backed the EU entry in a referendum last May.

His address, which he wrote himself, mentioned the decisive contribution of Catholics to the construction of the new Slovak nation.

He also mentioned the contribution made by two whom he will beatify on Sunday: Eastern-rite Catholic Bishop Vasil Hopko (1904-1976) and Sister Zdenka Schelingova (1916-1955). They both died under the former Communist regime.

"All of them have left behind a rich harvest of good in the Slovakian cultural heritage. Indeed, the history of this land can be seen as a history of faithfulness to Christ and to his Church," the Pope said.

Referring to Slovakia's forthcoming entry into the European Union, the Pope encouraged the country to seek not only "economic advantages" but to offer the continent the contribution of its "rich Christian tradition."

In his welcome address, Slovakian President Rudolf Schuster stressed the importance of the papal visit, "which takes place in the period of the 25th anniversary" of this pontificate, and infuses in the hearts of his compatriots "hope, love and humility," values that the Pontiff professes and realizes "with his whole life."

After the welcome ceremony, John Paul II went to the apostolic nunciature in Bratislava, where he will reside until next Sunday, the day his 102nd international trip concludes.

At the nunciature, the Holy Father received, in separate audiences, President Schuster, Parliamentary President Pavol Hrusovsky and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda.

During these meetings, the Pope made the gift of a silver copy of Alfonso Cano's sculpture, on display in the Cathedral of Granada, and received a locally crafted face of Christ.

In the afternoon, John Paul II was scheduled to visit some towns on the outskirts of Bratislava, while on his way to Trnava, one of the country's oldest towns. In Trnava, he was to pray in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, built during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Pope will travel to a number of cities, by air and car. The pilgrimage culminates Sunday with the beatifications.