EU Candidate Nations Will Help Europe, Says John Paul II

Receives President of Slovakia in Audience

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 28, 2002 ( John Paul II believes the entrance of Eastern countries into the European Union will benefit them and also contribute to the stability of the continent.

The Pope expressed this conviction today when he received in audience the president of Slovakia, a candidate country for integration in the European Union. President Rudolf Schuster was in Rome to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his country’s independence, and to sign an important agreement with the Vatican.

«I am sure that the future entry of your country into the European Union, which will be of benefit to Slovakia, will also contribute to the well-being and stability of the whole continent,» the Pope said during the audience, which was also attended by the president’s wife and entourage.

At the end of the meeting, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, and the Slovakian president ratified an agreement for the religious assistance of the Catholic faithful in the country’s armed forces.

«The Church is not looking for privileges or favors,» the Pope said during the meeting. «On the contrary, it only asks to be able to carry out its mission, respecting the laws that govern civil coexistence,» and «to maintain a cordial and constructive dialogue» with state institutions.

He said this dialogue «becomes much more useful,» keeping in mind that the Catholic Church went through «a harsh period of persecution during the Communist regime.»

The Holy Father also noted that «the importance of the Church’s activity manifests itself above all in the present circumstances in which the young democracy must confront problems related to the legacy of Marxist ideology.»

In particular, the Church seeks to make its contribution in «the tumultuous process of modernization, the phenomenon of unemployment and the consequent danger, for those who find themselves in need, of getting involved in illegal activities,» he said.

Two-thirds of Slovakia’s 5.4 million inhabitants are baptized Catholics. Some sources say more than 9% of the population is atheist.

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