VATICAN CITY, AUG. 19, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The culminating event of John Paul II’s visit to Slovakia next month will be the beatification in Bratislava of two victims of the Communist persecution.
The itinerary of the Pope’s 102nd international trip, published today by the Vatican press office, includes a visit to four cities, including the capital, Bratislava.
The Holy Father will depart by plane from Rome on Thursday, Sept. 11, and fly to the airport of Bratislava, for a welcome ceremony at 10:40 a.m. local time. It will be the third time that the Holy Father kisses this country’s soil. His first visit was in 1990, to what was then Czechoslovakia.
After the welcome ceremony, the Pope will go to the apostolic nunciature in the capital, where he will reside during his stay in the country, and will meet privately with the president of the Slovak Republic, with the Prime Minister, and with the president of the Parliament. That afternoon the Pontiff will visit the cathedral of Trnava.
On Sept. 12, John Paul II will fly to Banska Bystrica, for a large outdoor Mass in the city’s National Resurgence Square, at 10:30 a.m. That day, John Paul II will lunch with members of the Slovak episcopal conference in the city’s major seminary.
On Sept. 13, the Holy Father will fly to Roznava, where he will celebrate Mass in the Podrakos Field, on the city’s outskirts. He will then lunch with the bishops of the diocese in the episcopal residence.
On Sunday, Sept. 14, the papal visit will end with a Mass celebrated in the Petrzalka esplanade in Bratislava, to beatify Bishop Basil Hopko (1904-1976) and Sister Zdenka Schelingova (1916-1955).
Following the Czechoslovak Communist regime’s decision in February 1950 to suppress the Greek-Catholic Church, Bishop Hopko was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison, which he was unable to complete because of poor health. The investigation for his cause of beatification showed that his death was the direct result of the sufferings he endured both before and after being imprisoned.
Sister Zdenka, a religious and nurse of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross, was also imprisoned under Communism after assisting in the escape of a sick priest who had been unjustly incarcerated in February 1952. Sick because of the ill treatment she received, Sister Zdenka was released on April 16, 1955. She died the following July 31.
Following the beatification Mass, the Pope will lunch with the bishops of the capital’s archdiocese. The farewell ceremony will take place in the afternoon at Bratislava’s international airport. The Pope is scheduled to take off for Rome around 6:20 p.m.
About three-quarters of Slovakia’s 5.5 million inhabitants are Catholic. As of July 31, Slovakia had 20 bishops, 2,474 priests (1,893 diocesan and 581 religious), 21 permanent deacons, 243 non-ordained men religious, 2,832 women religious, 178 consecrated lay people, 1,931 catechists, 867 major seminarians, and 225 minor seminarians.
The Catholic community in the country, which has re-emerged since the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, has 100 elementary Catholic schools, 48 secondary schools and two universities. Slovakia and the Czech Republic separated peacefully on Jan. 1, 1993.