BRATISLAVA, Slovakia, SEPT. 9, 2003 (Zenit.org).- As this nation nears entry into the European Union, the Catholic community of post-Communist Slovakia is holding fast to its Christian roots, says a prelate.
Archbishop Jan Sokol of Bratislava-Trnava described the Slovakian faithful in an interview last Sunday on Vatican Radio, on the occasion of John Paul II’s forthcoming visit this week.
In April 1990, the Pope traveled to what was then part of Czechoslovakia, a few months after the collapse of the Communist regime. His second apostolic trip to the country took place in the summer of 1995, when he presided over the canonization of three martyrs of Kosice.
This Thursday through Sunday, the Holy Father will visit Slovakia again.
“We believe the trip will have important spiritual fruits,” Archbishop Sokol said. “Above all, it will encourage us in the faith and in basing our lives on the fundamental and perennial values of existence.”
The highlight of the papal visit will be Sunday’s Mass at which the Pope will beatify two Communist-era martyrs: Greek-Catholic Bishop Basil Hopko (1904-1976) and Sister Zdenka Schelingova (1916-1955).
Q: The Communist regime fell in 1989. How has the Church changed since then?
Archbishop Sokol: The change has taken place especially in our freedom. There is no longer any fear of going to church, of meeting in small communities, of living our faith, of having contacts abroad.
Q: What are the relations with the other churches of Slovakia?
Archbishop Sokol: We have a beautiful relation with the members of the Protestant Lutheran community, who represent 6% of the population. We organize ecumenical meetings and times of prayer with them. There is also the Calvinist community, which represents more or less 2% of the inhabitants. Relations are good with all.
Q: What are the problems today for the Catholic Church in Slovakia?
Archbishop Sokol: We are witnessing the transformation of the state economy. Unfortunately, there is much unemployment which is reflected in the life of families, obliged really to live with the minimum. This has repercussions in their daily life, both cultural as well as religious.
Q: How much do families participate in religious life?
Archbishop Sokol: We see that children often go to catechism in the schools, both elementary as well as middle and high schools. There are families that meet regularly and exchange experiences. And this works very well.
What we encourage is the spirit of prayer in families. Thanks to Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Slovakia has a great heritage of prayer and faith.
Q: Parliament is examining a disturbing law on abortion. What is the position of the Church in the country?
Archbishop Sokol: The social doctrine has always been present in the Church in Slovakia; it is so today and will be so in the future.
As the Holy Father says, the Church protects life from its beginning in the maternal womb until its natural death. This is the law of God. The appeal of the Catholic Church in Slovakia is precisely this: to remain faithful to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Q: With what sentiments do the faithful await John Paul II, who since the time he was archbishop of Krakow, has followed attentively the circumstances and the life of the Slovakian people?
Archbishop Sokol: The whole of Slovakia awaits the Holy Father with great joy. He is seen as the Vicar of Jesus Christ, as the leader of the Catholic Church. We have always loved him as such. This tradition has very strong and deep roots here.
Q: The Pope’s trip takes place when Slovakia is one step away from entry into the European Union. What is the hope for the future of the country?
Archbishop Sokol: Europe has Christian roots. We want to associate ourselves with the Holy Father, who protects these roots and sees the future in this light. We unite ourselves to the Pope in this great enterprise.