Slovakian Cardinal on the Impact of John Paul II

Jan Chryzostom Korec, Bishop of Nitra, Issues Statement

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NITRA, Slovakia, SEPT. 10, 2003 ( Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec of Nitra says Slovakia is a country of profound Christian roots whose community of faithful began to be renewed thanks to John Paul II’s efforts in the post-Communist era.

The bishop of Nitra himself suffered persecution under the Communists. He spent 12 years in a small cell, without light or air, and subsequently was under house arrest. Here is a testimonial of his, issued by the Fides missionary.

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Slovakia, today the Republic of Slovakia, is an ancient nation situated in central Europe near Poland, Austria and Ukraine between the Tatra mountains and the River Danube. The first Christian church was consecrated in Nitra by Archbishop Adalramo of Salzburg.

In 863 Sts. Cyril and Methodius came to preach to our forefathers in Slovakia, laying the roots of Christianity deep in our soil. Today these saints are co-patrons of Europe.

While St. Methodius was still alive, the first diocese of all Central and Eastern Europe was created at Nitra. After this event, Slovakia lived for a thousand years as part of the Hungarian Empire, founded by the holy King St. Stephen around 1000. Slovakia was part of the bulwark of Christian Europe and resisted repeated attacks by the Tartars and later those of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

Today Slovakia is an independent nation. But it experienced two world wars and its people, especially its Christians, were the victims of one of the fiercest Communist persecutions from 1948 to 1989, when the regime collapsed. Bishops, clergy and laity were imprisoned, religious orders suppressed, diocesan seminaries closed, and Catholic organizations and press banned. Those were years of barbarism and terror.

In 1989 we found our freedom once again. In our struggle for liberty from the Communist regime, we were helped greatly by the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, elected to the Chair of Peter in 1978.

Here in Slovakia we have always listened to his words, followed his travels, thanks mainly to Austrian television. His activities gave us immense courage and strength. He more than anyone knew our situation; he had known about it since he was archbishop of Krakow, on the other side of the Tatra mountains.

When Communism fell, in April 1990 he made his first visit to Slovakia. He appointed bishops for dioceses that were without one for 30 to 40 years. This was a source of great encouragement and blessing for all of us. Church life suddenly began to flourish again — religious orders, of men and women, resumed their community life; seminaries were reopened; Catholic schools, even a Catholic university, were opened.

In 1995 John Paul II made a second visit of four days. On his pilgrimage to Slovakia he was welcomed by hundreds of thousands of people.

Now, the Pope is 83 and we await his third visit to our country. We have prepared with prayers, especially the rosary, with novenas, as well as various activities of a spiritual and charitable nature.

As a gesture of gratitude to the Successor of St. Peter, a group of our young people will present the Holy Father with a beautiful version of the New Testament which they have written by hand. This exceptional leatherbound volume weights about 10 kilos. It is also meant to be an expression of our loyalty to the Holy Father.

We expect the visit to bring us encouragement for unity, deeper faith, greater reciprocal collaboration which we need so much, particularly at this time when we are surrounded by so many difficulties.

From Slovakia, at the heart of Europe, the Holy Father may address our continent, encouraging everyone to help Europe grow from those same solid roots which led it to grow spiritually and culturally for centuries.

The Pope’s visit will be important not only for us in Slovakia but for the rest of the world. Today once again, as it did in the past, the Church in Slovakia sends missionaries out to the world. Our missionaries — ever more numerous — work in Japan, Indonesia, Africa and Latin America.

We pray that the Holy Father’s visit will give a new thrust for evangelization and deeper rooting of the faith, so necessary today for us and for the whole world.

Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec, bishop of Nitra

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