BRATISLAVA, Slovakia, SEPT. 14, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II ended his four-day apostolic pilgrimage to Slovakia, celebrating a Mass in which he beatified a Greek-Catholic bishop and a woman religious, two martyrs of Communism.
“Never be ashamed of the Gospel!” the Pope said in a clear and strong voice during the homily of the Mass that lasted more than two hours.
The celebration took place today in the Petrzalka esplanade, on the outskirts of Bratislava, an area of Communist-era apartment buildings.
Some 300,000 people attended the ceremony, including several thousand Poles who traveled by bus or train from their homeland. During the ceremony, the Pope spoke in Slovak, Hungarian, Polish, German, Czech, Italian and Ukrainian.
As in past days, the homily in Slovak was read in part by Cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The homily was a commentary on the day’s liturgical feast — the Exaltation of the Holy Cross — and a remembrance of the two new blessed: Bishop Vasil Hopko (1904-1976) and Sister Zdenka Schelingova (1916-1955).
Following the Czechoslovak Communist regime’s decision to suppress the Greek Catholic Church, in February 1950 Auxiliary Bishop Hopko was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison, which he was unable to complete due to poor health. His death was linked to the suffering he endured before, during and after his imprisonment.
Sister Zdenka, a nurse and religious of the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of the Holy Cross, was also imprisoned by the Communists. She was punished for having helped a sick priest escape from prison in February 1952. Weakened by ill treatment, Sister Zdenka was released on April 16, 1955, but died a few months later, on July 31.
“Both shine before us as radiant examples of faithfulness in times of harsh and ruthless religious persecution,” the Pope recalled. “Bishop Vasil never repudiated his attachment to the Catholic Church and to the Pope. Sister Zdenka did not hesitate to risk her life so as to assist God’s ministers.”
“Both faced up to an unjust trial and an ignoble condemnation, to torture, humiliation, solitude, death,” he added. “And so the cross became for them the way that led them to life, a source of fortitude and hope, a proof of love for God and man.”
After the Mass, the Pope prayed the Angelus and added moving words of farewell to Slovakia.
“I carry with me beautiful images of the eucharistic celebrations and the different encounters of these days. They are memories that evoke in my spirit profound and comforting emotions,” he said.
John Paul II dedicated his final message to young Slovaks, reminding them that they are “the hope of the Church and of society.”
“You are the hope of the Pope!” he added. “Do not be afraid to become true friends of Jesus. Learn from him how to love this world properly and you will build with his help the civilization of love.”
The Holy Father ended his 102nd international apostolic trip in the afternoon. His spokesman, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, did not rule out the possibility that the Pope will continue to travel. He explained that the weakening of the Pope’s health on Friday was due to the high temperatures.
The Pontiff’s health improved during his stay. His spokesman attributed it to the cooler autumn weather in Slovakia, as opposed to the heat in Rome.
John Paul II will continue to reside in the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, until Sept. 26. A busy month of October awaits him, full of public commitments linked to the 25th anniversary of his pontificate and the closing of the Year of the Rosary.