John Paul II Tells Why He Went to Slovakia

To Confirm the Faith as Nation Nears Its Entrance to European Union

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 17, 2003 ( John Paul II says he visited Slovakia to confirm its fidelity to Christ, as the republic prepares to enter the European Union.

As is his custom, the Pope took advantage of the weekly general audience to recall and assess his most recent international trip. His Sept. 11-14 visit took him to the cities of Bratislava, Trnava, Banska Bystrica and Roznava.

«Faithful to Christ and to the Church: This is how Slovakia appears in its history,» the Pope told 12,000 pilgrims gathered today in St. Peter’s Square. «By going there in person, I wished to confirm her in this faithfulness, while she looks with confidence toward the future.»

Following the trip, and despite his evident physical frailty, on Tuesday the Pope held several private audiences. And today he managed to summarize in French, English, German, Spanish and Portuguese his address at the general audience. He also greeted Czech, Slovenian, Hungarian, Lithuanian and Polish pilgrims in their respective language. He omitted reading four lines of his Italian-language text.

«I am certain that, by entering in the European Union, the Slovak people will be able to offer their valuable contribution, including on the level of languages, to the construction of Europe,» the Holy Father said.

«Indeed, thanks be to God, [Slovakia] possesses a rich spiritual patrimony which, despite the harsh persecution endured in the past, she has been able to conserve firmly,» he said.

The Pope reviewed the various stages of his trip that culminated on Sunday with the beatification of Bishop Vasil Hopko and Sister Zdenka Schelingova, «victims of atrocious persecutions in the ’50s on the part of the Communist regime.»

«They remind us that the Slovak people, in the tragic moments of suffering, found strength and hope in the cross of Christ,» he said.

The Holy Father ended by reminding Slovakia that the Gospel is «the most precious good, to be proclaimed and witnessed with holiness of life.»

The Pope, who is working at Castel Gandolfo during these last days of summer, traveled to and from the Vatican by car.

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