VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 4, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II will soon make his third visit to Slovakia, a country which in less than 15 years has abandoned the Communist regime, achieved independence, and is preparing to enter the European Union.
The highlight of the trip will be a concluding Mass in which the Pope will beatify two Slovak martyrs: Greek-Catholic Bishop Basil Hopko (1904-1976) and Sister Zdenka Schelingova (1916-1955).
In this interview with Vatican Radio, Monsignor Renato Boccardo, organizer of papal trips, explains the spirit with which the Pope approaches his Sept. 11-14 trip.
Q: Why is the Pope going to Slovakia?
Monsignor Boccardo: The Holy Father is returning in response to an invitation by the Slovakian episcopal conference and government. He is also returning for the beatification of two children of the Slovakian Church, both martyrs of the Communist regime.
In addition, he is returning to continue in the paths of this pilgrimage around Europe, which the Pope has been realizing these years, not only to remember but to manifest and give visibility to the rich and fruitful Christian tradition of this continent.
Indeed, I think that all the trips of the last years have this common denominator: to remember Christians who are the heirs of a long tradition of fidelity to the Gospel, and to stress to present-day, modern society, which lives in a hurry, the importance and the richness of the evangelical presence in history, in culture, and in the traditions of the European continent.
Q: Slovakia will enter the European Union in May 2004. This summer, in a particular way, the Pope has recalled the Christian roots of Europe. Can this trip be interpreted from this perspective?
Monsignor Boccardo: Of course, just like the June trips to Croatia, to Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as last year’s trips. The whole world knows the Pope’s concern for the recognition of what exists. It is not a question of inventing anything new, put of being conscious of and valuing all this patrimony which comes from a history of centuries.
Q: In this context, what message will the Pope take to Slovakia?
Monsignor Boccardo: He will take up the topic that the Slovak bishops have chosen for the papal trip: “Faithful to Christ, Faithful to the Church.”
It is a call to all the children of the Church to a fidelity that is never out of fashion, and a respectful but clear proposal to all those who do not recognize one another in life or in the values of the Catholic Church. It is a proposal that manifests how the Catholic Church has contributed and continues to contribute today to the building of a new Europe.
Q: Since the time of the Communist regime, the Pope has always followed closely the problems of Slovakia.
Monsignor Boccardo: On several occasions during his trips, the Pope has recalled what he lived through during the Communist years. He alerted former Communist countries about the illusion of an easy life.
Now that the Communist government has ended, not all that comes from the West can be regarded as good. I think that, precisely, because of his personal experience the Pope can warn about the dangers.
Q: What contribution can the beatification of two children of the Slovak nation offer the country and the Church?
Monsignor Boccardo: The figure of the martyr always recalls, necessarily, fidelity. Not all of us are called to martyrdom. We are all called to be faithful to our baptism. I think that to remember the figure, the presence and the life of a martyr is a stimulus for one and all to live the commitments of the Christian life with fidelity.