Church leaders in Hungary and Slovakia welcome confirmation of papal visit

Cardinal Péter Erdő at a press conference for the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, June 14, 2021 Cardinal Péter Erdő at a press conference for the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, June 14, 2021. | IEC 2021 Budapest

Church leaders in Hungary and Slovakia have welcomed Pope Francis’ confirmation that he will visit their countries in September.

Cardinal Péter Erdő of Esztergom-Budapest said on July 4 that Catholics in Hungary were looking forward to the papal visit.

“The Catholic community is waiting for the arrival of the Holy Father in great joy and love. We are praying for his visit to be the sign of hope and a new beginning after the abatement of the pandemic,” he said.

Pope Francis formally announced on Sunday that he would be visiting the neighboring Central European countries.

Speaking after his Angelus address, the pope confirmed that he would travel to the Hungarian capital, Budapest, on Sept. 12 for the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress.

He had previously mentioned his intention to attend the event in March, as he returned to Rome from Iraq after his first overseas trip since the coronavirus pandemic broke out.

Hungary has a population of 9.8 million, 62% of whom are Catholic. The country, which borders Austria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, Ukraine, and Slovakia, last hosted the International Eucharistic Congress in 1938.

Erdő, the Primate of Hungary, underlined the significance of Pope Francis’ decision to celebrate the closing Mass, which is usually presided over by a papal legate.

The last time a pope took part in an International Eucharistic Congress was in the year 2000, when John Paul II attended the event in Rome.

John Paul II was also the last pope to travel to Hungary, visiting Pannonhalma and Győr, in the west of the country, 25 years ago in 1996.

Pope Francis said that after celebrating the Mass in Budapest, he would depart for the Slovakian cities of Bratislava, Prešov, Košice, and Šaštin.

Bratislava, in southwestern Slovakia, is the country’s capital city. Prešov, in eastern Slovakia, is the third-largest city. Košice, also in the east, is the second-largest city. Šaštin, in western Slovakia, is home to one of the nation’s most important Marian shrines.

“I am happy to announce that from the next 12 to 15 September, God willing, I will travel to Slovakia to make a pastoral visit, in the afternoon [of the 12th],” Pope Francis said, hours before he was admitted to hospital for intestinal surgery.

Archbishop Stanislav Zvolenský, president of the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia, said on July 4 that the announcement was “extremely happy news.”

“I’m really looking forward to it. I think that many of us are, at this moment, very happy to return to the memory of the visit of the Holy Father John Paul II,” he said, referring to the Polish pope’s 1995 visit to the country.

“And again we can say that the successor of the apostles, now Pope Francis, is coming to Slovakia.”

Slovakia is a nation of 5.5 million people bordering Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and Austria. An estimated 62% of the population is Catholic.

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The country was formerly part of Czechoslovakia, which divided into the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic in 1993 following the collapse of communism.

Zvolenský urged Slovakians to begin preparing spiritually for the visit so that they “can really hear Pope Francis’ message.”

“It is a message of receptivity to those who suffer, who are on the margins of society, who are in some way in need, whether material or spiritual,” he said.

“Then there is his great care for the good of the family, his great sensitivity to the needs of the youth.”

“These topics will certainly be the content of Pope Francis' visit to Slovakia.”

“I think we can expect a great spiritual strengthening in this area.”

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