“And then it’s not just about the vaccine, though that’s a part of the questions that are present,” he said. “There’s a skepticism of society, I’d say, a mistrust in politics, in the vaccine, in doctors, in the work of doctors, questions arise again and again…”
Krekáč said that this mistrust was further clouded by the Slovakian government’s restrictions affecting the Catholic Church during the pandemic.
“Many Christians, especially Catholics, see that the state has controlled even the life of the Church -- Masses were suspended for a long time, almost half a year -- so many believers were impacted by that,” he noted.
“Recently, we’ve seen that the state’s regulations are not always just, also toward the Church.”
“Then when we talk … about the life of the Church and the visit of the pope to Slovakia, and then a regulation comes from the state, it is seen as an unjust regulation,” he explained.
The priest also said that some people think Pope Francis himself demanded that everyone be vaccinated, since he has frequently encouraged people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Fr. Tomáš Šandrik, another Slovakian priest studying in Rome, said that the spread of the Delta variant had led some politicians to push for a vaccine pass for access to certain indoor settings, such as movie theaters and restaurants, which has further divided those who are vaccinated and those who are not.
“This is creating a lot of tension,” Šandrik underlined.
Pope Francis will arrive in Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava, from Budapest on Sept. 12. His first two days will be devoted to meetings with smaller groups, including an ecumenical event with Christian leaders and encounters with political authorities, the local Jewish community, and Catholic bishops and clergy.
Francis will then fly to the eastern part of Slovakia. In Prešov, he will celebrate a Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite, and in Košice he will meet with the local Roma community. The day will finish with an encounter with young people in the Košice stadium.
His final day will include a prayer service with bishops at the national shrine of the Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Šaštín, followed by the celebration of Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.
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Kramara, the bishops’ spokesman, told CNA that the two events in Košice could theoretically have up to 50,000 people in attendance. And the Mass at the national shrine in Šaštín, while it technically has no limit on the number of people who can attend, is expected to possibly draw 100,000 participants.
He said that the COVID-19 vaccination requirement had been the biggest difficulty the bishops faced in organizing the visit of Pope Francis to Slovakia -- both from a messaging and technical perspective.
Just figuring out how to handle event registration -- and how to verify participants’ vaccination status -- has been “a challenge,” he said.
On the bishops’ website for the papal trip, those registering have to attach a copy of their European “green pass” or “COVID certificate” to prove their vaccination status.
Those who are signing up also have to select a box stating that they agree to “not promote any political party, initiative, or other movements” at the papal event.
The bishops’ spokesman said that “the conditions, the circumstances are what they are, but it’s a great thing that the pope is coming, so let’s not let ourselves become discouraged by the circumstances.”