Pope Francis in Slovakia: Our Lady of Sorrows teaches us compassion for the suffering

Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the esplanade of the National Shrine in Šaštin, Slovakia, Sept. 15, 2021. Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the esplanade of the National Shrine in Šaštin, Slovakia, Sept. 15, 2021./ Vatican Media.

At Slovakia’s national Catholic shrine on Wednesday, Pope Francis said that Our Lady of Sorrows is a model of how to live the faith with compassion and care for the suffering.

“Mary, Mother of Sorrows, remains at the foot of the Cross. She simply stands there. She does not run away, or try to save herself, or find ways to alleviate her grief,” the pope said during Mass on Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Here,” he said, “is the proof of true compassion: to remain standing beneath the Cross. To stand there weeping, yet with the faith that knows that, in her Son, God transfigures pain and suffering and triumphs over death.”

On the final day of his visit to Slovakia, Pope Francis offered the live-streamed Mass outside the country’s National Shrine of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in the young town of Šaštín. According to local authorities, around 60,000 people attended the Mass.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Francis, who himself has a special devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, said in his homily: “In contemplating the Sorrowful Mother, may we too open our hearts to a faith that becomes compassion, a faith that identifies with those who are hurting, suffering and forced to bear heavy crosses.”

The basilica in Šaštín was built to honor the image of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, a figure so important to the people of Slovakia that Pope Pius XI declared her the country’s patroness in 1927.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The image of the Virgin Mary has also attracted pilgrim visitors such as Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II. The Polish pope offered Mass for 200,000 people in front of the basilica on July 1, 1995, during the second of the three trips he made to Slovakia as pope.

Pope Francis began his first visit to the Catholic-majority country on Sept. 12, after spending most of the day in Budapest, Hungary, where he celebrated the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress and met Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

atican Media.
atican Media.

In Slovakia, he met political authorities, bishops, religious, and priests in the capital city of Bratislava. He also visited a center for the poor and homeless run by the Missionaries of Charity in one of the city’s most impoverished suburbs.

The pope later met with young people, celebrated a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, and spoke to the minority Roma community in the Luník IX ghetto in eastern Slovakia.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his homily on Sept. 15, Francis urged Slovakians to follow the example of Mary when she visited her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, living their faith as a mission to be carried out.

“For you, the Slovakian people, the Blessed Virgin is a model of faith: a faith that involves journeying, a faith inspired by simple and sincere devotion, a constant pilgrimage to seek the Lord,” he said.

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“In making this journey, you overcome the temptation to a passive faith, content with this or that ritual or ancient tradition,” the pope continued. “Instead, you leave yourselves behind and set out, carrying in your backpacks the joys and sorrows of this life, and thus make your life a pilgrimage of love towards God and your brothers and sisters.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Thank you for this witness. And please, persevere on this journey. Do not stop,” he said, to an outbreak of applause.

Pope Francis also said that the “faith cannot be reduced to a sweetener to make life more palatable,” urging Slovakian Catholics to not remain lukewarm about Jesus and to be “signs of contradiction” within the world.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Slovakia needs “Christians who can demonstrate the beauty of the Gospel by the way they live,” he said. “Christians who are weavers of dialogue where hostility is growing; models of fraternal life where society is experiencing tension and hostility; bringers of the sweet fragrance of hospitality and solidarity where personal and collective selfishness too often prevails, protectors and guardians of life where the culture of death reigns.”

“In contemplating the Sorrowful Virgin Mary, may we too open our hearts to a faith that becomes compassion, a faith that identifies with those who are hurting, suffering, and forced to bear heavy crosses,” he said.

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“A faith that does not remain abstract, but becomes incarnate in fellowship with those in need,” he concluded. “A faith that imitates God’s way of doing things, quietly relieves the suffering of our world and waters the soil of history with salvation.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord always preserve in you wonderment and gratitude for the great gift of faith. And may Mary Most Holy obtain for you the grace of a faith that ever sets out anew, is deeply prophetic and abounds in compassion.”

Papal visit pool.
Papal visit pool.

Before Mass, Pope Francis prayed with Slovakia’s bishops inside the basilica, reciting a prayer of entrustment to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows.

“Mother of the Church, Consoler of the Afflicted, with confidence we turn to you, in the joys and struggles of our ministry,” they prayed. “Look upon us with tenderness and open your arms to embrace us.”

“Queen of the Apostles, Refuge of Sinners, you know our human limitations, our spiritual failings, our sorrow in the face of loneliness and abandonment: with your gentle touch heal our wounds.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

After Mass, the last appointment of his trip before returning to Rome, Pope Francis gave his final message, noting that “the time has now come for me to take leave of your country.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In this Eucharist, I gave thanks to God for having allowed me to come among you and to conclude my pilgrimage in the devoted embrace of your people, celebrating together the great religious and national feast of your Patroness, the Virgin Mother of Sorrows.”

“I am grateful to all who, in different ways, have cooperated in this pilgrimage, above all by their prayers,” he said. “I carry you in my heart.”