Vatican City, Feb 6, 2015 / 13:41 pm
With Slovaks set to hit the polls on tomorrow's referendum on marriage, Pope Francis used this week's general audience as a chance to encourage voters in defending the sacrament's traditional definition.
"I greet the pilgrims from Slovakia and, through them, I wish to express my appreciation to the entire Slovak Church, encouraging everyone to continue their efforts in defense of the family, the vital cell of society," the Pope told pilgrims in his Feb. 4 general audience.
The Pope's declaration in defense of the family falls just days before Slovakians will vote for the third time on whether or not same-sex unions should be legalized in the country.
After the Slovakian parliament inserted the definition of traditional marriage into their constitution last year, more than 400,000 Slovaks signed a petition calling for a national vote, Reuters news reports.
Saturday's referendum poses three questions to voters: whether marriage can only be a union between a man and a woman, whether children should be adopted by same-sex couples, and whether or not children can skip classes that educate on sex and euthanasia.
Gay unions of any type are currently illegal in Slovakia, and two attempts to push them through parliament have failed in the past, Reuters reports.
The country's bishops have urged widespread support for campaigns to keep the traditional definition of marriage, and the Slovakian Episcopal Conference issued a pastoral letter on the topic that was read aloud in a televised Mass Feb. 1.
Speaking of St. Joseph's immediate defense of the child Jesus when informed by an angel that Herod was seeking to kill him after his birth, the bishops encouraged all parents and grandparents to go to the polls and defend young lives and families.
In the face of those who want to distort children's personality and sexuality to the extent that their future marital relationships will be affected, the bishops said that parents cannot remain "impassive."
Pope Francis in October warned members of the German Schoenstatt movement that the sacrament of marriage today has been reduced to an association, and encouraged them to be faithful witnesses in a secular world.
"The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized…you can call everything family, right?" he asked.
"What is being proposed is not marriage, it's an association. But it's not marriage! It's necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!"
Pope Francis also lamented the fact that there are so many "new forms" of unions that are "totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage."
He encouraged Catholics to engage in "close combat" with these destructive unions, particularly in the area of pastoral care, saying that it is the key to defending the sanctity of the sacrament.