Pope in Slovakia: Society and Church should share and integrate
“Even as battles for supremacy are waged on various fronts, may this country reaffirm its message of integration and peace,” said Pope Francis. “[M]ay Europe be distinguished by a solidarity that, by transcending borders, can bring it back to the centre of history.” For the pontiff, the Church must teach “inner and responsible freedom”. She must know “how to be creative by immersing herself in history and culture;” she must know “how to engage in dialogue with the world, with those who confess Christ without being one of ‘us’, with those who are weary of the religious quest, even with those who do not believe.”
Bratislava (AsiaNews) – Sharing is the principle at the centre of Pope Francis' speeches to Slovakia’s political and civic leaders as well as its bishops, priests and religious, on the second day of his visit, which the pontiff is physically handling well.
In addition to sharing, Francis focused on solidarity, integration and openness when he spoke to civil authorities, as well as communion, dialogue and freedom when he spoke to local Church leaders.
The pontiff’s day began in Bratislava with the customary meeting with the head of state, President Zuzana Čaputová, at the Presidential Palace (pictured). The official welcome ceremony included the traditional gift of bread and salt, a private audience, exchange of presents, and a meeting with the president’s family. In the garden (pictured), Francis met with political and civic authorities and the diplomatic corps.
“This long history challenges Slovakia to be a message of peace in the heart of Europe. That calling is evoked by the great blue stripe on your flag, which symbolizes fraternity with the Slavic peoples. Such fraternity is necessary for the increasingly pressing process of integration. All the more so, in these days when, after long and trying months of pandemic, fully conscious of the difficulties to be faced, we look forward with hope to an economic upturn favoured by the recovery plans of the European Union.
“Yet there is always the risk of succumbing to impatience and the lure of profit, leading to a fleeting sense of euphoria that, rather than bringing people together, proves only divisive. Nor is economic recovery by itself sufficient in a world that has itself become a crossroads, in which all are interconnected. Even as battles for supremacy are waged on various fronts, may this country reaffirm its message of integration and peace. And may Europe be distinguished by a solidarity that, by transcending borders, can bring it back to the centre of history.”
Taking his cue from the traditional gift of bread and salt, the Pope said: “God chose bread to make himself present in our midst. Bread is something essential. Scripture commands us not to hoard our bread, but to share it. The bread spoken of in the Gospel is always bread that is broken. This sends a powerful message for our life as a community: it reminds us that true wealth does not consist simply in multiplying the things we have, but in sharing them fairly with those around us.”
As for salt, Francis noted that it “gives flavour to food; it reminds us of the flavour our lives need, if they are not to become tasteless and insipid. Organized and efficient structures will not suffice to improve our life as a human community. We need flavour, the flavour of solidarity”.
“It is my hope,” he added, “that you will never allow the rich flavours of your finest traditions to be spoiled by the superficiality of consumerism and material gain. Or by forms of ideological colonization. In these lands, until just a few decades ago, a single thought-system stifled freedom. Today another single thought-system is emptying freedom of meaning, reducing progress to profit and rights only to individual needs. Today, as then, the salt of the faith acts not by reacting in worldly terms, by engaging in culture wars, but by quietly and humbly sowing the seeds of God’s kingdom, especially by the witness of charity”.
Sharing means walking together and engaging in dialogue, with other Christians, with the believers of other religions and atheists, as well as God, leaving room for the creativity of a "mature and free relationship".
After he left the Presidential Palace, Francis went to the ancient Gothic Cathedral of Saint Martin (pictured), location of the coronation of 11 kings of Hungary, where he was welcomed by Archbishop Stanislav Zvolenský of Bratislava.
"The Church,” he said, “is not a fortress, a potentate, a castle high up looking at the world from a distance with a sense of superiority;” she “does not separate herself from the world and does not look at life with detachment, but dwells in it. Lest we forget, to live inside” means “sharing, walking together, heeding people's questions and expectations. [. . .] Let this be a sign of freedom and acceptance."
What do people expect from the Church, the Pope asked. The first answer is freedom. The latter “calls us to be personally responsible for our own choices, to discern, carry on the processes of life. And this is tiring and scares us.”
“Spiritual and church life come with a temptation to seek a false peace that leaves us calm, instead of the fire of the Gospel that disturbs and transforms us.”
"A Church that leaves no room for the adventure of freedom, even in the spiritual life, risks becoming a rigid and closed place. Perhaps some are used to this; but many others – especially in the new generations – are not attracted by a proposal of faith that does not leave them inner freedom, by a Church in which we must all think the same way and obey blindly.”
Instead, we should “not be afraid to educate people in a mature and free relationship with God. This might give us the impression of not being able to control everything, of losing power and authority; but the Church of Christ does not want to dominate minds and occupy spaces; she wants to be a 'fountain' of hope in people's lives.”
Francis goes on to speak about “creativity". "In the face of the loss of the sense of God and the joy of faith, it is not helpful to complain, to entrench oneself in a defensive [form of] Catholicism, to judge and accuse the world; the creativity of the Gospel is needed.
“Let us remember what the men who wanted to bring a paralysed man to Jesus did. They could not get him through the front door, so they opened a gap in the roof and lowered him from above (cf. Mk 2:1-5). They were creative! It is beautiful when we know how to find new ways, means and languages to proclaim the Gospel! If we can no longer get through with our usual preaching and pastoral care, we must try to open different spaces, and try out other ways.”
Lastly, the pontiff turned to dialogue. The Church must teach “inner and responsible freedom”. She must know “how to be creative by immersing herself in history and culture;” she must know “how to engage in dialogue with the world, with those who confess Christ without being one of ‘us’, with those who are weary of the religious quest, even with those who do not believe.” (FP)