Pope John Paul left Rome at 9.30 this morning on his 102nd foreign apostolic trip, a four-day pastoral visit to the Slovak Republic. After a flight of one hour, 40 minutes, he landed in Bratislava, a city of 428,672 people situated on the Danube River. Bratislava became the capital of the newly independent Slovakia in 1993. The Holy Father was welcomed at Bratislava's airport by civil, religious and military officials whom he greeted, as well as "all the sons and daughters of Slovakia, together with the representatives of national minorities and of other religions." He said he "would like to meet and speak with each and every one of you, to call on every family, to visit your beautiful land, and to meet all the ecclesial communities of this beloved Nation." "The civil and religious history of Slovakia," he said, "has been written with the contribution of heroic and dynamic witnesses of the Gospel. My wish is to pay grateful tribute to them all. I am thinking of course of the glorious brothers from Thessalonika, Saints Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavic peoples. I also remember all who generously served God and their fellow men and women, who have distinguished these regions with their virtues. To these we now add Bishop Vasil' Hopko and Sister Zdenka Schelingova. Next Sunday I will have the joy of enrolling them among the Blessed." Pope John Paul pointed out that "in the near future your country will become a full member of the European Community. Dearly beloved, bring to the construction of Europe's new identity the contribution of your rich Christian tradition! Do not be satisfied with the sole quest for economic advantages. Great affluence in fact can also generate great poverty. Only by building up, not without sacrifices and difficulties, a society respectful of human life in all its expressions, that promotes the family as a place of reciprocal love and growth of persons, that seeks the common good and is attentive to the needs of the weakest, will there be a guarantee of a future based on solid foundations and rich in goods for all." The Pope read the first and last parts of his address in Slovak, whereas a priest read the rest. Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls, speaking with journalists, said: "Notwithstanding the fact that the Pope wanted to continue reading his speech, it seems logical to me that if the effort involved in this trip can be somewhat alleviated, that should be done." He also noted that this is not the first time the Holy Father has not completed a speech, adding that it is, however, probably the first time it has occurred during a welcome ceremony. Following the ceremony, the Pope went to the apostolic nunciature in Bratislava where, at 12.30, he met the country's president, Rudolf Schuster. Afterwards he welcomed, in separate audiences, the president of the Slovak National Council, Pavol Hrusovsky, and Prime Minister Mikulas Zurinda. A BBC report this lunchtime said the Holy Father looked tired and had been unable to complete one of his speeches. Pope John Paul had previously visited Bratislava in 1990 when it was part of Czechoslovakia. On January 1, 1993, in a peaceful change, Czechoslovakia became two independent nations, the Czech and the Slovak Republics. The Holy Father once again visited Slovakia June 30 to July 3, 1995. On this present pilgrimage he will travel to the dioceses he has not yet visited. Since Slovakia became independent the Holy Father has appointed two cardinals and all of the country's bishops; in 1995 he elevated the diocese of Kosice to archdiocese; in 1997 he erected the apostolic exarchate of Kosice for Catholic faithful of the Byzantine rite, and he elevated many churches to the status of basilica. In 1980 the Pope created in Canada the Slovak diocese of the Byzantine rite of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and in 1997 in Rome founded the Pontifical Slovak College of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Source: VIS
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