Pope Francis on Wednesday completed a four-day trip to Slovakia, a country of 5.4 million people in the heart of Europe, by going to the Marian shrine of Sastin for an open-air mass in front of 50,000 people.
During his trip, the 84-year-old Pope gave twelve speeches and visited five different cities, with a stopover in Budapest to preside over a religious congress, not hiding his pleasure in interacting with bishops and young people.
Accompanied by a doctor and two nurses during this trip, he appeared smiling and in good shape.
The Sanctuary of Sastin, or Basilica of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, whose history dates back to the 14th century, is a very famous place of pilgrimage in Slovakia.
The pope first met with the bishops on Wednesday for a time of prayer in the basilica of the sanctuary, before presiding over a mass in a huge adjoining field which he had previously paced in a popemobile, offering himself his biggest walkabout in the trip.
In front of the faithful of Slovakia, a former communist country which calls itself 60% Catholic but proves to be little practicing, the Pope advocated “a faith which does not remain abstract”, which “brings solidarity with those who are in need”.
He asked them to practice “welcoming” in the face of “personal and collective egoisms”.
The crowds were less dense than expected for the various stages of Pope Francis in this country where the fear of the contagion of Covid-19 is real. Only half of the adult population is vaccinated.
Former Pope John Paul II had visited Slovakia three times. His last trip, in December 2003 for four days, had been particularly trying for the Polish Pope, elderly and sick.
He ended the trip with a solemn mass in Bratislava attended by 200,000 people. Many Christians had spent the night there, in tents or under the stars in sleeping bags, to wait for him.
Among the participants of the final mass of Pope Francis at the sanctuary of Sastin, we could see the former private secretary and close friend of John Paul II, the Polish cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. The latter is currently the subject of a legal complaint for concealing pedophile cases from the Church.