Rome Newsroom, Jul 21, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).
The pope will visit four cities in Slovakia on Sept. 12-15, after traveling to Budapest in neighboring Hungary to celebrate the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress.
According to Slovakian media, Health Minister Vladimír Lengvarský said at a press conference on July 20 that “the condition for participation in Holy Masses and other events will be full vaccination.”
Lengvarský said that this decision was established in cooperation with the Slovakian bishops’ conference.
In his own statement to reporters, Archbishop Stanislav Zvolenský of Bratislava, the president of the bishops’ conference, said that the bishops “see this decision in the context of our demand that as many people as possible should be able to participate in the meetings with the Holy Father.”
“We have been informed that from the point of view of security and technical possibilities, this is the only realistic way not to radically limit the number of participants” at papal events, he said.
Zvolenský added that now that the decision had been made, the Catholic Church in Slovakia could continue with preparations for Pope Francis’ visit.
“We ask everyone to take this information in good sense, as an effort of the state to allow as many participants as possible. Of course, we also ask the faithful for their prayers for the entire visit and for the health of the Holy Father, who will come to visit us in September,” he said.
The health minister said that “our common goal is to create the conditions for the Holy Father to bring back beautiful memories from Slovakia” while also allowing “as many people — believers and others — to participate in public Masses.”
Slovakia’s current coronavirus restrictions dictate that no more than 1,000 people can participate in a single large event. Permitting only the vaccinated to attend will reportedly allow this cap to be raised for meetings during Pope Francis’ visit.
According to the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Center, as of July 20, 34.4% of Slovakia’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Another 6.2% of the population has received a first dose.
Pope Francis will arrive in Slovakia’s capital city of Bratislava from Budapest on Sept. 12, the Vatican confirmed on July 20.
On the first day Francis will participate in an ecumenical event with Christian leaders and meet privately with a group of Jesuits.
The pope’s second day in Bratislava will be devoted to meetings with political authorities, Catholic bishops and clergy, and the Jewish community.
Francis will then fly to the eastern part of the country: in Prešov he will celebrate a Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine rite and in Košice he will meet with the local Roma community. The day will finish with an encounter with young people in the Košice stadium.
His final day will include a prayer service with bishops at the national shrine of the Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Šaštín, followed by the celebration of Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.
In June, Slovakia became the second member state of the European Union, after Hungary, to start using Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
The country’s Prime Minister Igor Matovic resigned in March over controversy about his surprise decision to buy two million doses of the Russia-produced vaccine over the opposition of his coalition partners.
The Sputnik V anti-COVID vaccine has not yet received E.U. regulatory approval.
After interest in receiving the Sputnik vaccine waned among the Slovak public, Slovakia sold back to Russia 160,000 of 200,000 doses which had been imported in March.
Slovakia, which has a population of 5.45 million people, has seen more than 12,500 deaths related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to governmental data.
As of July 21, there were 392,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 49 hospitalizations.