Sustin: Pope Francis on Wednesday urged the people of Slovakia to seek out the most needy among them as he ended his first post-surgery visit with a huge open-air mass amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Attracted thousands of people.
Cheering, masked crowds lined Francis’ motorcade route through Sustin, 15 kilometers (about 10 mi) from Slovakia’s western border, and they were greeted by a slow-moving popmobile jaunt and a smiling, expansive area to Francis. Rewarded for arriving.
Organizers said 60,000 people attended any event during the Pope’s four-day pilgrimage to Slovakia, the largest crowd at any event.
The site was the National Shrine of Our Lady of Soroz, Slovakia’s most important shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where Saint John Paul II prayed in 1995. Every September 15, pilgrims from Slovakia and patrons beyond flock to Sstin, Slovakia’s feast day, spending the night in the dusty field searching for something better this year.
“You can imagine I’m excited because he’s from Latin America,” said Eric Montalvo, a pilgrim from Mexico. “You feel like you’re so close to him because of that. And that’s a great feeling.”
During his sermon, Francis urged pilgrims to open their hearts to compassion and live a faith that “identifies those who are hurting, suffering and forced to bear heavy crosses.”
He called them to live a “faith that does not remain intangible, but incarnates in fellowship with the needy.”
Mass Francis was the only major event on Wednesday before returning to Rome after a four-day pilgrimage to Budapest, Hungary and Slovakia, a largely Roman Catholic country of 5.5 million people.
Pilgrims had to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to get the barcode, which gave them entry to the site. A few thousand non-vaccinated pilgrims were allowed in with either a negative test or proof of recovery from the virus. Hardly anyone is wearing a face mask in the crowd.
New coronavirus cases have been rising recently, with the delta version dominating, reaching 760 on Tuesday, the highest figure since April. A total of 12,566 other four people died of COVID-19 on Tuesday.
Slovakia has been badly hit by the virus and in mid-February was the country with the highest per capita COVID-19 deaths in the world.
The country now has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union, with more than 2 million being fully vaccinated.
The purely religious closure limited the visit to a visit that had delicate state diplomacy. Francis met with right-wing populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the first day and reached out to Slovakia’s Jewish and Roma communities.
It was Francis’ first visit since having intestinal surgery in July, in which a 33-centimeter (13-inch) section of his colon was removed. He appeared in good form and spirit throughout the grueling itinerary, being actively mobilized by the crowd after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions in the Vatican.
Francis has at least two other trips planned before the end of the year: a quick trip to Glasgow, Scotland, to attend the UN climate summit in November, and a visit – not yet confirmed by the Vatican – in December for Greece, Cyprus and Malta.