BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA – After having already mentioned it informally on his return flight from a historic three-day visit to Iraq last March, Pope Francis has made official his trip to Central Europe from September 12 to 15.
“I’m happy to announce that from September 12 to 15 I will go to Slovakia for a pastoral visit,” Francis told pilgrims gathered on Rome’s St Peter’s Square for his traditional Sunday prayer.
He added that he would also celebrate the closing mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest on September 12.
The trip to Slovakia will not only include a visit to Bratislava, but also to Prešov, Košice et Šaštin, later confirmed the director of the Vatican Press Office, Matteo Bruni.
This will be the third papal visit to Slovakia since the country became independent in January 1993. John Paul II indeed visited Slovakia twice before, in 1995 and 2003. He had also visited Hungary twice, shortly after the end of communism, in 1991 and 1996.
The news was warmly welcomed by Slovakia’s foreign minister, Ivan Korcok, described the trip as a “great honor for Slovakia,” while the nation’s president, Zuzana Caputova, said, “I believe that the presence of Pope Francis will be for all of us a message of reconciliation and hope in these difficult times.”
Citing sources in Budapest and the Vatican, the National Catholic Register last month speculated the Pope was not willing to meet with President János Áder and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and would only stay a few hours in Budapest before leaving for Slovakia, which threatened to cause a diplomatic rift.
Several sources had described the decision, if confirmed, as “outrageous”, “unacceptable”, and “a gigantic slap in the face of Prime Minister Orban”.
Since then, the Secretariat of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (MKPK) has confirmed that Pope Francis will meet separately with the leaders of the Hungarian state and high-ranking government members.
“We regret that false information and misinterpretations about the Holy Father’s programme in Hungary, which is still being organised, have been spread in the local and international media,” organisers of the International Eucharistic Congress in Hungary said.