Bratislava, Slovakia – In a U-turn to the rules initially approved, unvaccinated Slovaks will be allowed to attend the events part of Pope Francis’ schedule, although in separate sections.
The Episcopal Conference of Slovakia announced the changes in the health requirements to attend the pastoral visit to be held next week from September 12 to 15.
Access to the events in Presov, Kosice and Sastin will be granted to people fully vaccinated, as well as those able to present a negative test for Covid-19 or proof of recovery from the disease.
While vaccinated attendees can choose whichever section they want, those who haven’t received the jab will have to go through a separate entrance and stay in a distinct section of the event, organizers said.
Everyone wishing to attend must register online on the dedicated website, navstevapapeza.sk.
Originally, only fully vaccinated Slovaks were allowed to attend the events, which organizers said was the only solution to allow as many people as possible to attend without turning the pope’s visit into a public health hazard.
But the decision was met with public outcry in one of the least vaccinated countries in the EU, and registration numbers remained well below expectations.
The new rules, however, haven’t defused the controversy either. While the revision was welcomed by some parties of the ruling coalition, including Sme Rodina and SaS, other politicians have called the relaxation irresponsible in light of the current epidemiological situation.
Some voices have expressed their disagreement with the new regulations, which they see as an example of discrimination against the unvaccinated.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Eduard Heger assured the PM had not interfered in any way and that it was the sole decision of the Episcopal Conference of Slovakia, largely in charge of the visit’s organization.
Before coming to Slovakia, Pope Francis will spend half a day in neighbouring Hungary, where he will celebrate the closing mass of the International Eucharistic Congress on Heroes’ Square in Budapest, and meet with the country’s political leadership.