After he arrived in Slovakia on Sunday, Pope Francis exhorted the country’s Christian leaders to prefer God to comfort and security.
Noting the rise of religious freedom in Slovakia in recent years, “after the years of atheistic persecution” of the communist government, Pope Francis implored Christians not to fall into “interior bondage.”
He made his remarks to members of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia. The council consists of seven member churches and five observer churches and religious societies, which include Latin Rite Catholics as well as Lutheran, Orthodox, Methodist Evangelical and Jewish congregations. The Apostolic Nunciature in Bratislava hosted Sunday’s ecumenical meeting.
Pope Francis noted “how difficult it is to live your faith in freedom. For there is always the temptation to return to slavery, not that of a regime, but one even worse: an interior bondage.”
“Dear brothers, may this not happen to us! Let us help one another never to fall into the trap of being satisfied with bread and little else,” he said at the meeting. “Then our goal is no longer ‘the freedom we have in Christ Jesus,’ his truth that sets us free, but the staking out of spaces and privileges, which, as far as the Gospel is concerned, are ‘bread and little else’.”
Present at Sunday’s meeting was the president of the ecumenical council, Bishop Ivan Elko of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Slovak Republic. He expressed the desire for mutual blessing among churches.
Crises in one church “brings us all down together,” he said. “We want to bless one another, and look at each other with good will.” Metropolitan Rastislav of the Orthodox Church in the CzechLands and Slovakia was also present at the meeting.
Pope Francis arrived in Slovakia’s capital city of Bratislava on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 12, in the Central European country with a population of 5.5 million. It is the first papal visit to Slovakia since 2003.
He addressed the ecumenical event and, later on Sunday, was scheduled to meet privately with members of the Society of Jesus in Slovakia. Later in the week, the pope will travel to the Slovakian cities of Prešov, Košice and Šaštin where he will meet with political authorities, the local Jewish community, and Catholic bishops and clergy.
He traveled to Slovakia from Hungary, where earlier on Sunday he offered Mass at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest and met with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.
“I am here as a pilgrim in Slovakia, and you are here as welcome guests in this Nunciature!” the pope told the Christian leaders.
After being greeted by the president of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, the Pope delivered his remarks, followed by the prayer of Psalm 103. He then greeted the participants individually.
Pope Francis called the meeting “a sign that the Christian faith is – and deserves to be – a seed of unity and leaven of fraternity in this country.”
He asked those present to consider the state of the Christian faith in Europe, and pleaded for unity among Christians.
“Here, from the heart of Europe, we can ask: have we Christians lost some of our zeal for the preaching of the Gospel and for prophetic witness?” he asked.
“It is hard to expect Europe to be increasingly influenced and enriched by the Gospel if we are untroubled by the fact that on this continent we are not yet fully united and are unconcerned for one another.”
The pope proposed two suggestions in response to the challenge: contemplation and serving the poor.
“Unity is not attained so much by good intentions and agreement about some shared value, but by doing something concrete, together, for those who bring us closest to the Lord. Who are they? They are the poor, for in them Jesus is present,” he said.
“May the gift of God be present on the table of all, so that, even though we are not yet able to share the same Eucharistic meal, we can welcome Jesus together by serving him in the poor,” he said.
He pointed to Sts. Cyril and Methodius, ninth century missionary bishops who are recognized as the “Apostles of the Slavs.” They adapted the Greek alphabet into a script for the Slavonic language, creating the “Cyrillic” alphabet used to translate the bible into Slavonic.
“As witnesses of a Christianity still marked by unity and zeal for the preaching of the Gospel, may they help us to persevere on our journey by fostering our fraternal communion in the name of Jesus,” Pope Francis said.