Pope Francis remarks before members of the clergy at St. Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava, Slovakia, on September 13, 2021. Handout via Vatican Media/Reuters
September 13, 2021
by Philip Pullela and Robert Mueller
BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Pope Francis warned against focusing too much on individual rights and culture wars at the cost of the common good on Monday during a visit to Slovakia amid rising nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment in Eastern Europe.
Francis, 84, is making his first trip since bowel surgery in July and is looking in good form. When asked by a reporter on Monday how he felt, he joked: “Still alive.”
On the first papal visit to Slovakia since 2003, Francis returned to a topic he touched on during a stopover in Hungary on Sunday about how nations should avoid a selfish, defensive mindset, as he discussed the region’s communist past. Remembered that.
“In these countries, until a few decades ago, a single system of thought (communism) stifled freedom. Today a more singular thought system is eroding freedom of meaning, reducing progress to profit and rights only to individual needs,” Francis said.
Addressing Slovak President Zuzana Caputova, other officials and diplomats in the gardens of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the pope said: “Fraternity is essential to the fast-paced process of (European) integration.”
Slovakia, part of Czechoslovakia during communist times, achieved its independence from Prague in 1993. The Slovak and wider Eastern European economies have boomed, but their integration into the European Union has also coincided with a nationalist backlash against illegal immigration, which often includes Muslims. Middle East and Afghanistan.
Slovakia’s neighbors, Hungary and Poland, have been at loggerheads with the European Union over their harsh stance on migration, as well as their judicial reforms and restrictions on media freedom.
In September, Brussels told Poland that its challenge to the primacy of EU law over national legislation was blocking the release of 57 billion euros in recovery funds to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Francis on Monday specifically referred to the EU recovery plan, saying people were “looking ahead with the hope of an economic recovery” meant to ease it.
The pope has often called for a European solution to the migrant crisis and criticized governments that try to deal with it as unilateral or separatist, like Hungary.
In Budapest on Sunday, in an apparent response to nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s stance that Muslim immigration could destroy its heritage, he said preserving a nation’s deep-rooted Christian heritage is a welcome, caring gesture for others. Doesn’t exclude the do-it-yourselfer.
“Our Christian way of looking at others refuses to see them as a burden or a problem, but rather as helping and protecting brothers and sisters,” he said on Monday.
From the presidential palace, Francis went to a meeting with bishops and other religious leaders of Slovakia, which is about two-thirds Roman Catholic.
He was later to visit a shelter for the poor and meet representatives of the Jewish community of Slovakia. He returned to Rome on Wednesday morning.
(Reporting by Philip Pullela; Editing by Gareth Jones)