Pope Francis to meet Roma and Jewish communities on three-day Slovakia tour

Head of Roman Catholic Church will also visit Hungary for talks with Viktor Orban

Pope Francis will begin a visit to Hungary and then Slovakia on Sunday, only weeks after the head of the Roman Catholic Church underwent major surgery to remove part of his colon.

The 84-year-old's meeting on Sunday with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban could be tense. While the latter has built a reputation as a hardline anti-migration politician, the Pope has repeatedly urged tolerance towards those leaving war and poverty.

Pope Francis will spend only seven hours in Budapest to close an international Roman Catholic event, before heading to Slovakia for three days.

Hungary's ambassador to the Holy See, Eduard Habsburg, has emphasised how much Mr Orban has in common with the Pope, such as “religious freedom, or persecuted Christians".

A spokesman for the Vatican, when asked why the visit to Hungary was so short, said the stop there was a “spiritual pilgrimage” that should be seen in a religious context.

His tour of Slovakia, where there are 13 recognised minorities, will include meetings with the Jewish and Roma communities.

It will be the first papal visit to the country in 25 years, with Slovakia’s envoy to the Holy See describing it as “a historic moment”.

Marek Lisansky told the Catholic News Agency that Bratislava was “our capital and symbol of our independence, but also a unique example of central European heritage and history, with Roman, Christian, and Jewish roots”.

The Pope will conduct two open-air Masses in Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million people, of whom about 65 per cent are Catholic.

Mr Lisansky said the visit “shows Pope Francis’s continued support and huge attention paid to cultural and spiritual dialogue”.

He highlighted how Bratislava had long been witness to history.

“Two thousand years ago, the Danube was the edge of the Roman Empire, with a Roman castle in the place of Bratislava Castle,” he said.

“The first Great Moravian basilica was founded there 12 centuries ago. And in the 20th century, Bratislava witnessed the tragedies of the Nazi and communist regimes.”

Mr Lisansky referenced the city of Kosice, in eastern Slovakia, as “a unique example of cultural dialogue between all 13 national minorities living there peacefully for centuries”.

Pope Francis has travelled to five continents since his election in 2013, but continues to prioritise smaller nations, especially in Europe. With this trip he will have visited 54 countries as head of the Catholic Church.

He has a typically busy schedule and his physical health will be closely scrutinised.

In July, Pope Francis spent 10 days in hospital after undergoing an operation for a type of diverticulitis, an inflammation in the intestine that required removing part of his colon.

Updated: September 11th 2021, 3:49 AM
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