BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (CNS): On a trip that taxed his fading physical powers, Pope John Paul II crisscrossed Slovakia to celebrate liturgies, beatify two 20th century martyrs and offer people inside and outside the Church a message of hope.
He had trouble delivering that message personally, however. Weakened by infirmity, he had to let others read long sections of his prepared speeches and homilies during the September 11-14 visit. He could not stand or walk, and his difficulties left many wondering if the Pope would continue to travel.
The centrepiece of the Pope’s visit was a closing Mass in Bratislava to beatify Bishop Vasyl Hopko and Sr Zdenka Schelingova, both of whom died after suffering years of prison and torture from Communist authorities.
Assisted at every turn and wheeled on a mobile throne, the 83 year-old pontiff celebrated the liturgy before an estimated 100,000 people in the Bratislava suburb of Petrzalka, planned decades ago as a model – and churchless – neighbourhood by the Communist regime.
In a sermon read in part by Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko, the Pope said Bishop Hopko and Sr Schelingova had demonstrated that suffering for the love of Christ, even to the point of martyrdom, can ultimately lead to new strength and hope.