On an official visit to Slovakia, Pope Francis criticized, on Monday (13), the individualism and selfishness of society, making clear the Catholic Church’s support for receiving immigrants in European countries. A similar message had already been expressed on Sunday (12), when the pontiff visited Budapest, the capital of Hungary.
The pope also appealed to leaders to make a trillion-dollar package drawn up by the European Union for the resumption of the post-pandemic bloc’s economy an opportunity to intensify income distribution across the continent.
“In these lands, until a few decades ago, a single system of thought [comunismo] it smothered freedom. Today, another unique thinking system is emptying the freedom of meaning, reducing progress to profit and rights only to individual needs,” he said.
Slovakia —where 65 percent of the population calls itself Catholic—was part of Czechoslovakia during the communist era, but became independent in 1993, when the regime had already fallen.
Since then, the Slovak economy, like that of other Eastern European countries, has grown, but the integration of these nations into the European Union has coincided with a nationalist reaction against the rise in illegal immigration, often involving Muslims from the Middle East and countries like the Afghanistan.
Francisco referred to local history as a “message of peace”, highlighting the “conflict-free” birth of two independent countries 28 years ago: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
“May this country reaffirm its message of integration and peace, and may Europe be distinguished by a solidarity that, crossing borders, can take it back to the center of history,” he asked.
Addressing Slovak President Zuzana Caputova, officials and diplomats in the garden of the presidential palace in the capital Bratislava, the pope added: “This is [fraternidade] it is urgent now, at a time when, after very tough months of pandemic, an expected economic reactivation is presented, along with many difficulties, favored by the recovery plans of the European Union”.
In November 2020, the pope published the encyclical “Fratelli tutti” (all brothers, in Italian). In it, he calls for a more solidary world with the weakest in order to break the “neoliberal dogma”.
On Monday, Francisco reiterated that, in a totally interconnected world, “no one can be isolated, either as an individual or as a nation”, which is, in his opinion, the great lesson of the pandemic.
Earlier this year, Slovakia had one of the world’s highest rates of infection and mortality per inhabitant due to the coronavirus. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the small country of 5.4 million inhabitants has accumulated more than 12,000 deaths.
Francis also expressed in Bratislava what he called shame for the killing of Slovak Jews and lamented that the name of God was used “in the madness of hatred” during World War II.
In a speech to the country’s small Jewish community, in a place where there was once a synagogue destroyed by communism, Francis condemned all forms of anti-Semitism.
“Here, before the history of the Jewish people, marked by this tragic and indescribable affront, we are ashamed to admit: how many times the ineffable name of the Most High has been used to perform actions that, due to their lack of humanity, are unspeakable. How many oppressors declared: ‘God is with us,’ but they were the ones who weren’t with God,” he said.
After the creation in 1939 of the first Slovak Republic, a totalitarian satellite country of Nazi Germany, various anti-Semitic laws were used to deport tens of thousands of Slovak Jews. Today, the community only has about 2,000 members; less than 300 war survivors remain in the country.
On Sunday, the pope began his first trip in Budapest since undergoing intestinal surgery in July.
Since 2010, Hungary has been ruled by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, accused by critics and part of the European community of authoritarianism. He runs an anti-immigration policy and has already called the refugees from the Syrian civil war “Muslim invaders”.
In an apparent response to Orban, the pope, during a Sunday mass, referred to Hungary as a nation “attached to its roots” and one that should be open to all.
“The cross, connected to the ground, not only invites us to be rooted, but also extends its arms to everyone,” he said. “My wish is for you to be like this: grounded and open, rooted and respectful.”
On the other hand, according to the Hungarian press, during the meeting between the two leaders, the prime minister, in a symbolic act, handed Francis a copy of a letter sent by a Hungarian king in the 13th century to the pope at the time he asked that the church send help to contain a Mongol invasion.