Slovakia Relents on Vaccine Requirement for Visit of Pope Francis

Pope Francis, center, is greeted by faithful during his weekly general audience, held in the Paul VI hall, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

ROME, Italy — The government of Slovakia has revoked its decision to bar unvaccinated people from attending public events during Pope Francis’ upcoming visit.

The Italian ANSA news service reported Sunday that Slovakia had relented on its strict coronavirus vaccine policy “due to the low number of registrations” to attend papal events.

Until now, only Slovaks with full vaccination against the Wuhan coronavirus had been able to register for events surrounding the papal visit scheduled for September 12-15, and the number of subscribers has been “much lower than expected,” ANSA said.

In lieu of the vaccine, those wishing to attend papal events can show a negative test result or proof of having recovered from the coronavirus in the last 180 days, the same requirements needed to obtain the European Union (EU) “Green Pass.”

Vaccinations have been less common in Slovakia than in Europe as a whole, with only 49.5 percent of adults fully vaccinated, compared to over 70 percent in the EU generally.

Speaking of his upcoming trip earlier on Sunday, Pope Francis asked for prayers for a fruitful visit, entrusting his travels to “the intercession of so many heroic confessors of the faith, who in those places bore witness to the Gospel amid hostility and persecution.”

“May they help Europe to bear witness today also, not so much in words but above all in deeds, with works of mercy and hospitality, the good news of the Lord who loves us and saves us,” he said following his Angelus address in Saint Peter’s Square.

The Slovakian bishops have expressed their hope that Pope Francis will focus on spiritual issues during his three-day visit so as to bolster the faith of the Slovakian people, which is 63 percent Catholic.

“For us, it would be very helpful if he encouraged us in our faith, for him to talk about Christ,” said Father Martin Kramara, spokesman for the Slovakian Bishops’ Conference, last July. “He’s the representative of Christ on earth, and he’s bringing Christ’s presence among us.”

“The entire country is already talking about the pope ahead of the visit, but also about God. This has become an issue,” he said.

The priest said that closed churches during the height of the coronavirus pandemic brought “much disappointment,” and many in Slovakia have yet to return to Mass and the sacraments.

“But people are looking for something to believe in, something in which they can trust, hence I believe the pope needs to come and talk to us about Christ, about God,” he said.

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