Pope Francis opens visit to Slovakia by meeting the president ahead of a meeting with the country’s Jewish community
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Pope Francis opened his first full day in Slovakia on Monday by meeting with the country’s president ahead of a meeting with the country’s Jewish community to honor its Holocaust dead and atone for Catholic complicity with the racial laws of WWII era and crimes.
Francis arrived at the presidential palace in good health and rested on the second day of his four-day pilgrimage to Hungary and Slovakia, which marks his first international outing since bowel surgery in July.
In a message to the Slovak people written in the palace’s honor book, Francis wrote that he had come as a pilgrim to Bratislava and that he prayed that the country would be a “message of brotherhood and peace in the heart of the country. ‘Europe”.
After a rigorous day in Budapest on Sunday, Francis, 84, spends Monday in Bratislava where the highlight of his visit is an afternoon meeting at the capital’s Holocaust memorial, built on the site of a synagogue destroyed by the communist regime in the 1960s.
He enters the event after calling on Christians and Jews on Sunday to work together to stop the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, saying it was a “fuse that must not be allowed to burn” .
Slovakia declared independence from Czechoslovakia on March 14, 1939 and became a Nazi puppet state with Roman Catholic politician and priest Jozef Tiso becoming the country’s president.
During his reign, the country adopted strict anti-Jewish laws and deported some 75,000 Jews to Nazi death camps where an estimated 68,000 perished. Tiso was sentenced to death and hanged in 1947.
Today, only around 5,000 Jews live in Slovakia, a largely Roman Catholic country of 5.5 million currently ruled by a center-right quadripartite coalition government.
As recently as last week, the government formally apologized for racial laws that deprived the country’s Jews of their human and civil rights, prevented their access to education, and allowed their property to be transferred to landlords. non-Jews.
On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the “Jewish Code” adopted on September 9, 1941, the government said in a September 8 statement that it “today feels a moral obligation to publicly express its sadness at the crimes committed. by the previous regime ”.
The code was considered one of the strictest anti-Jewish laws passed in Europe during the war.
Slovakia is now home to the far-right People’s Party Our Slovak Party, which has had members in the Slovak Parliament since 2016. The party openly defends the legacy of the Slovak Nazi puppet state of WWII. Its members use Nazi salutes and want Slovakia to leave the European Union and NATO.
Janicek contributed from Prague, Czech Republic.