A PILGRIMAGE MARKED BY ECUMENISM
Pope John Paul II
General Audience, May 24, 1995

1. Today I would like to devote our customary Wednesday catechesis to the Pastoral Visit I made from 20 to 22 May to Prague and Olomouc in the Czech Republic, and to Skoczow, Bielsko-Biala and Zywiec in Poland. As you see, I stayed in Bohemia and Moravia, and the last town I visited, from where I departed for Rome, was Ostrava in Moravia. I believe that the importance of this journey can be understood in the light of the document "Tertio millennio adveniente".

As we prepare for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Church returns in a certain sense to the different ways Christ entered the life of the great human family in the various continents and in individual countries. One of these ways for Central Europe passes in particular through the so-called Moravian Gate. Here Christianity arrived very early, and put down roots in the ninth century among the Slavs of the kingdom of Greater Moravia. It was precisely the prince of this State who invited Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who came from Byzantium, to evangelize his people. This evangelization bore fruit in the territory visited by the Pope. The focus of that visit, which I was able to make in 1990 after the collapse of the communist regime, was the city of Velehrad in Moravia, in the territory of what is now the Archdiocese of Olomouc.

The name Moravian Gate is very evocative. It reminds us first of all that Christ, of whom the Gospel speaks, is the sheepgate (cf. Jn 10:7). At the same time it indicates a specific historical and geographical reality. From the geographical point of view, the vast plains of Moravia were a fertile territory for the development of human civilization from the South towards the North. From there Christianity arrived in Poland, according to tradition, by the ninth century, reaching the southern territory in the Krakow district and, according to historical data, Gniezno and Poznan-Gniezno, then the capital of the Piast state, which was in the process of being organized in the 10th century.

2. With these historical facts clearly in mind, I would like to say that the main reason for my visit was the canonization of Bl. Jan Sarkander and Bl. Zdislava. Zdislava is linked with the history of the Church in Bohemia, and Jan Sarkander with the history of the Church in Moravia. Zdislava was a wife and the mother of a family as well as a tertiary of the Dominican Order. Her name is well-known and is often given at Baptism to both boys and girls. She was a person who from the 13th century has lived on in the Church's memory not only in Bohemia but in Poland and neighbouring countries.

On Sunday, 21 May, she was raised to the honours of the altar together with Jan Sarkander, whose life is linked first and foremost with Olomouc, in Moravia. Sarkander was born in Skoczow near Cieszyn in Silesia. This is why the papal visit also included his birth place, located in Poland. Jan Sarkander was a parish priest at the time when Christianity was experiencing the tragedy of the Reformation. He was arrested because he remained faithful to the Catholic Church, and subjected to atrocious torture by the rulers of Olomouc, who were Protestants. The principle "cuius regio eius religio" then authorized those with power—Protestants or Catholics—to impose their own religious creed on their respective subjects. In the name of this principle much violence was done by both Catholics and Protestants in Bohemia and Moravia. Jan Sarkander is only one of the countless victims of this situation.

The signs of divine Providence show that he achieved heroic holiness.

It was therefore right that he be raised to the honours of the altar.

It was the wish of the Churches in Bohemia and Moravia that the canonization take place precisely in Olomouc. I agreed to the proposal, because I saw in it a providential opportunity to express, in a particularly meaningful place, a critical appraisal of the religious wars that took such a toll of victims among both Catholics and Protestants. I hope that this event will be a strong encouragement for everyone to work so that such sins against the Christian commandment of love will never occur again.

In the afternoon of the same day of the canonization, the meeting with youth took place in front of the Marian Shrine of Savty Kopecek.

I would certainly describe it as one of the most beautiful and original meetings I have ever had with young people. On that occasion I wished to "consign" the Lord's Prayer to the young people, the <Our Father>, as if to mark a stage in the catechumenate of youth in that country. Only Christ, in fact, can give young people what they so thirst for, that is, the full and joyous meaning of life. Like the wine at the wedding in Cana, that meaning is often lacking.

And with her spiritual presence, Mary, Mother of Jesus, accompanied that memorable meeting, in which the very words she spoke at Cana resounded: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5). She continues to say those words today in a special way to the young people who want to live their lives authentically.

3. I would like to express my gratitude to the Christian community of Skoczow for showing a remarkable understanding of our ecumenical responsibility, which the canonization of Jan Sarkander was intended to serve. The two of Skoczow is located in the Cieszyn region of Silesia, a territory which until a few years ago belonged to the Diocese of Katowice. It was the Diocese of Katowice, together with that of Olomouc, which promoted Jan Sarkander's cause for canonization. It was therefore fitting that on the day after the solemn celebration of his canonization in Olomouc I should go to Skoczow, to give thanks to God for the gift of the new saint. like many before and after him, he became a factor in bringing the Churches and Christians in Bohemia, Moravia and Poland closer together. The solemn celebration in Skoczow, which was widely attended by the faithful, has shown how deeply the Church's history is written into the history of peoples and States. For 1,000 years Silesia has been border territory, in which two great Churches have met, founded precisely in the year 1000: the Archdiocese of Wroclaw.

In the span of this millennium, they have carried out a valuable mission of evangelization, with two martyr saints as their reference point: St. Adalbert and St. Stanislaus, whom the Church in Poland venerates as her principal patrons, together with Our Lady of Jasna Gora.

Monday's visit to Skoczow, Bielsko-Biala and Zywiec emphasized the existence and vitality of a new Diocese, created a few years ago with the task of proclaiming the Gospel in the Cieszyn region of Silesia and along the River Sola, to Oswiecim (Auschwitz). It is a land particularly dear to me, which I know well, since in the past I was Metropolitan of Krakow. Besides, my family comes from that area.

This visit therefore had a specifically biographical stamp. For me it was a great joy in this Easter season to see once again those Christian communities which I visited as Archbishop, to marvel at those hills where I often took long walks.

4. I would like to thank all those who contributed to the success of this Pastoral Visit: both for the invitation as well as for its careful preparation, the results of which were clearly visible at the first stage in Prague and then in Olomouc, Skoczow, Bielsko-Biala and Zywiec. In addition to the great liturgical meetings linked to the canonization of St. Zdislava and St. Jan Sarkander, in which so many of the faithful took part, together with the prayer meeting with the people of Bohemia, the ecumenical gatherings in Prague and Skoczow also deserve grateful mention. I trust that they will serve to promote the ecumenical rapprochement of Christians, which is one of the challenges of the Great Jubilee.

The Year 2000 is an important point of reference not only for Christianity and the Church. It is important for Europe, especially at the present time. Indeed, since the collapse of the totalitarian systems, Europe has tried more and more to become a great homeland of nations. May the memory of the historic Moravian Gate show us Christ, who became the gateway on the path to eternal life for all of us.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
31 May 1995, p. 7

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