Registration opens beyond the fully vaccinated, to those with a negative test and those who have recovered from the virus.
The bishops of Slovakia announced in a statement that people with a negative COVID-19 test or who have recovered from Covid will be able to attend Pope Francis’ events during his trip to Slovakia.
The Pope will arrive in Slovakia on the evening of September 12 and depart in the afternoon of September 15.
The statement, published on the bishops’ web site, states that participants will need “a negative test or confirmation of recovering from COVID-19 in the last 180 days” and offers guidelines on the sanitary restrictions.
This decision steps back previously announced measures from the Conference of Bishops and Slovakian authorities, which stipulated that only the fully vaccinated would be able to attend the Pope’s events.
Wrestling with vaccines
Slovakia has had a troubled history with the Covid vaccines. In March, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matović formally resigned from his post after he caused a political crisis with a secret deal to buy 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Slovakia is a member of the European Union, which has not approved that vaccine, and various of Matović’s government opposed the idea.
Hungary (where the Pope will stop first on Sunday, to close the International Eucharistic Conference) was the only other EU country to use the Russian vaccine.
Matović said he was trying to boost vaccine availability in Slovakia, which ranks 9th in Europe for deaths per population due to Covid.
By early July, however, the Slovakian government was looking to sell or donate the doses of Sputnik V that had been purchased due to low demand for the vaccine.
Low vaccine rate
The policy change regarding the papal visit came after concerns that few people would be able to attend the Pope’s events. In the country of around 5.5 million people, only around 40% are fully vaccinated as of September 7, according to John Hopkins University’s vaccine tracker. However, the case counts in the country have stayed low since the spring.
In 2018 around 63% of the population identified as Catholic.
On August 25, a bishops’ spokesperson, Fr. Martin Kramara, confirmed that only around 30,000 people had registered to attend the Pope’s mass in Sastin-Straze. Local media reported that only around 13% of the total 450,000 people expected had signed up for the events. Juraj Hrabko, a political commentator and former MP, warned on state television on August 28 that Slovakia could face “national embarrassment” if the restrictions were not relaxed.
“It’s true that Slovaks are accustomed to leaving things till the last moment – but it seems not even the Pope’s authority can bring believers to get vaccinated to see him live,” Hrabko said. Several politicians and parties also called for an easing of the sanitary restrictions.
Our complicated times
On August 29 a pastoral letter from the bishops was read in all parishes, strongly encouraging the faithful to sign up for the events.
“While we are fully aware of how complicated the present situation is, we appeal all the more for those not prevented from doing so to participate,” the statement read. “We invite and encourage you: bring the necessity of registration as a sacrifice for the Church and the salvation of immortal souls – and come personally to form a community of unity of brothers and sisters.”
With the new rules, those with a negative test or who have recovered from COVID-19 were able to begin registering to participate as of Monday.sl