Dear members of the World Council of Churches in the Slovak Republic,
I cordially greet you and thank you for having accepted the invitation and for coming to meet me: me as a pilgrim in Slovakia, you as welcome guests at the nunciature! I am happy that the first meeting is with you: it is a sign that the Christian faith is – and wants to be -, in this country, the germ of unity and the leaven of fraternity. Thank you Beatitude, Brother Rastislav, for your presence; thank you dear Bishop Ivan, President of the Ecumenical Council, for the words you addressed to me and which testify to the will to continue walking together to move from conflict to communion.
The march of your communities has resumed after years of atheist persecution, when religious freedom was prohibited or put to the test. Finally, she has arrived. And now you have in common part of the journey on which you experience how beautiful, yet at the same time difficult, it is to live the faith as free people. Indeed there is the temptation to become slaves again, certainly, not of a regime, but of an even worse slavery, internal slavery.
This is what Dostoyevsky warned against in a famous story, the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor. Jesus returned to Earth and is imprisoned. The inquisitor utters scathing words: the accusation he brings is precisely that of having given too much importance to the freedom of men. He said to her: “You want to go into the world empty-handed, preaching to men a freedom that their natural stupidity and ignominy prevents them from understanding, a freedom that frightens them, for there is and there is has never had anything more intolerable for man! “(1). And he increases the dose, adding that men are willing to exchange their freedom with the most comfortable slavery, that which consists in submitting to someone who decides for them, in order to have bread and security. And so he comes to reproach Jesus for not having wanted to become Caesar in order to bend the conscience of men and establish peace by force. On the contrary, he continued to prefer freedom for man, while humanity demands “bread and nothing else”.
Dear Brothers, may this not happen to us; let us help ourselves not to fall into the trap of being satisfied with bread and nothing else. Because this risk arises when the situation normalizes, when we have established ourselves and we settle in order to lead a quiet life. So, what we are aiming for is no longer “the freedom we have in Christ Jesus” (Gal 2: 4), his truth which sets us free (cf. Jn 8: 32), but the obtaining of ‘spaces and rights which, according to the Gospel, are “bread and nothing else”. Here, in the heart of Europe, we come to ask ourselves: we Christians, have we not somewhat lost the ardor of proclamation and the prophecy of witness? Is it the Truth of the Gospel that sets us free, or do we feel free when we free ourselves from the comfort zones that allow us to manage ourselves and move forward with serenity without particular repercussions? And yet, by being satisfied with bread and security, have we not lost the impetus in the search for the unity implored by Jesus? Unity which certainly requires a mature freedom of strong choices – renouncements and sacrifices – but which is the precondition for the world to believe (cf. Jn 17:21). We are not only interested in what can be of use to our different communities. The freedom of brother and sister is also our freedom, because our freedom is not complete without him or her.
Here evangelization was born in a fraternal way, bearing the seal of the holy brothers of Thessaloniki, Cyril and Methodius. These, witnesses of a Christianity still united and inflamed by the ardor of the proclamation, help us to continue the journey by cultivating fraternal communion among us in the name of Jesus.
Moreover, how can we wish for a Europe which rediscovers its Christian roots if we ourselves are the first uprooted from full communion? How can we dream of a Europe free from ideologies if we do not have the freedom to put the freedom of Jesus before the needs of different groups of believers? It is difficult to demand a Europe more fruitful by the Gospel without worrying about the fact that we are still divided among ourselves on the continent and without taking care of each other. Calculations of convenience, historical reasons, and political ties cannot be unshakeable obstacles in our path. May Saints Cyril and Methodius, “precursors of ecumenism” (2), help us to strive for a reconciliation of diversity in the Holy Spirit; for a unity which, without being uniform, is a sign and a witness to the freedom of Christ, the Lord who unties the knots of the past and heals us of our fears and our timidities.
In their time, Cyril and Methodius allowed the divine Word to be embodied in these lands (cf. Jn 1:14). I would like to offer you two suggestions in this perspective, fraternal advice for spreading the gospel of freedom and unity today. The first tip, the first suggestion is about the contemplation. A distinctive character of the Slavic peoples, which it is up to you together to preserve, is the contemplative trait, which, starting from an experimental faith, goes beyond philosophical and even theological conceptualizations, and which knows how to welcome the mystery . Help yourself to cultivate this spiritual tradition which Europe so badly needs: the religious West in particular thirsts for it, to rediscover the beauty of the adoration of God and the importance of not conceiving above all the community of faith on the basis of programmatic and functional efficiency.
The second tip, however, concerns the action. Unity is not obtained so much with good intentions or by adhering to a few common values, but by doing something together for those who bring us closer to the Lord. Who are they ? They are the poor because Jesus is present in them (cf. Mt 25:40). Sharing charity opens up wider horizons and helps to walk faster, overcoming prejudices and misunderstandings. And it is also a characteristic which finds a real welcome in this country where one learns by heart at school a poetry which contains, among other things, a very beautiful passage: “When the foreign hand knocks at our door with a sincere confidence : whoever it is, if he comes from near or far, day or night, on our table there will be the gift of God waiting for him ”(3). May the gift of God be present on everyone’s table so that, even if we are not yet able to share the same Eucharistic meal, we can welcome Jesus together by serving him in the poor. It will be a more evocative sign than many words, and will help civil society understand, especially in this time of suffering, that it is only by being on the side of the weak that we will truly all emerge from the pandemic together.
Dear brothers, I thank you for your presence and for your progress: the gentle and welcoming character, typical of the Slovak people, the traditional peaceful cohabitation between you and your collaboration for the good of the country are precious for the fermentation of the Gospel. I encourage you to move forward on the ecumenical path, a precious and indispensable treasure. I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and ask you, please, to pray for me. Thank you.