Slovenia is a "bridge" nation between the West and the Slavic world, a country of some two million inhabitants, with a history of Christian faith spanning 1,250 years. Today the people of Slovenia are in a time of waiting and hope. In spite of vigorous defense of its cultural identity, for centuries Slovenia was in the shadow of larger countries. Now, located as it is in the heart of Europe, it must face the challenges inherited from the Communist dictatorship, which are not only economic and social, but also moral in character. This is the reason for its forcefulness in knocking at the doors of the European Union, in order to be integrated and find its place in the international chess game of the next millennium.
The Holy Father will hold up to the people the example of a Bishop who lived during the last century but whose message is very timely. He will do so from Maribor, the city where Bishop Slomsek died on September 24, 1862. His mortal remains lie in the Cathedral. More than one reporter in Slovenia has said that his beatification will be the most important event of this young country, which achieved independence in 1991. Above all, because he is the first Slovenian to be raised to the altars. But also, because he is an historic figure. Frank Kidric, an avowed Mason and Slavic expert of the University of Lubliana, defined Slomsek as "the most important spiritual phenomenon in the history of Slavic Christianity after saints Cyril and Methodius."
Slomsek incarnated the man of God who, in addition to safeguarding his people's faith, also wanted to save the national identity, committing himself to the cultural raising of the common masses. Sharing his nation's destiny, which had lost its political identity a thousand years earlier and was exposed to rapid Germanization, while he was still a theology student he organized courses in Slovene for his fellow-seminarians who were less aware than he was of their duty as pastors to be close to the people.
With youthful passion, he submerged himself as a priest in the apostolate, becoming a much sought-after confessor and the "Slovenian Cicero," as he was known by his friends for the enthusiasm of his preaching in Slovene and German. He also wrote many books.
Slomsek moved the episcopal headquarters from St. Andra to Maribor, to preserve thousands of Slovenians from Germanization. This effort to rescue his people's culture also became a way of consciously opposing German liberalism that, according to the Bishop, could lead to distancing many from the faith and even to de-Christianization.
He was a man of prophetic vision, ahead of his time, founding the prayer league known as the "Confraternity of Saints Cyril and Methodius." This institution became an instrument of dialogue among the different Christian denominations, especially the Orthodox.
John Paul II will arrive at Maribor's airport on Sunday around 10 a.m. After a brief welcome ceremony, he will celebrate Mass in the Betnava esplanade, where he will beatify Anton Martin Slomsek. At 5:30 p.m. he will visit the Cathedral and pray at Slomsek's tomb. After meeting all the representatives of this small but dynamic Church, the Pontiff will return to the airport, where he will meet the president of the Republic. He will bid Slovenia farewell and return to Castel Gandolfo around 9 p.m. ZE99091507
Aid workers said they believe that many of their Timorese colleagues who ran medical clinics across the Indonesian-controlled territory are dead or have been forced to flee as refugees. Indonesian authorities had also blocked attempts to resupply the clinics with medicines, antibiotics, and other basic medical equipment, they said.
Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, invaded mainly Catholic East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year in a move not recognized by the United Nations. In August, the region held a Jakarta-proposed referendum to allow Timorese to choose either autonomy within Indonesia or full independence. After the pro-independence results were revealed, pro-Indonesia militias, armed and backed by Indonesia's military, went on a rampage, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee the former Portugese colony.
Caritas and the Catholic Church were the main providers of medical care in East Timor, because local people were too afraid to attend Indonesian-run hospitals, a Caritas aid worker said. "We witnessed and now hear with profound grief and outrage the horrendous brutality occurring there," Caritas nurse Cathy Georgeson said. "The East Timorese are a beautiful and proud people whom we have been privileged to come to know and love." She added, "They were assured the UN would stay ... because they voted for independence, they are now being cruelly and systematically annihilated."
The Church "must give new impetus to a journey of growth in faith, which emphasizes the value of the spirit and practice of penance in Christian life," he added.
The anxiety of the man who lives away from God's forgiveness, is one of the great challenges of evangelization. Because of this, John Paul II wished to give personal and concrete advice to missionaries at the end of the millennium.
The Holy Father also invited the entire Christian community to take part in what he called "the pastoral renewal of Reconciliation."
He explained that in a reconciled and reconciling community sinners can find the lost way and help from their brothers once again." In fact, "through the Christian community a solid way of charity can be devised, which will make the forgiveness received visible through good works, the reparation done for evil, and the hope of finding again the merciful arms of the Father." ZE99091505
Cardinals Joachim Meisner of Cologne, Georg Sterzinsky of Berlin, and Friedrich Wetter of Munich-- along with Bishop Karl Lehmann, the president of the German episcopal conference-- spent the day in meetings with several Vatican officials: Cardinal Josef Ratzinger and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Archbishop Paolo Sardi at the Secretariat of State. The product of their meetings will be a new document, to be released by Archbishop Lehman at a meeting of the German bishops.
The meetings in Rome were designed to resolve a longstanding controversy within the German Church over the involvement of Church-related counseling centers in the process that can lead to legal abortion. Under German law, a woman who seeks an abortion must produce a certificate testifying that she has visited a government-approved counseling center to discuss her pregnancy. Since many such counseling centers are Church- affiliated, these Catholic centers were put in the morally questionable position of furnishing one of the requirements for legal abortion.
Finding themselves unable to resolve that moral dilemma by themselves, the German bishops have repeatedly sought guidance from the Holy See. In 1995, Pope John Paul II advised them that while the Church centers should continue to provide counseling services, they should do so in a way that could not supply a justification for abortion. Last year, when the German bishops found themselves again deadlocked over the question of how to fulfill that mandate, the Holy Father wrote new instructions, saying that the centers should not dispense a certificate that could be used for access to abortion. Finally, in June of this year, the Pope suggested the issuing of certificates which explicitly state that they cannot be used for the purpose of obtaining an abortion.
Controversy within the German Church has continued, however, with some leading Catholics arguing that if the certificates are not legally valid, women who are considering abortion will not visit the Catholic centers, and thus the Church-sponsored counselors will lose an opportunity to dissuade them from abortion. There has also been some debate over the question of whether the certificates issued by Church agencies might still be used for access to abortion, in spite of the language proposed by the Pope.