DAILY CATHOLIC    FRI-SAT-SUN     September 17-19, 1999     vol. 10, no. 177

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Pontiff Will Beatify 19th Century Bishop

        ROME, SEP 15 (ZENIT).- John Paul II is returning to Slovenia a second time. His first trip took place from May 17 to 19, 1996. On that occasion, he highlighted the heroic virtues of Anton Martin Slomsek, first Bishop of Maribor (1800-1862). Next Sunday, September 19, the Pope will return to the Same city to beatify him. It will be a pilgrimage to the heart of Europe on the eve of the second Synod of Bishops for the European Continent, which will take place from October 1 to 23 in the Vatican.

        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

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

September 17-19, 1999       volume 10, no. 177


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