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Rome Reports

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Pope Francis: Don't reduce the cross to a political symbol

Pope Francis traveled across Slovakia to celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. It is the Rite celebrated by some 7.5 million Byzantine Catholics around the world in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

Over 210,000 Slovaks are members of the Greek Catholic Church.

Pope Francis was greeted in Prešov by some 50,000 people before celebrating the Divine Liturgy under the Tatra mountains, just outside the Mestská Sportova stadium, visited by Pope John Paul II in 1995. 

The Pope gathered with thousands of Slovak Greek Catholics for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross—one of the most significant feast days in the Byzantine Rite.

In his homily, Pope Francis expressed the cross' centrality to Christianity. 

"How often do we long for a Christianity of winners, a triumphalist Christianity that is important and influential, that receives glory and honour? Yet a Christianity without a cross is a worldly Christianity, and shows itself to be sterile."

He then reflected on the role of the cross in the lives of Christians, and urged them to fully embrace its meaning.

"Crucifixes are found all around us: on necks, in homes, in cars, in pockets. What good is this, unless we stop to look at the crucified Jesus and open our hearts to him, unless we let ourselves be struck by the wounds he bears for our sake. Let us not reduce the cross to an object of devotion, much less to a political symbol, to a sign of religious and social status."

Communion was offered according to the Byzantine Rite, in which the Body of Christ is dipped into the chalice and offered on a spoon.  

At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Prešov, Ján Bajak, expressed the Greek Catholic Church's affection for the Pope. 

Metropolitan Archbishop of Prešov
“In the Greek Catholic Church in Slovakia, the “Peter of Rome” has been greatly loved for centuries. We pray for you and your apostolic work throughout the world, strengthening our brothers and sisters in the faith.”

As a gift he gave the Pope an Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In return, the Pope gave him a chalice, a gift he commonly gives when he celebrate a Mass outside the Vatican.

This was the Pope's last gesture after the Liturgy: he blessed and coronated the icon of Our Lady and before proceeding out with his fellow bishops.