Honoring Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Slovakia
BISHOP LARRY J. KULICK
I made my first trip to Slovakia as a newly ordained priest 30 years ago in 1993. I remember arriving in Slovakia on July 5, only to find that every business was closed. The nation, recently emerging from communism, was celebrating the state holiday honoring Ss. Cyril and Methodius. I was amazed by the liturgical celebrations, the musical and dance celebrations, and the many vendors.
Fast forward 30 years, and who would have imagined that in 2023 I would return to Slovakia as an American bishop, privileged to celebrate and be the homilist for a nationally televised Mass celebrating this historic holiday. I would never have dreamed that
I would meet the Slovakian president, Zuzana Caputova, and have a front seat for the state holiday events that have such a religious, cultural and historical significance to Slovakia and surrounding Eastern European nations.
July 5th marks the arrival of the two Slavic missionaries Cyril and Methodius more than 1,160 years ago. The brothers began spreading Christianity, helped people resist the powerful surrounding empires and created their own alphabet that enabled locals to translate religious texts. This was critical in their mission to spread Christianity.
Planning for my trip this summer to Slovakia began a year ago while I was in Rome with brother bishops from around the world. It was there that I met and got to know Auxiliary Bishop Peter Beňo from the Diocese of Nitra. Bishop Beňo and I were invited to the Institute of Ss. Cyril and Methodius for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which is a patronal feast of Slovakia. Spontaneously, I was invited to be the main celebrant of that Mass to be celebrated in Slovak.
A few months after the Mass, Father Viliam Zemancik, the Vice Rector of the Institute, called to invite me for the July celebration in Nitra at the invitation of the Diocesan Bishop, Viliam Judák. Needless to say, I was incredibly humbled and considered it a great privilege and honor.
In my homily, I shared with the thousands in attendance my own experiences. I told them about growing up in a Slovak parish in Western Pennsylvania. This history and culture I learned as a child and young adult factored into my formation and my identity. It was a significant part of my own vocational discernment, as my background provided me with many examples of self-sacrifice and faith.
I shared with them my gratitude for their great inheritance to the United States through those who immigrated, worked hard, sacrificed to build churches, drove the economy and educated their children.
One of the things that I realized in traveling back after three decades was that many at the Mass, unlike the generation or two ahead of them, have only lived in freedom. Their parents and grandparents lived under communism. I assured them that in our country, we were very aware of the political and religious restrictions that many lived under during that time. We prayed for them; we remembered them with the intention that they would be able to live in a time of freedom.
While our prayers were answered, I reminded them that freedom is not free and not to take this gift of newfound abundance from God for granted. While the majority of people in Slovakia believe in Christ, the number has slipped a bit over the years because of many of the pitfalls of freedom that our society faces. Secularism and materialism are always a global threat. The family unit remains very strong in Slovakia, but I reminded those in attendance to be wary and to steer clear of interferences that impact culture, tradition and family. That is very evident here when a recent Gallup poll released in late July revealed that those in the United States who believe in God has dipped to a new low.
Ss. Cyril and Methodius were progressive in their desire to bring that faith to the people. In a beautiful way, they were able to enhance the culture and the Christian faith. Their evangelization mission, while historical fact, is still living and moving. We are called to join the movement. When we answer that call, especially in bringing people to the Eucharist, we carry on that Cyrillic and Methodian legacy whose roots began in Slovakia.
In prayer, especially in this time of Eucharistic Renewal, let us ask Ss. Cyril and Methodius to intercede so that no matter the obstacle, the message of Christ, our source of unity, calls us into one body through the spiritual nourishment of His precious body and blood.
I hope you enjoy some of the pictures from my trip.