COMMISSIONS composed of top state officials and members of local municipal governments have been set up to prepare the country for a visit by Pope John Paul II two and half months from now.
The Pope will be visiting Slovakia between September 11 and 14, his third trip to the country since the fall of communism in 1989.
According to preliminary plans, yet to be confirmed by the Holy See, the Pope will visit three Slovak towns - the capital Bratislava, central Slovak city of Banská Bystrica, and south eastern town of Rožnava - and a pilgrimage site in the western village of Marianka. He will also meet members of the Bishops Conference and several state officials, including President Rudolf Schuster, who invited the Pope to Slovakia.
Preparations for the visit started weeks ago. While towns are coordinating traffic, health staff, and security, as well as polishing up their main squares for the hundreds of thousands of people expected to come to see the Pope, local church representatives are busy organising the clerical part of the visit including sermons.
John Paul II is expected to hold masses in all three towns, and local parishioners see the visit as a big occasion for them and their communities. Hundreds of thousands of believers are anticipated to arrive in the three towns for the Pope's sermons.
Slovakia is a traditionally Catholic country with about 70 percent of Slovaks declaring themselves Catholic in the most recent national census from 2001.
In a cabinet document approved on June 11 that set up a special commission coordinating the Pope's visit, the Slovak government agreed that the visit was "confirmation of very good relations between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See".
However, the preparations for the special visit will cost millions of crowns. The cabinet will reach into its special funds to partly finance the reconstruction works and expenses related to the visit.
In Banská Bystrica alone, where the Pope will arrive on September 12, officials have estimated that an investment of about Sk30 million (€714,000) will be needed.
"Preparations for the Pope's visit are in full flow, and because [our town] has not experienced an event like this in terms of security and organisation, we are coordinating the tasks with the Foreign Ministry, the Office of the President, and several other ministries," Peter Handlovský, head of the Banská Bystrica mayor's office said to The Slovak Spectator June 30.
He said his town was preparing for an influx of 250,000 to 300,000 visitors on the day of Pope's visit.
In Banská Bystrica schools will be closed on September 12 to avoid possible problems with traffic, while large scale TV screens will be installed on side roads leading to the city centre to enable as many people as possible to see and hear the Pope.
In Rožnava meanwhile, preparations are also progressing and local officials said an area near the town's filling station on Košická street was going to be prepared for a sermon.
Ján Štefan, head of local district office, recently said to the daily Nový čas that his town had requested Sk18 million (€428,000) of funding from the state to cover the papal stay.
In Bratislava a special city commission has already met three times to prepare a plan for the papal visit and to secure transport routes and security for the guest.
John Paul II should hold a sermon in the city's suburb of Petržalka, but details have not been publicised yet.
Petržalka's deputy mayor Viera Kimerlingová was on holiday and The Slovak Spectator was told no one else in the council had information regarding the event.
But Eva Chudinová, spokeswoman with the Bratislava City Council said that plans for tasks related to the visit were on table and the expenses were estimated at Sk98 million crowns (€2.3 million), including Sk25 million (€595,000) for the completion of a church building in Petržalka.
"We estimate that about 200,000 visitors will come to Bratislava and we also expect some from neighbouring Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic," Chudinová said.
During his visit to Bratislava, the Pope is also expected to beatify one Greek-Catholic bishop - Vasil Hopka, and one nun - Zdenka Schellingová, who under the communist regime were persecuted for their religious activities.
On the national level, security staff were also preparing for the papal visit and Ján Packa, head of the government office for the protection of constitutional officials and diplomatic missions, recently confirmed that his office was preparing special measures "with respect to possible attacks [on the Pope] by religious fanatics or terrorists".
He would, however, not specify any of the measures.
John Paul II first visited the former Czechoslovakia in 1990, and five years later came to Slovakia again.
7. Jul 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová