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REPORTING ON DIVERSITY

Common belief bridges differences

THE PRIEST bows before the altar at a packed St Ladislav Catholic Church in Bratislava and welcomes those who have gathered. However, his words are not in Slovak, but rather, fluent English. While Catholics are hardly a minority in Slovakia, the church can serve as a uniting force for any number of varied internationals who otherwise feel out of place.

THE PRIEST bows before the altar at a packed St Ladislav Catholic Church in Bratislava and welcomes those who have gathered. However, his words are not in Slovak, but rather, fluent English. While Catholics are hardly a minority in Slovakia, the church can serve as a uniting force for any number of varied internationals who otherwise feel out of place.

“People travel all over the world; they come to a foreign city and they do not know where to go,” said Sheldon Armitage, pastor of the Bratislava International Fellowship, which conducts its own English-language masses. “Everything is different, everything is unfamiliar. What they know is when they are coming to church on Sunday, is something they recognise, something familiar.”

There are a variety of English-language services in Bratislava each week, many with an average attendance of about 40-50 worshipers each Sunday, at churches such as the Bratislava International Church (Lutheran), the aforementioned Bratislava International Fellowship, the International Baptist Church of Bratislava, City Light Church and St Ladislav’s (Catholic).

“Now, English is the language of business, of religion,” Pete Miller, an Englishman living in Slovakia who serves as the administrator of the International Baptist Church of Bratislava, told The Slovak Spectator. “Not everybody is gifted linguistically and therefore there is a need for worship in a language they are comfortable with.”

Worshippers have been meeting at the English-language Catholic masses in St Ladislav’s Parish since the early 1990s.

St Ladislav’s is full every Sunday at 11:00, drawing people from all over the world who live or study in Bratislava, or who are simply staying there for a few days.

“I have been coming here for masses for the past 12 years,” Eileen Tobin, an Irish Presentation Sister, told The Slovak Spectator. “After about two years, there was a rise in numbers coming to mass on Sunday. Now it’s a full house.”

Perhaps the biggest draw to the churches is the need for a sense of community, in particular for those who might be in an unfamiliar land.

“We really try to build community,” Armitage said, adding that he is trying to interact with the people on a personal level. “People like to laugh together, they like to meet together, hang out together and that is not the distance level - the pastor and the congregation sort of level.”

Those from varied backgrounds often congregate in informal settings far from the usual Sunday services.

“We are relaxed and I think people appreciate this,” said Pastor Patrick Higgins from the City Light Church.

Each Thursday worshipers gather for Bible study in the Quo Vadis house near the Trinity Church.
Sharing meals is also a common way for people to bond.

“For me, it is a huge blessing,” said Heather Eccles, a missionary from California. “During the week I am connecting with different nationalities, mostly Slovaks, but it is good to find a place where I can go and be around my own language, sing the songs that I know. It is a nice feeling. It feels safe.”

“Obviously there is a difference in the international churches,” said Miller. “There are different nationalities. Here it makes only cultural differences, but I think it makes particular churches even richer in their diversity.”

The type of relationship between pastors and foreign worshipers, who are in many cases foreigners too, is the difference people can find between practicing religion in Slovakia.

Foreign communities of worshipers in Slovakia are also much smaller than communities in their homeland.

There are worshipers who did not visit the church in their homeland and they do go to these masses now.

The articles included in the “Reporting on Diversity” supplement were created by authors enrolled in the “Reporting on Diversity” programme organised by The Slovak Spectator in cooperation with the Journalism Department at Comenius University and with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava. The programme seeks to train young journalists and journalism students for covering ethnicity, gender, race and religious issues, as well as other phenomena related to various communities and the challenges they face in Slovakia. The articles were prepared in line with strict journalistic ethical and reporting standards.

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