This past week, Pope Francis participated in another apostolic journey, this time to Hungary and Slovakia. These apostolic journeys of the pontiff are a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of the Church and have proven to be a powerful means of transmitting the closeness of the Holy See to the Church worldwide, as well as an effective means of spreading the Gospel.
Pastoral visits outside of Italy were largely unheard of prior to the pontificate of Pope Saint Paul VI, due to travel limitations. Famously, Saint Paul VI came to the United States in 1965 and graced New York City with his presence. The master of the apostolic visits to other lands was, of course, Pope Saint John Paul II—the most traveled pontiff in history. This pilgrim embraced evangelization and symbolism. He made no fewer than seven visits to the United States.
This trend of making pastoral visits to other nations was continued by Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI who was equally untiring during his pontificate. He is still the oldest pope to journey outside of Europe.
Of course, Pope Francis has been unceasing in his willingness to visit other nations. In fact, when our Holy Father traveled to the Philippines in January 2015, it yielded the largest single papal event in history, with about six to seven million attendees.
For us in the United States, few can forget his powerful visit to our nation, also in 2015. Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress, canonized Saint Junipero Serra, and spoke to the United Nations General Assembly.
As mentioned previously, the Holy Father went this past week to both Hungary and Slovakia. In Budapest, the pope celebrated the closing Mass for the 52nd Eucharistic Congress. He greeted the president and the prime minister of Hungary.
While in Slovakia, Pope Francis visited many cities and challenged the nation to integrate the Roma people further into Slovakian society, as well as stating unequivocally that religious symbols should never be used for political purposes.
And, in response to several prominent Jewish rabbis who were concerned with some of the recent papal catechesis on the Old Covenant, His Holiness was very clear that all levels of anti-Semitism must be condemned.
And, as has become his usual practice, the pope held an in-flight press conference, addressing topics such as COVID-19 vaccinations and the denial of holy Communion to politicians who support pro-abortion policies.
Some observers question the effectiveness of having an 84-year-old man make these grueling trips, but truly they are what they are called — apostolic journeys. These visits bring attention to issues that are essential to the life of the Church and the life of the world, especially the lives of immigrants, the poor, and persecuted Christians.
Thanks be to God that our Holy Father has the remarkable energy to engage in these journeys. May God continue to grant him strength and peace as he brings the presence of the Lord into all of the corners of the world.