New York News

Slovak Catholics at NYC Parish ‘Shocked’ By Shooting of Slovakian PM, Says Pastor

Police work at the scene after a shooting incident in which Prime Minister Robert Fico was wounded, outside the House of Culture in Handlova, Slovakia, May 15, 2024. The populist prime minister of Slovakia, Fico was “fighting for his life” after he was shot multiple times in an “attempted assassination,” his party’s officials said. (Photo: OSV News/Leonhard Foeger, Reuters)

By Gina Christian

(OSV News) — Slovak Catholics at one New York City parish are “shocked” by an assassination attempt on Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, the pastor told OSV News.

“People are just surprised that something like that could even happen,” said Father Stefan Chanas, pastor of St. John Nepomucene Church and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church.

Fico was shot multiple times May 15 after leaving a government gathering in the central town of Handlova, located some 125 miles east of the nation’s capital, Bratislava. He sustained critical injuries to his abdomen, arm and leg.

Airlifted twice to two separate medical facilities, the 59-year-old Fico underwent some five hours of surgery and is reported to be in serious but stable condition.

Police have charged a still-unnamed 71-year-old suspect, whose motive is believed to be political. Slovakia’s polarized civil discourse led President-elect Peter Pellegrini to urge political parties to pause or pare down their campaigns ahead of European Parliament elections June 6-9, saying that Slovakians “urgently need at least basic agreement and unity among the Slovak political representation.

“And if not consensus, then please, at least civilized ways of discussing among each other,” Pellegrini said.

That message resounds with parishioners at St. John Nepomucene, which was founded by immigrant Slovak Catholics in the late 19th century and named for the 14th-century martyr venerated in a number of central and eastern European nations.

“There are tensions, there are different parties like in every democracy, but to solve the differences … in this violent way, that’s something shocking,” said Father Chanas. “Some of our people are (Fico) supporters, some are maybe not his supporters, but all of us are praying for him and praying for peace in the country, because that’s important also — how this is handled. That can stir up some negative emotions.”

Father Chanas said that from what he has seen, Slovakia’s “politicians, deputy ministers, bishops” and a broad base of the public are condemning the assassination attempt.

“They are saying it shouldn’t happen, not only from a Christian or Catholic point of view, but in general, for everybody,” he said. “This should not be acceptable.”

Father Chanas said he and his parishioners “will continue to pray for (Fico).

“He needs our prayers … and we’ll continue to pray for the people of Slovakia, and for (Fico’s) closest ones, his family; and for the doctors and health care professionals that are trying their best,” said Father Chanas.

Those prayers also will include “politicians, that they would be able on both sides of the spectrum to hold their emotions in line, and not to use this (attack) — because it unfortunately can be used or abused to disturb more emotions,” Father Chanas said.

Words matter, especially when “openly abusive language … continues to be repeated,” he added.

“Hate speech can eventually lead to hate actions, and this is one of them,” he said. “It’s definitely not how it should be, and it’s not according to our Catholic beliefs. We should respect everybody. ‘You shall not kill’ — you know, it’s still there (as a commandment), and slandering or gossiping or lying as well … is against God’s will. It’s not only (about) political rules and civil laws — it’s against God and it’s against our charity for others, even for our enemies.”

In addition, “people are somehow so stressed out and frustrated, and that makes them weaker in the spiritual struggle,” said Father Chanas. “Unfortunately, the evil spirit knows that and he tries to take advantage of that. He just likes everybody to be angry.”

As he and his parishioners pray for Fico’s “full recovery and good health,” Father Chanas said he hopes the attack will serve as a “wake-up call to others to watch the hate speech and unfriendly rhetoric, which just brings more polarization.”