On 1 January 2014, a Year of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows was launched by the Bishops’ conference, on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the first miracle upon the intercession of the Virgin Mary in Sastín and the 50th anniversary of the confirmation of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows as a patroness of Slovakia by pope Paul VI. The Holy Year, due to last until the end of December, will be filled with various activities and events of the Catholic Church, aimed at “building of closer relationship of the faithful with Jesus Christ under the guidance of his mother”, explains the website http://ave.kbs.sk. Devotion inscribed in hearts. “On 23 November 1964, pope Paul VI issued an apostolic letter Quam pulchram, confirming antiquity of the cult of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows as a patroness of Slovakia and the shrine of Sastín was assigned a title ‘basilica minor’. In 1966, the Mother of God was declared the main patroness of the nation”, explains historian Luboslav Hromjak from the Theological Institute of Spisská Kapitula. As he adds, this act of the Holy Father represented a “confirmation of a longtime marian devotion of the Slovak nation which has always been a part of its Cyrilo-Methodian heritage”. The faithful have found a parallel between the national, religious and social oppression they had to face in the past centuries and the pain and sorrow of the Mother of God. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Sastín, built in 1744, quickly became one of the greatest and most visited pilgrimage sites in Slovakia, with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims coming here every ear to pray, including blessed John Paul II who visited Sastín in 1995, crowned the statue of the Virgin Mary and said: “I want to ask the Mother of God to offer her motherly help for the transformation of hearts… to watch over the spiritual life of Slovakia, especially the young generation, all those who are suffering and those who are looking for the truth”. About 250 churches and chapels are currently dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Slovakia, explains cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. As he says, presence of the marian devotion has been “inscribed in the history” of the Slovak nation for ages in a form of folk traditions, works of art exhibited in sacred places or preserved in the Catholic households. All these manifestations of faith and devotion could “lighten the spiritual experience of the marian year that could hopefully bring a rich fruit”, adds cardinal Tomko. Warm welcome for the pilgrims. Each month of the Holy Year will have its own theme starting with January and reflections over the fullness of the sorrows of the Mother of God. “We accepted the bishops’ idea of the marian year with joy and gratefulness”, says don Ján Cvercko of the Salesians of Don Bosco, administrator of the shrine in Sastín, adding that there’s a great deal of responsibility lying on the shoulders of the religious community to prepare the best possible conditions for the pilgrims, so that they “feel welcome and experience the mercy of God that can be carried in their hearts for the rest of their lives”. In a practical way it means that the program of the sanctuary will be extraordinarily rich this year, including three main events – the Rosary Brotherhood pilgrimage, the Pentecostal pilgrimage and the traditional National Pilgrimage due to culminate on 15 September (liturgical feast of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows). “We also plan commemorative events of various marian anniversaries falling on 2014, diocesan pilgrimages and the pilgrimage of the statue of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows around catholic parishes of the country so that the spirit of this year could reach everyone at home”, continues don Cvercko, expressing hope that the interest of the faithful also from abroad will grow. Desire for healing. The Bishops’ conference of Slovakia has issued a special pastoral letter on the occasion, focusing on interpersonal relations. The prelates point to a fact that more than 11,000 marriages fail every year in Slovakia. “Behind this number there are concrete destinies of concrete people, their mutual relations, their great desire for love, their ardour, but also their disappointments, traumas, pains and their thirst for healing”, write the prelates, emphasizing that moments of pain and sorrow rising from misunderstandings and violations in our relationships happen in life of each one of us. “We wish that the Year of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows could become an opportunity to heal everything that hurts”… inspired by the generous and brave example of the Mother of God who “teaches us that sacrifice and sorrow constitute a part of the way of real love. Love that would do anything for our good and sanctification”, concludes the letter.
The Bishops' Conference proclaims 2014 Year of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows