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»The Pope Loves You All!«

The visit of Pope John Paul II. in May 1996, is was one of the most resounding state visits since independence for the young Slovenian state. The organization of the visit was demanding and involved the participation of both state and church institutions. The Archivalia of May shows he program of the Pope's visit with a detailed description of the protocol. The words "Pope loves you!", which he uttered at a meeting with young people in Postojna, were a spontaneous response of enthusiasm that bypasses every protocol.

Program cover.

The program of the visit of Pope John Paul II. in the Republic of Slovenia, May 17-19, 1996. | Author Arhiv Republike Slovenije

The First Papal Visit to the Independent State of Slovenia

Pope Francis and his actions that reach the hearts of both believers and non-believers, has re-awakened the wish of the Slovenes for the third papal visit to Slovenia. Numerous invitations are being sent out by the highest ranking Slovenian statesmen and church dignitaries, but at present Slovenia is not on the list of the pope’s travels and visits in the near future.

We can, however, take a walk down the memory lane and remember the visit of the equally charismatic Pope John Paul II to Slovenia in May 1996. It was his 71st travel around the world and his 35th to a European state. The central theme of his visit focused on two events: to celebrate the gaining of the independence of the Slovenian state and to commemorate the 1250th anniversary of Christianity among the Slovenes. In fact, Vatican was one of the first states to internationally recognize the newly created independent state of Slovenia in 1992, which was of crucial importance for the establishment of our young Slovenian state in a wider international community. During his stay in Slovenia, Pope John Paul II also celebrated his 76th birthday. Many Slovenes still remember his words “The pope loves you all!” used to address the Slovenian youth who gathered in Postojna on his birthday on May 18, 1996.

For our young country, the visit of Pope John Paul II was one of the most important state visits after the gaining of Slovenian independence. Organizing this papal visit was a challenging task and one that required collaboration between state and church institutions. We are often unaware of the complexity of organizing such important events that eventually contribute to a wider recognition of Slovenia and Slovenes. Smaller countries, like Slovenia, find it much harder to gain international recognition and reputation than larger and more powerful states. It is only by means of such “big events” like the visit of Pope John Paul II that we manage to draw global attention; over 700 accredited Slovenian and foreign journalists, photographers and cameramen followed his stay in Slovenia.

This month’s archivalia provides an insight into the “Program for the visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II in the Republic of Slovenia between 17 and 19 May, 1996”. The document offers a detailed description of the protocol for the arrival of the pope at the Brnik Airport. It lists church dignitaries who were allowed to enter the plane, and describes the protocol of introduction and shaking hands with the highest representatives of the Republic of Slovenia. When disembarking the plane, the pope kissed Slovenian ground, brought for this occasion from geological centre of Slovenia. After ceremonial introductions, the Slovenian Police Band played the Vatican and Slovenian national anthems, and the pope and Slovenian president Milan Kučan paid their respect to Slovenian flag. The commanding officer of the Slovenian army reported on the line up of soldiers. After inspecting the Slovenian Armed Forces Guard of Honour, the pope and the Slovenian president delivered their speeches (see document “Papal visit to Slovenia – speeches”). The pope then greeted the crowd of people that gathered at the airport and received flowers from children. The afternoon part of the visit took place in Brdo pri Kranju, where the pope had a private meeting with the president Milan Kučan and some of the highest representatives of the Republic of Slovenia. The main event of the second day was the morning papal mass at Stožice hippodrome, commemorating the 1250th anniversary of Christianity in Slovenian territory. Attending the mass were 100 000 people from Slovenia as well as abroad. Next on the agenda was a talk with the Slovenian Prime Minister dr. Janez Drnovšek and the meeting with young Catholics in Postojna. On the third day he was in Maribor, where after the mass he visited the grave of Bishop Anton Martin Slomšek, had lunch with the then Maribor bishop and in the afternoon met with Slovenian scientists and cultural workers. The ceremonies concluded at the Maribor airport, where some of the highest representatives officially said goodbye to the distinguished guest.

Watching such important events, an average citizen may often wonder who the selected few are that get to meet such distinguished and famous world leaders. The aforementioned programme includes an accompanying document “The meeting of the pope with high-ranking representatives of the Republic of Slovenia at the Brdo Castle”, which lists those invited to the ceremony. A lot of us may also wonder who accompanies the pope on his travels around the world. The second supplement to the programme lists 28 members of the pope’s entourage. During the pope’s stay in Slovenia, Government Information Office set up a press centre in Cankarjev dom so as to provide domestic and foreign public with accurate and up-to-date information. In addition to the said programme and some general information about Slovenia, the Office also published all the speeches held during the papal visit in Slovenia, starting from the last speech that the distinguished quest held at the Maribor airport before his departure on May 19, 1996 to the welcoming speech of President Milan Kučan held on the pope’s arrival to Brnik airport on May 17, 1996. All speeches published within the press centre are available on the below.

Let me finish with a citation from Pope John Paul II’s farewell speech at Maribor airport in which he said ”It’s easier to face challenges of present time and work out satisfactory plans for their solution if we work together”. It should therefore not be forgotten that during the gaining of Slovenian independence, we were able to stand united and that it was cooperation that helped us pull off organization of the first papal visit in Slovenia in 1996. And now we are left wondering if we need to wait for the third papal visit to again unify Slovenes in their effort for common good.

Alenka Starman Alič