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Slovakia’s bishops relax vaccine rules around Papal visit

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Slovakia has widened registration for public events planned during a visit by Pope Francis that begins on Sunday to allow some people not vaccinated against COVID-19 also to attend.

Pope Francis is due to arrive in mainly Roman Catholic Slovakia on Sept. 12 for a visit culminating in an open-air Mass at the Sastin pilgrimage site in western Slovakia on Sept. 15.

Some 43% of people in the country of 5.5 million have so far been fully vaccinated or have received their first shot against COVID-19.

The Conference of Slovak Bishops said non-vaccinated people who have tested negative or who have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 180 days would also be allowed to register for the papal events.

Around 30,000 people have so far registered for the Mass to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows at Sastin, a site dedicated to the main patron saint of Slovakia.

Several tens of thousands of people usually attend events during a papal visit. A Mass in the neighbouring Czech Republic attracted 120,000 in 2009 when Pope Benedict visited.

Francis will be the first pope to visit Slovakia since John Paul II in 2003.

Photo: People are seen through Slovakia’s national flag as they walk outside in the village of Spania Dolina, Slovakia. EPA-EFE/MARTIN DIVISEK