Our Lady in the Czestochowa Icon continues "Her" journey across Slovakia. On September 3rd, "She" arrived at the oldest diocese in Slovakia, the Diocese of Nitra, where the beginnings of Christianity are closely tied to the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius.
The first place of visitation was Horné Lefantovce, where a large crowd of parishioners with their local pastor, Fr. Peter Michalov, greeted Our Lady accompanied by ringing church bells. Among those who were welcoming Our Lady was also the local mayor with his wife. The prayers at the local parish lasted until 2:00pm.
It is worth noting that the relics of the martyr who died for her faith during the brutal persecution by the Communists against the Czechoslovakian Christians post WWII, Bl. Zdenka Cecilia Schelingova, are located in this church in Horné Lefantovce. She was beatified in 2003 by Pope John Paul II as the first Slovakian woman to achieve the great honor of being raised to the altar. Following the farce of the Communist court process, the priests were then sent to prisons and labor camps, where they were persecuted and tortured. The convents and churches would be closed down. Bl. Zdenka was a religious sister and a nurse. She helped the sick Fr. Stephen Kostali, whose life was in great danger, escape from the hospital. She had planned to help six others, but the second attempt failed. She was arrested on February 29th, 1952 in the midst of another organized escape attempt. During the interrogations, she was tortured in numerous ways that included dunking her in a tub of water, stripping and hanging on a hook to beat her, dragging her across the hallways by her hair, shutting her in a confinement cell without windows and lights. She was convicted of high treason and sentenced to 12 years in prison and 10 year revocation of her civil rights. "To suffer for those who suffer and give my life for them" - that is how she explained the purpose of her life to one of the women imprisoned with her. She remained in a maximum security prison, where she was seriously ill. She died in a hospital in Trnava on July 31st, 1955, at the age of 38.
All the cathedral bells were ringing on the Zobor hill in Nitra, where Our Lady in the Icon of Czestochowa was arriving at the castle - Bell Andrew, Bell Swierad and Bell Benedict. All three bells were newly cast, as the old bells were destroyed during the Communist persecutions. It should be noted that the Cathedral Basilica of St. Emmeram located in Nitra has a wonderful history. Here, the relics of St. Cyril as well as the first canonized Pole - missionary eremite and martyr, St. Swierad-Andrew along with his disciple, Benedict, are found below the basilica.
The Ordinary of the Nitra Diocese, Bishop Viliam Judák, met Our Blessed Mother in the Icon at the Cathedral, assisted by a large group of priests and faithful. After the prayers, the bishop met with the organizers of the peregrination from the Slovak pro-life movement "Forum Żivota," expressing his recognition and support. After a couple of hours it was necessary to leave Zobor hill, and the driver of the Life Mobile had to pass the test of his driving abilities as he was exiting through a historic, low and narrow gate of the castle.
The next place of visitation was the Calvary of Divine Word Fathers at Nitra. Bishop Emeritus of the Trnava Archdiocese, Dominik Tóth, presided over the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He stated that "the life of every saved child is a great victory of the Immaculate Heart of Mary." Bishop Tóth pointed to the Virgin Mary saying that she is our only hope in the current situation of such a great attack of the culture of death. We have to imitate the example of the three children of Fatima in their willingness to pray and offer sacrifices for the world. We should also remember the words of Bl. Pope John Paul II in regards to the Third Secret of Fatima remarking that the world has entered into a spiral of death, but God in His Mercy can stop the punishment, if He can find people who are willing to offer themselves and ask for mercy.
As Anna Verešová, the leader of the organization "Forum Żivota" had emphasized that, "the peregrination of the Blessed Mother across Slovakia is accompanied by prayers for the intention of the protection of the civilization of life and love. Do not worry, we are not against anyone, but we are simply for life."