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Pope calls for compassion while wrapping Slovakia pilgrimage

Pope Francis called on Slovakians to care for the poorest during his last post-surgery visit. He celebrated his final open-air Mass with thousands as he addressed the coronavirus pandemic.

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Pope calls for compassion while wrapping Slovakia pilgrimage

As Francis arrived at the vast field, he was greeted by cheering, unmasking crowds as he passed through Sastin. This is 15 km (about 10 mi) from Slovakia's western border.

Organisers claimed that 60,000 people attended Mass, which was the largest attendance at any event on the pope’s four-day pilgrimage through Slovakia.

It was the Our Lady of Sorrows National Shrine, Slovakia's most significant shrine to the Virgin Mary. This is where St. John Paul II prayed on 1995. On the feast of Slovakia's patron on Sept. 15, pilgrims come from all over the country to Sastin. Some spend the night in the field, while others stay the night to enjoy a better spot.

Erick Montalvo, a Mexican pilgrim, said that "you can imagine that he's excited because he is from Latin America." It's almost like you feel very close to him. That's a wonderful feeling."

Francis encouraged pilgrims to be compassionate during his homily and to live a faith that "identifies with those who suffer, are forced to bear heavy cross and are in pain."

He urged them to live a faith that doesn't remain abstract but is embodied in fellowship with the poor.

Francis only attended the Mass Wednesday morning before returning to Rome following a four-day pilgrimage in Hungary, Slovakia, and Budapest. This country is mainly Roman Catholic with 5.5 million inhabitants.

To get a barcode that allowed them to enter the site, pilgrims needed to prove their COVID-19 vaccination. With proof of negative testing or a cure of the virus, a few thousand pilgrims who were not vaccinated were allowed to enter. Face masks were not worn by anyone in the crowd.

New coronavirus cases are on the rise, with the dominance of the delta variant. They reached 760 on Tuesday, which is the highest number since April. For a total 12,566 deaths, four more people succumbed to COVID-19 Tuesday.

The virus has had a devastating impact on Slovakia, which was also the country with the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths per capita around the globe in February.

With slightly more than 2million people having been fully vaccinated, the country has one of the lowest rates of vaccination in the EU.

This solely religious conclusion capped a trip that was full of delicate state diplomacy. Francis met right-wing populist Hungarian Prime Minster Viktor Orban on Day 1, and extended outreach to Slovakia's Jewish, and Roma communities.

This was Francis' first trip since July, when he had to have an intestinal surgery to remove 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his colon. After being in the Vatican for more than a year, COVID-19 restrictions, he has been in great spirits throughout the long and difficult itinerary.

Francis has at most two additional trips planned for the year. One is a quick trip down to Glasgow, Scotland to take part in the U.N. Climate Conference in November and another trip -- not confirmed yet by the Vatican -- to Greece and Malta in December.

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