The Slovenia Times

Slovenia Celebrates Feast of the Assumption


Legend has it that on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, the Virgin Mary appeared to two men near the ruins of an old church on the hills overlooking Strunjan. A chapel was built there soon thereafter, followed by a new church, named Church of the Vision of St. Mary.

As part of the celebrations, a painting of the Virgin Mary was taken from Strunjan to neighbouring Piran last week. On the eve of the Assumption, it will be taken back by boat, with pilgrims following to attend an evening mass given by Ljubljana Archbishop Anton Stres.

The main celebration of the Assumption will be held on Wednesday at the Brezje Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, one of Slovenia's holiest and most popular pilgrimage sites, where Archbishop Stres will give mass.

Strunjan and Brezje are among an estimated 330 churches in Slovenia dedicated to the Virgin Mary, well over 10% of all churches in the country, according to Franci Petrič, the editor of the Catholic weekly Družina. "It seems our nation feels close to Mary as a mother and a wife," Petrič told the STA.

Brezje is the centre of Assumption celebrations in Slovenia, drawing thousands of pilgrims on 15 August. But having been declared by the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church as a national sanctuary it is also popular throughout the year, with some 400,000 visitors coming annually.

Aside from its symbolic importance, the annual Assumption mass in Brezje is a platform for the dissemination of Church's political messages. Perhaps the most famous sermon there was delivered by Archbishop Franc Rode in 1997, when he condemned the "shameful Article 55 of the Slovenian Constitution", which makes abortion legal.

The sermon put Rode, who had just recently been named archbishop, on a collision course with the then liberal government and marked a clear break with the softer policy of his mild-mannered predecessor Alojzij Šuštar.

Last year, the Church used the event to rally support in opposition to a liberal family law and even gave the floor to Aleš Primc, the head of a pro-family initiative that later successfully organised a referendum bringing down the law.

This year's festivities come as the Church is rallying from one of its deepest crises in modern times.

Badly tarnished by a financial scandal that bankrupted the Maribor Archdiocese, the Church has come under severe criticism after it was revealed that retired Archbishop Alojz Uran had been ordered by the Vatican to leave the country, ostensibly because he had fathered one or more children.


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