It added that the cardinal said that vaccination should not be imposed on citizens “in a totalitarian manner” and spoke of the possibility of microchips being planted under people’s skin, permitting them to be “controlled by the state regarding health and about other matters.”
Pope Francis, who received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, in January and February, has repeatedly encouraged Catholics to be vaccinated and has promoted the fair distribution of vaccines throughout the world.
He said in a public service announcement produced in collaboration with the Ad Council in August that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is “an act of love.”
“I pray to God that each one of us can make his or her own small gesture of love, no matter how small, love is always grand,” the pope said in the PSA, published Aug. 17.
The COVID-19 vaccine has been a controversial subject in Slovakia, where as of Sept. 15, only half of the country is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, well below the 71% of adults fully vaccinated in the European Union overall.
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A Slovak Academy of Sciences poll in July found that 36% of Slovakians said they did not want to receive the COVID vaccine, up from 30.9% in May. The same month, hundreds of people gathered outside Slovakia’s parliament in protest of possible new vaccine rules.
In July, Slovakia’s health minister and the Catholic bishops' conference announced that only those who had been fully vaccinated would be allowed to attend events during Pope Francis' Sept. 12-15 visit to the country.
But in early September, authorities eased this rule to also allow those with a recent negative test result or recovery from COVID-19 within the past 180 days to attend if they registered in advance.
Local media reports suggested that registration for the papal events had been at just 13% of their capacity, with 57,000 people having registered to see the pope as of Sept. 2, in a country of 5.5 million people, 62% of whom are Catholics.
“We knew there would be some problems with this,” Fr. Martin Kramara, the spokesman for the Slovakian bishops’ conference, told CNA in August, in reference to the obligation to be vaccinated.
At the time the decision was taken, the alternative given by the authorities was to have a maximum 1,000 people in attendance at each event, in spaces that could theoretically hold up to 50,000 people, Kramara said. He added that the bishops were tentatively expecting as many as 100,000 people at the pope's closing Mass at the national shrine in Šaštín.
Attendance at some events in Slovakia was lower than projected, with an estimated 25,000 young people present at an event in Košice’s Lokomotiva Stadium, half the stadium’s capacity, and about 60,000 at the national shrine in Šaštín, which could accommodate 100,000 attendees as originally tentatively projected.
Concluding his response to the question on vaccine skepticism, the pope said: “I do not know how to explain it well. Some say it comes from the diversity of where the vaccines come from, which are not sufficiently tested and they are afraid. We must clarify and speak with serenity about this. In the Vatican, everyone is vaccinated except a small group which they are studying how to help.”