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9/25/2009 4:09 AM
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The Czech Republic (Česká republika),short form Česko, is a landlocked country in Central Europe. The country borders Poland to the northeast, Germany to the west and northwest, Austria to the south and Slovak Republic to the east.

The capital and largest city is Prague (Czech: Praha). The country is composed of the historic regions of Bohemia and Moravia, as well as parts of Silesia. The Czech Republic has been a member of NATO since 1999 and of the European Union since 2004. From 1 January 2009 to 1 July 2009, the Czech Republic held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Following the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Czech lands fell under Habsburg rule, later becoming part of the Austrian Empire and Austria–Hungary. The independent Republic of Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I.

After the Munich Agreement, German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the consequent disillusion with the Western response and gratitude for the liberation of the major portion of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army, the Communist party won A plurality (38%)[4] in the 1946 elections. In a 1948 coup d'état, Czechoslovakia became a communist-ruled state.

In 1968, the increasing dissatisfaction culminated in attempts to reform the communist regime. The events, known as the Prague Spring of 1968, ended with an invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries (with the exception of Romania); the troops remained in the country until the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when the communist regime collapsed.

On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into its constituent states, the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic.

The Czech Republic is a pluralist multi-party parliamentary representative democracy. President Václav Klaus (photo in the strip above) is the current head of state. The Prime Minister is the head of government (currently Jan Fischer). The Parliament has two chambers: the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. It is also a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Council of Europe and the Visegrád Group.

The Czech Republic made economic reforms such as fast privatizations. Annual gross domestic product growth has recently been around 6%. The country is the first former member of the Comecon to achieve the status of a developed country (2006), according to the World Bank. The Czech Republic also ranks top among the former Comecon countries in the Human Development Index.


Prague (Czech: Praha) is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic.

Situated on the River Vltava [the Moldau] in central Bohemia, Prague has been the political, cultural, and economic centre of the Czech state for more than 1100 years.

For many decades during the Gothic and Renaissance eras, Prague was the seat of two Holy Roman Emperors and thus was also the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

Today, the city proper is home to more than 1.2 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 1.9 million.

Since 1992, the extensive historic centre of Prague has been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Nicknames for Prague have included "the mother of cities" (Praga mater urbium, or "Praha matka měst" in Czech), "city of a hundred spires" and "the golden city".

[I find it one of the world's most beautiful cities, still full of Old World charm, like Vienna and Budapest, the two other great cities of the once mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire.]

The area of Prague has been settled since Paleolithic times. The city became the seat of the dukes and later kings of Bohemia. Under emperor Otto II the city became a bishopric in 973. Until Prague was elevated to archbishopric in 1344, it was under the jurisdiction of the Archbishopric of Mainz. It was an important seat for trading where merchants from all of Europe settled, including many Jews.

In 1257, Malá Strana (the Lesser Quarter) was founded in Prague on a place of an older village in the future Hradčany area. occupied by Germans mostly. The new district was on the opposite bank of the Staré Město ("Old Town"), which had a borough status and was defended by a line of walls and fortifications.

The city flourished during the 14th century reign of the king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV of the new Luxembourg dynasty. He ordered the building of the New Town (Nové Město) adjacent to the Old Town. The Charles Bridge was erected to connect the new district to Malá Strana.

Monuments by Charles include the Saint Vitus Cathedral, the oldest gothic cathedral in central Europe, which is actually inside the Castle, and the Charles University. The latter is the oldest university in central Europe.

Prague was then the third-largest city in Europe. Under Charles, Prague was, from 1355, the actual capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and its rank was elevated to that of archbishopric (1344). It had a mint, and German and Italian merchants, as well as bankers, were present in the city.

During the reign of King Wenceslas IV (1378–1419), Jan Hus, a theologian and lector at the Charles University, preached in Prague. In 1402, he began giving sermons in the Bethlehem Chapel. Inspired by John Wycliffe, these sermons focused on reforming the Church.

Having become too dangerous for the political and religious establishment, Hus was summoned to the Council of Constance, put on trial for heresy, and burned in Konstanz in 1415.

Four years later Prague experienced its First Defenestration (the act of throwing someone out the window as a political protest - in this case, the city's councillors out the window of the New Town Hall), when the people rebelled under the command of the Prague priest Jan Želivský. Hus' death, coupled with Czech proto-nationalism and proto-Protestantism, had spurred the so-called Hussite Wars. In 1420, peasant rebels, led by the general Jan Žižka, along with Hussite troops from Prague, defeated the Bohemian King Sigismund, in the Battle of Vítkov Hill.

In the following two centuries, Prague strengthened its role as a merchant city. Many noteworthy Gothic buildings were erected, including the Vladislav Hall of the Prague Castle.

In 1526, the Kingdom of Bohemia was handed over to the House of Habsburg: the fervent Catholicism of its members was to bring them into conflict in Bohemia, and then in Prague, where Protestant ideas were at the time having increasing success.

These problems were not preeminent under Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, elected King of Bohemia in 1576, who chose Prague as his home. He lived in Prague Castle where his court saw invitations to astrologers and magicians, but also scientists, musicians, and artists. Rudolf was an art lover too and Prague became the capital of European culture.

This was a prosperous period for the city: famous people living there in that age include the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johann Kepler, the painter Arcimboldo, the alchemists Edward Kelley and John Dee, the poetess Elizabeth Jane Weston, and others.

In 1618, the famous Second Defenestration of Prague provoked the Thirty Years' War, a particularly harsh period for Prague and Bohemia. Ferdinand II of Habsburg was deposed, and his place as King of Bohemia taken by Frederick V, Elector Palatine; however the Czech army under him was crushed in the Battle of White Mountain (1620) not far from the city. Following this in 1621 was an execution of 27 Czech lords (involved in the Battle of White Mountain) in Old Town Square and an exiling of many others. The city suffered subsequently during the war under Saxon (1631) and Swedish (1648) occupation.

Prague began a steady decline which reduced the population from the 60,000 it had had in the years before the war to 20,000. In the second half of the 17th century Prague's population began to grow again. Jews had been in Prague since the end of the 10th century and, by 1708, they accounted for about a quarter of Prague’s population.

In 1689, a great fire devastated Prague, but this spurred a renovation and a rebuilding of the city. In 1713–1714, a major outbreak of plague hit Prague one last time. The economic rise continued through the 18th century, and the city in 1771 had 80,000 inhabitants. Many of these were rich merchants who, together with noblemen of German, Spanish and even Italian origin, enriched the city with a host of palaces, churches and gardens, creating a Baroque style renowned throughout the world.

The Industrial Revolution had a strong effect in Prague, as factories could take advantage of the coal mines and ironworks of the nearby region.

The revolutions that shocked all Europe around 1848 touched Prague too, but they were fiercely suppressed. In the following years the Czech nationalist movement (opposed to another nationalist party, the German one) began its rise, until it gained the majority in the Town Council in 1861. Prague had German-speaking near-majority in 1848, but by 1880 the German population decreased to 14% (42,000), and by 1910 to 6.7% (37,000), due to a massive increase of the city's overall population caused by the influx of Czechs from the rest of Bohemia and Moravia and also due to the assimilation of some Germans.

At the beginning of the 20th century Czech lands were the most productive part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with 80% of Empire's industrial production and some Czech politics began with attempts to separate it from Habsburg empire.

World War I ended with the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the creation of Czechoslovakia. Prague was chosen as its capital and Prague Castle as the seat of president (Tomáš Masaryk). At this time Prague was a true European capital with highly developed industry. By 1930, the population had risen to 850,000.

Hitler ordered the German army to enter Prague on 15 March 1939 and from Prague Castle proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate.

For most of its history Prague had been a multiethnic city with important Czech, German, and (mostly Czech- and/ or German-speaking) Jewish populations. From 1939, when the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, and during World War II, most Jews either fled the city or were killed in the Holocaust.

At the end of the war Prague suffered several bombing raids by the U.S. Air Force. Over 1000 people were killed and hundreds of buildings, factories and historical landmarks were destroyed (however the damage was small compared to the total destruction of many other cities in that time).

Once the outcome of the war was decided and it was known that Germany would surrender to the allies, Prague revolted against the Nazi occupants on 5 May 1945 two days before Germany capitulated, on May 7. Four days later the Soviet army entered the city. The majority of German population either fled or was expelled in the aftermath of the war andw Prague fell under the militayr na dpolitcal control of the Soviet Union.

In 1967, the new secretary of the Communist Party, Alexander Dubček, proclaimed a new deal in his city's and country's life, starting the short-lived season of "socialism with a human face". It was the Prague Spring, which aimed at the renovation of institutions in a democratic way. The Soviet Union and its allies reacted with the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the capital in August 1968 by tanks, suppressing any futher dissent.

In 1989, after riot police beat back a peaceful student demonstration, the Velvet Revolution crowded the streets of Prague and the Czechoslovak capital benefited greatly from the new mood.

In 1993, after the split of Czechoslovakia, Prague became the capital city of the new Czech Republic. In the late 1990s Prague again became an important cultural centre of Europe and was notably influenced by globalization.

In 2002 Prague suffered from widespread floods that damaged buildings and also its underground transport system.

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Prague has become one of Europe's (and the world's) most popular tourist destinations. It is the sixth most-visited European city after London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin.

Prague suffered considerably less damage during World War II than some other major cities in the region, allowing most of its historic architecture to stay true to form.

It contains one of the world's most pristine and varied collections of architecture, from Art Nouveau to Baroque, Renaissance, Cubist, Gothic, Neo-Classical and ultra-modern.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/25/2009 7:22 PM]
9/25/2009 1:18 PM
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Posted earlier in the BENEDICT XVI NEWS thread.

Cardinal Spidlik says the Pope's visit
will help to unite Europe spiritually

Translated from
the Italian service of

Sept, 24, 2009

PRAGUE - Final preparations are being put into place in the Czech Republic for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI on September 26-28. He will be going to Prague, the capital; Brno, capital of Moravia; and Stara Bloleslaw, the site where the Czech patron saint Wenceslas was martyred.

His feast day on Sept. 28, the Czechs' National Day, is the occasion for the Pope's visit. Sergio Centofanti reports from Parague:

Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Serenely built, as Rome was, on the gentle slopes of seven hills, it is traversed by the sinuous Moldau River, which reflects the imahes of a parst that speaks to us of a Christian faith translated into Romanic, Gothic and baroque architecture. A pearl in the heart of Europe.

In these lands more than a thousand years ago, the brothers Cyril adn Methodius began their mission to lay down the first bridges between the Judaic-Greco-Latin world and that of the Slavs, inventing an alphabet for the Slavic languages so that the Slavs could read teh Gospel in their own languages.

The two brothers did not have an easy time of it, nor those who sought to emulate them. This is a land of martyrs. St. Wenceslas, who was killed because the Gospel does not favor teh interests of the powerful. St. Ludmilla, his grandmother, who was strangled to death simply because she gave her family Christian advice. St. Adalbert, pierced by a lance for preaching that Jesus was God made man. St. John Nepomuceno, who was drowned in the Moladau for refusing to reveal a secret of the confessional to the king. St. John Sarkander, who was tortured and killed because during the religious wars, he refused to be on any side but God's.

It is a land of pain and rebirth. In Brno, at the foretress prison of Spielberg, the Italian patriot Silvio Pellico, after eight years of suffering, rediscovered his faith and forgave his persecutors, and wrote the book "My Prisons", which was the first treatise on the rights of detained persons.

It is a land that has been vilated by two totalitarianisms, Nazism and Communism - both of which sold the illusory claim of building a world against God and without God.

Twenty years ago, the regime imposed by the Soviets fell, putting an end to the illusion that communism could rid mankind of all social adn economic cares.

And twenty years ago, John Paul II made his first of three visits here, and canonized Agnes, teh Bohemian princess who in the 13th century gave away all her goods to the poor so she could follow Christ's way of the Cross.

Mankind's anxieties have been well described by the great writer Franz Kafka, born in Prague, who lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In his works (Metamorphosis, The Trial, The Castle), man is overcome by a mysertious fate that he must expiate without knowing why. By an irresolvable evil that crushes life in the meanderings of a daily existence without sense.

John Paul II, in his three trips to this country, proclaimed the Truth which liberates man from this unsupportable weight and from teh violence that comes fron it. He announced the mercy of God. Which requires that man himself should forgive.

He asked forgiveness and offered forgiveness - for sufferings caused by the Church (he explicitly mentioned the Czech reformer Jan Hus who was burned at the stake in 1415)), and for the sufferings the Church underwent.

God's forgiveness has its own logic, its own grammar, and generates thlughts and actions that are completely new. Above all, it has its own mysterious timing to bear fruit which contemporary man, impatient in his perpetual haste, is unable to understand.

Benedict XVI comes to this land in the footsteps of John Paul II, with the same call not to be afraid, not to doubt, to always start from the basis of faith - the timing belongs to God. A Czech proverb says the mills of God work slowly but surely.

One of the outstanding personalities of teh Church in the Czech Repuublic today is Cardinal Thomas Spidlik, botn in Brno 90 years ago. A Jesuit, he was forced to work in the quarries under both the Nazis and the Communists. He became a priest at age 30 ddespite difficulties of all kinds.

A world-famous theologian who became known for his books on teh spirituality of teh Oriental Churches, he lives and works at the Centro Aletti in Rome with Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik (artist of the mosaics in the Padre Pio shrine in San Giovanni rotondo).

For almost 50 years now, he has worked with Vatican Radio, dlivering a meditation every Friday. John Paul II MAde him a cardinal in 2003.

Left photo, the two Czech cardinals Spidlik and Vlk (Archbishop of Prague); right photo, Cardinal Spidlik.

Helen Destombes spoke to Cardinal Spidlik about the Pope's trip:


John Paul II came here 20 years ago, after the Berlin Wall fell, and later wehen Communism itself collapsed and the new Europe was born. He said then that the purpose of his visits was to work for the spiritual unity of Europe.

Benedict SVI comes here 20 years later, to Prague, which is the geographical center of Europe. and so it makes us reflect once more: we need to build a Europe that is spiritually united.

The Pope's visit is not political but spriitual. The Czechs are a people of Oriental origin who have lived the past 2000 years in a wEstern civilization and culture. We can conciliate these two mentalities so that Europe - which for so long was divided in two - can become one Europe again.

Here's a 2004 report from Prague Radio about Cardinal Sidlik shortly after he got the red hat.

The second Czech cardinal

The Czech Republic has had two Catholic cardinals since the ordination of Tomas Spidlik in 2003. This week, Cardinal Spidlik was in the Czech Republic for the first time since then.

Ironically, his visit coincided with a spat between the Czech state and the Vatican after President Vaclav Klaus had rejected a draft treaty between Prague and the Holy See. [NB: The treaty is still pending give years later.] Despite this, Cardinal Spidlik is philosophical about his homeland's relations with the Catholic Church:

"I explained it to our President with a very simple comparison - when two young people get married, I tell them they love one another but that this will pass. I then tell them that they will have difficulties, which will pass also, but that they should never stop speaking to one another. When people keep talking to one another then the issue will be resolved."

Cardinal Spidlik is well known in the Czech Republic from his days as a broadcaster for Vatican Radio during the communist era. He is also a renowned scholar of Eastern spirituality. One of the reasons for his visit was to give a lecture on spirituality in the European Union. This is something Cardinal Spidlik feels is lacking despite closer economic integration:

"Europe is unifying economically and politically, but we have not achieved the spiritual unity of Europe. And that is something that we can anticipate, because in 2000 years we have amassed many beautiful things."

Cardinal Spidlik believes that Europe should focus on the ethical ideals that contributed to the continent's development so that it can establish common spiritual values. It could then present these to the rest of the world and use them as a bridge between the East and West.

Despite his own deep religious convictions, Cardinal Spidlik comes from one of the most secular countries in Europe. Although statistics show that a majority of Czechs claim to be atheist, Cardinal Spidlik doubts whether this actually proves that Czechs have really turned their backs on their Christian heritage and embraced modern rationalist values:

"Statistically, it is very relative. For instance, Czechs don't like to say that they are religious, but what they feel in their hearts is another issue. The Czechs are in the centre of Europe. They have always had western German civilization, but their origins are in the east. I always say that they have the German head and the Slavic heart. And when these are not sufficiently in harmony with each other, the consequences are catastrophic. We must find harmony and not be in conflict."

And what about the other Czech cardinal? Hre's a news item from CTK last February - weeks after it was known the Pope would be visiting the Czech Republic.

Czech Cardinal Vlk joins criticism
of Pope over Holocaust denier

Prague, Feb. 2 (CTK) - Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk has joined the critics of Pope Benedict XVI's decision to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust denier, British bishop Richard Williamson, Vlk has written on his website, daily Lidove noviny (LN) reported.

Prague Archbishop Vlk, primate of the Czech Catholic Church, wrote that Vatican had made an impression of having played down the step.

Vlk recalled that at the beginning he defended the Pope's "gesture of mercy" lifting the excommunication of four schismatic bishops, and tried to stand up against the wave of criticism it had stirred up.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is responsible for relations between the Vatican and the Jews, admitted that the Pope had not consulted his step with him, Vlk wrote.

"No one has apparently taken Bishop Williamson's opinions into considerations during this act," Vlk added.

"As a Catholic bishop I definitely condemn any anti-Semitism as it is incongruous with the Catholic Church's doctrine," Vlk wrote.

[But Williamson's anti-Semitism had nothing to do with why he was excommunicated! The Pope lifted the excommunication - that doesn't mean he condones everything that each of the four bishops stands for or does, if they do wrong!

In this case, it did not mean - even if the Pope knew about Williamson's negationism beforehand - that he was condoning it by lifting the excommunication. Why is it difficult for anyone with common sense to see that?

Lifting the excom from the four bishops was a class action, arising from the fact that all four were illegally ordained together on the same occasion. If in the meantime, one of them had been found to advocate apartheid or slavery, he cannot be exempted from the class action exercised by the Pope because objectionable socio-political views have nothing to do with why he was excommunicated to begin with. ]

LN writes that Czech theologist Odilo Stampach is of the view that the stance of Vlk and other Church dignitaries is very surprising, as the Roman Catholic Church is traditionally considered a strictly hierarchical structure with the Pope on the top having everything in control.

Stampach said the resistence towards the Vatican was a positive signal, proving that the Church is opposing the "retreat from the reform course," Lidove noviny writes .

[Tsk-tsk! Cardinal Spidlik's reference to the Czech's 'German education' is showing itself in the liberal Lehmann/Zollitsch-like reasoning of Stempach.]

The Vatican decided to lift the 20-year-long excommunications of four traditionalist bishops on January 14. The most controversial of them is Williamson who in an interview denied the existence of gas chambers and the extent of the Holocaust. This is why his rehabilitation leashed stormy criticism.

The Pope condemned Williamson's words and expressed solidarity with the Jews at a general audience on January 28.

I wonder if Cardinal Vlk - and any of the other dissident bishops for that matter - ever wrote the Pope after the March 10 letter to all the bishops, to at least acknowledge they got the letter even if they could not bring themselves to apologize for their distinct and deliberate lack of communion with the Successor of Peter.

BTW, The newsphoto agencies had these measly two photos today (two because there are two of each kind) to illustrate 'preparations' in Prague for teh Pope's visit. Looks to me like just a couple of picutres taken at the Church of Our Lady of Victory, home to the miraculous image of the Infant Jesus:

Why do they never take pictures of the posters and streamers that are usually in abundance for a papal visit? Even during the visit itself, they somehow manage to avoid taking pictures of these objects that most characterize a papal visit - in a way that hardly ever happens for anyone else, not even by a President of the United States!

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/25/2009 2:01 PM]
9/25/2009 8:00 PM
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I know I saw a story somewhere about the 'costume changes' for Prague's miraculous image of the Infant Jesus (and will post it later). Meanhile, Reuters's Per Josef took these photos as a Carmelite from the Infant Jesus shrine at Prague's Our Lady of Victory church replaced the statue's robes for the red ones in which Pope Benedict XVI will venerate the image tomorrow.

Preparing the Mass site
at Brno airport

The iron Cross will be left in place afterwards as a permanent marker of the Pope's Mass on Sept. 27.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/25/2009 9:28 PM]
9/25/2009 8:33 PM
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This is really a tribute to Cardinal Vlk, so I am not posting it in the BENEDICT thread. I wonder, though, if Allen was aware of Vlk's open opposition to Pope Benedict's initiative towards the Lefebvrians after militant Jews complained about Bishop Robinson. (See earleir story I posted from the Czech news agency CTK about such opposition in February.

The German shepherd
will bid farewell
to a 'wolf in winter'

Sept. 25, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI, the first German pontiff since the 16th century (or the 11th, depending on whether you count Adrian VI, born in Utrecht while it was still part of the Holy Roman Empire), has sometimes playfully been dubbed "the German shepherd."

To extend that zoological pun, this weekend in the Czech Republic, the German shepherd will share his stage with a wolf -- albeit a wolf by now in winter.

Left photo shows Cardinal Vlk bearing the cranium of St. Wenceslas at last year's celebration of the Czech national saint's feast.

At 77, and struggling with spotty health, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague (whose last name in Czech means "wolf") has announced that this will be his last major public event, and that he expects to be replaced by the end of the year. In effect, Benedict's visit is also Vlk's swan song.

One of the most remarkable Catholic prelates of the 20th century, Vlk is that rare figure whose biography seems to perfectly crystallize the larger dramas of his time. He's also perhaps the closest thing to an alter ego of the late Pope John Paul II on the European scene, so a look at Vlk's story may also offer some insight about the state of the Church, and John Paul's legacy, in the early 21st century.

Like John Paul, Vlk's path to ecclesiastical prominence was circuitous, shaped by the vicissitudes of life behind the Iron Curtain.

Born in South Bohemia in 1932, Vlk's original dream was not of the priesthood. Unlike the young Karol Wojtyla, however, who aspired to the theatre, Vlk's fantasy was to be an airplane pilot. By the time he got to middle school, a sense of vocation to the priesthood had begun to flower instead.

Following the 1948 Communist takeover of what was then Czechoslovakia, entering the seminary wasn't an option. Vlk therefore worked in a car factory and completed his military service, before earning a Ph.D. in library science and becoming a professional archivist.

It wasn't until 1964 that he could begin studies for the priesthood, leading to ordination in 1968 during the short-lived "Prague Spring".

After that brief window of hope was slammed shut by a flotilla of Soviet tanks, Vlk was marked as a potential enemy of the regime. In 1971, he was exiled to a string of remote mountain parishes; by 1978, he was denied permission to act as a priest altogether.

For the next decade, "Citizen Vlk" ministered in an underground catacombs church, while working during the day as a window-washer in downtown Prague. He later said that he was sustained during this period by the spirituality of the Focolare movement, founded by Italian laywoman Chiara Lubich and emphasizing unity across political and religious divisions. Vlk would later become one of Focolare's best friends, chairing its annual meeting of bishops.

His taste of repression inclined Vlk to be skeptical of the Vatican policy of Ostpolitik, or outreach to the Soviets, under Pope Paul VI and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli.

Papal biographer George Weigel, however, said that Vlk's critique was always "more thoughtful than you'd get from a true wild man of the resistance church." If nuanced, Vlk's anti-Communism was no less steadfast; as recently as 2006, he suggested that Communist parties perhaps ought to be banned in the same way that being a Nazi is against Czech law.

While he wasn't a protagonist of the 1989 "Velvet Revolution," which swept the Communists from power, Vlk was sympathetic to its aims. He would later carve out a warm relationship with dissident intellectual Vaclav Havel, an avowed agnostic who became the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic.

(Despite his agnosticism, Havel also has some common ground with Pope Benedict XVI. The pope's motto is "co-workers of the truth," while Havel described his political philosophy, shaped in the context of an Orwellian regime, as "living in truth.")

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vlk's upward movement was swift. John Paul II named him the Bishop of Ceské Budĕjovice in Budweis in 1990 (so yes, Vlk was briefly a "Budweiser"), and then in 1991 tapped him as the archbishop of Prague.

Vlk became a cardinal in 1994, by which time he was already a heavyweight in the global Church. Elected president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences in 1993, he would hold that post for almost eight years, succeeding the legendary Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan.

For the next decade, Vlk was widely tipped as a possible successor to John Paul II. In the end, however, his role in the conclave of April 2005 that elected Pope Benedict XVI was mostly as a footnote: he was the lone cardinal-elector whose last name didn't contain a single vowel.

In another parallel to John Paul II, Vlk rocketed to international influence and celebrity status while never being quite able to shake two persistent streams of criticism: Catholic traditionalists, who see him as a liberal modernizer, in his case literally a wolf in shepherd's clothing; and liberals of both the Catholic and secular variety, at least some of whom who regard Vlk as a conservative stick-in-the-mud.

Perhaps fueled by his formation with Focolare, unity has been a central passion of Vlk's career. His episcopal motto is Jesus's prayer from the Gospel of John, "That they may all be one."

Vlk took a lead role in promoting reconciliation between Czechs and Germans, no small challenge given that, in some ways, Czech nationalism has been defined over the centuries in terms of resistance to perceived German (and Austrian) aggression.

Czechs and Germans still fall into cycles of mutual recrimination for the German occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II and the post-war expulsion of more than two million ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland. An estimated 300,000 Germans died in what is today regarded as a classic instance of "ethnic cleansing."

Vlk pioneered an exchange of letters between the Czech and German bishops in the early 1990s, apologizing for past wrongs and offering forgiveness. Vlk styled that exchange as a model for civil society. For his efforts, Vlk was awarded the Grand Cross of Merit by then-German President Roman Herzog in 1999.

In a recent interview, Vlk acknowledged that Czech-German tensions are, despite his best efforts, still very much alive, reflected in speculation in some Czech media that Benedict XVI is coming to their country as "the voice of Sudeten Germans." (To this day, the Germans who were expelled, and their descendants, seek compensation from the Czech government.)

In what is arguably a sign of sensitivity, organizers have announced that Benedict XVI will not speak German while in the Czech Republic, but rather English and Italian. (For the record, Vlk says that's because English is more familiar to young Czechs, and Italian is "closer to the liturgy.")

Vlk has also been an ardent champion of Christian unity. His breakthrough success on that front came in 1999, when Vlk was instrumental in crafting an apology by John Paul II for the "cruel death" of the famed medieval Czech reformer Jan Hus.

Burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415 during the Council of Constance, Hus is considered a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation as well as a father of the Czech nation. In his 1999 speech, John Paul expressed "deep sorrow" for Hus' death and praised his "moral courage."

That act, which built upon consistent statements and gestures from Vlk, was widely praised for ushering in a new ecumenical climate, not just in the Czech Republic but across Eastern and Central Europe.

Vlk's interest in unity also naturally led him to broad support for European unification and for the Czech Republic's entry into the European Union, a position which at times put him at odds with conservative leaders.

(For some European Catholics, anti-EU activism is a signature issue, analogous to the anti-abortion struggle for Catholics in the United States. In those circles, the EU is seen as a vehicle for imposing secularism. Vlk is not unsympathetic; in a recent interview, he said that the rejection of an EU treaty by Irish voters came because the EU has "dropped its Christian roots." He also warned that the religious tone in Europe will increasingly be set by Muslims unless Christian values are restored.)

A defining feature of Catholicism in Vlk's part of the world is that the tensions which shaped the c\Church elsewhere after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), between reformers and traditionalists, were largely frozen in place during the Communist era. As long as Catholics were struggling to keep the Church alive vis-à-vis a hostile regime, they simply didn't have time to fight amongst themselves.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Church thus experienced its own form of "shock therapy," as developments and fissures that evolved over several decades in the West erupted all at once in the 1990s -- which meant, in practice, that they all happened on Vlk's watch.

In many ways, Vlk came down on the side of the reformers. One small example: Communion in the hand wasn't widely introduced in the Czech Republic until the mid-1990s, and even then a coalition of traditional priests tried to discourage it. Vlk shot them down, saying it had become normal practice elsewhere, and there was no reason why the Czech Republic should stand apart.

Vlk has been a champion of lay activism, again informed by his experience of the Focolare. He's also been an outspoken proponent of the need for the Church to come to terms with its own failures.

In 2007, when a scandal erupted in Poland based on revelations that some clergy had collaborated with the secret Communist-era police, Vlk condemned the popular conservative radio outlet Radio Maryja for trying to "sweep the whole thing under the carpet."

For his part, he's called for the Czech church to be a "house of glass," including cooperating with government inquiries about the role its clergy played under the Soviets.

Vlk has been sharply critical of the rise of far-right and xenophobic sentiment in Central Europe, joining Jewish protests in 2007 when right-wingers planned a march through Prague's Jewish quarter on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

In 2006, Vlk criticized a group of Lefebvrite Catholics who staged a conference in Prague, accusing them of sympathies for "anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism." Local organizers fired back that Vlk showed "ill will to socially ostracize Catholics who point to the negative consequences of liberalization processes in the church."

Vlk's reputation as a "man of the council" was cemented by his role in changing the theological climate at Prague's Charles University. During the 1990s the Catholic theological faculty under Fr. Vaclav Wolf was seen as a bastion of traditionalism.

According to local sources, Wolf had discouraged the admission of laity to theology programs, and had insisted upon a largely pre-conciliar curriculum -- a situation which not only produced intra-Catholic division, but also led to threats in 2001 of a loss of accreditation from the state's Education Ministry.

In 2002, Vlk withdrew Wolf's canonical license as a theologian. That led to the appointment of a new Jesuit dean who, as Vlk put it, would preside over "an open faculty which will cooperate with church and civil authorities in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council." (Wolf appealed to Rome, but Vlk's action was upheld.)

Inevitably, however, Vlk didn't move far or fast enough for everyone's taste. In 1999, one of the Czech Republic's best-known progressive priests, Dominican Fr. Odilo Stampach, announced that he was abandoning Roman Catholicism to affiliate with the Old Catholic Church in protest over what he described as harassment about his orthodoxy.

(Stampach taught at Charles University, where he repeatedly clashed with Wolf. Stampach has also been perhaps the most flamboyant voice calling upon the Church to come clean about its role during the Soviet era, including the alleged collaboration of priests with the secret police.)

Again to some extent like John Paul II, many of Vlk's defining successes came early, while his later years have been more ambivalent, marked as much by frustration as triumph.

Most notably, Vlk has fought a decade-long, and still unsuccessful, battle to work out a new legal framework for the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic, which would include resolution of some $6 billion in Church property confiscated under the Communists and never returned.

That includes almost a million acres of forest which formed the Church's traditional economic base. In 2004, Vlk agreed to waive restitution of much of that property in exchange for financial compensation, and at one stage a deal seemed within reach that would have paid the Church roughly $4.8 billion over sixty years (with interest, the final total would have been close to $15 billion).

That plan fell apart in Parliament due to opposition from leftist forces -- including, naturally, the Communists. It was merely the latest setback for Vlk, who seemed initially optimistic about a new climate for the Church post-1989, but who has since grown increasingly bitter.

More than once, Vlk has suggested that Czech politicians actually prefer the status quo, since in the absence of compensation or restitution of its property, the Church remains financially dependent upon the state.

Priests' salaries in the Czech Republic, for example, are paid by the government. A serious compensation package, Vlk has hinted, would give the Church an independence which some politicians fear.

(By the way, that suspicion is not simply paranoia. When the Communists began paying priests' salaries in 1949, it was with the explicit aim of making them more compliant. One consequence of the proposed compensation deal is that salary subsidies would be gradually phased out.)

To date, the Czech Parliament has also not ratified a new Concordat, or basic treaty, with the Vatican, making it the lone Central European state to fail to do so.

Things became so testy that in 2005, when John Paul II died, Vlk spurned suggestions that he call for a national day of mourning. "If this government wants to make a gesture," he snapped, "let it approve the Czech-Vatican treaty."

In 2006, the Czech government claimed the power to approve, or to reject, the opening of Church facilities such as parishes and charities, a move Vlk strenuously opposed. One year later, Vlk publicly defined Church-state relations in the Czech Republic as the worst of all Central European post-communist societies.

At a deeper level, Vlk shared John Paul's dream that the newly liberated nations of the Soviet sphere, where Catholics paid in blood to keep the faith alive, would awaken the West from its spiritual torpor, and he has also shared John Paul's disappointment that this dream has gone largely unrealized.

"We discovered that God was near when the rest of the world had forgotten us," Vlk said a decade ago. "Today, people are searching for religion the world over … not just religious theories, but the true living God. That's where our experiences may prove helpful in a Western context."

Instead, both John Paul and Vlk watched as the missionary tide in Europe flowed mostly in the opposite direction: the East assimilated Western values, lifestyles and patterns of consumption, without shipping much spiritual energy in the other direction (except, perhaps, for the growing number of Polish priests serving abroad.)

Truth to be told, the Czech Republic probably wasn't ever destined to become a spiritual exporter. According to Austrian sociologist Fr. Paul Zulehner, the Czech Republic and the former East Germany are the only two zones of the erstwhile Soviet sphere where state-sponsored atheism was an unqualified success.

Today, some 60 percent of Czechs say they have no religious affiliation, and while a third of the population is nominally Catholic, levels of Mass attendance and other indicators of religious vitality are notoriously low. For the last several years, more priests have died in Prague each year than were ordained.

Meanwhile, Czech society is rapidly embracing a Dutch-style ethos of tolerance. A domestic partnership law for gay couples was adopted in 2006, legal abortion is inexpensive and widely accepted, and polls show growing support for the legalization of euthanasia.

Echoing John Paul once more, Vlk has warned Czechs about divorcing freedom from truth -- becoming intoxicated with liberty, but failing to ask what ultimate ends that liberty ought to serve.

"All kinds of things have been transformed," Vlk rued not long ago, "but no one bothered about the transformation of hearts."

Faced with these disappointments, local observers say that Vlk has become a bit more withdrawn, especially in the face of health difficulties. (Vlk took an extended convalescence in 2008 due to heart problems, which he said were compounded by exhaustion.)

At least in terms of Vlk's public image, the populist prelate who once merrily revealed that as a young man, "various girls swirled around me, and one fell in love with me," has to some extent receded.

Czech journalist Petr Tresnak lamented in 2007 that Vlk has become a "crashing bore," and that in Vlk's twilight, the Czech church "shows zero internal life, movement or creativity."

As the clock winds down on Vlk's tenure, speculation inevitably has turned to who might come next as Archbishop of Prague. Local media have pointed to three names: Bishop Dominik Duka of Hradec Králové, a Dominican who spent time in Czech jails with Vaclav Havel during the Communist era; Archbishop Jan Graubner of Olomouc, widely seen as the leader of the local Church's conservative wing; and Norbertine Abbot Michael Josef Pojezdný of Prague's Strahov Monastery.

While there's certainly something to be said for each, most observers concede that none is likely to capture the same international spotlight as Vlk.

That's not to suggest, however, that the "wolf in winter" is quite done yet. Vlk seems eager to use this weekend's visit of a German Pope to deepen healing between Czechs and Germans.

With typical candor, Vlk recently said that neither society has done enough to promote reconciliation, because nationalist resentments remain too valuable a "trump card" for politicians.

Vlk is also hardly sitting out the current political crisis in the Czech Republic, which has seen a deal to allow new elections to replace an unpopular interim government fall apart at the last minute.

This week, Vlk published a column urging Czech voters to scrutinize the moral character of political candidates, looking past their "often nonsensical and naive promises for which there is no ground."

The current crisis, Vlk opined, is a logical consequence of the entire course of post-1989 development, which prioritized economic development over moral renewal.

Whatever balance sheet historians eventually draw, Vlk will inevitably loom as one of the great Catholic personalities of his time. If his batting average of success and failure isn't quite as high as that of his mentor, John Paul II, it's worth recalling that John Paul got to take his swings all over the world, while Vlk was fated to play in what is, by Catholic standards, definitely not a hitter's park -- the thoroughly secularized Czech Republic, where atheism, for all intents and purposes, is the state church.

One suspects that most Czechs, whatever their theological or ideological inclinations, will be cheering for Vlk's informal exit this weekend to go well. Certainly few figures in recent Catholic memory have done more to earn a rousing sendoff.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/25/2009 9:29 PM]
9/26/2009 12:12 AM
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The occasion for Benedict XVI's visit to the Czech Republic is the feast day of St. Wenceslas, patron saint ot the Czech Republic, whose feast day since 2002, is also the Day of Czech Statehood.

Who was St. Wenceslas?

Wenceslas, also spelled Wenceslaus; Vaclav in Czech. Duke, martyr, and patron of Bohemia, born probably 903; died 28 September, 935.

His parents were Duke Wratislaw, a Christian [said to have been converted by Saints Cyril and Methodius], and Dragomir, a heathen. He received a good Christian education from his grandmother (St. Ludmilla).

After the death of Wratislaw, Dragomir, acting as regent, opposed Christianity, and Wenceslas, being urged by the people, took the reins of government. He placed his duchy under the protection of Germany, introduced German priests, and favoured the Latin rite instead of the old Slavic, which had gone into disuse in many places for want of priests.

Wenceslas had taken the vow of virginity and was known for his virtues. The Emperor Otto I conferred on him the regal dignity and title. For religious and national motives, and at the instigation of Dragomir (his mother), Wenceslas was murdered by his brother Boleslaw. [What a bizarre story!]

The story of the murder in Wikipedia: "In September of 935 (in older sources 929) a group of nobles allied with Wenceslaus's younger brother, Boleslav in a plot to kill the prince. Boleslav invited Wenceslaus to the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Stará Boleslav, where three of Boleslav's companions murdered Wenceslaus on his way to church. Boleslav thus succeeded him as the Duke of Bohemia."

The body, hacked to pieces, was buried at the place of murder, but three years later Boleslaw, having repented of his deed, ordered its translation to the Church of St. Vitus in Prague.

The gathering of his relics is noted in the iturgical calendars on June 27, their translation on March4, and his feast day on Sept. 28.

Here is a more detailed account from Monarchs by William Sylvester::

Center photo, the altar of St. Wenceslas, one of 25 in in St. Peter's Basilica.

Wenceslas was born around 907 in Stochov Castle near Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic, the eldest son of Prince Ratislav and his wife, Drahomira.

Ratislav became king in 915 after the death of his father Borivoy. Preoccupied with matters of state, the king and queen left their son to be raised by Ludmila, his paternal grandmother.

Brought up at his grandmother’s castle, Wenceslas reveled in the outdoor life, helping with the harvest and preparing bread and wine for religious purposes, a task he enjoyed all his life.

Ludmila was a fervent Christian and educated her grandson in the Christian faith much to the distress of his mother who was a pagan. In the following years Ratislav and Drahomora brought four daughters and a son, named Boleslav, into the world.

When Wenceslas was only thirteen his father died in battle and his mother became regent. It did not take long before Drahomira showed her true colors and reverted back to her pagan religion.

The confusion resulting from Ratislav’s sudden death and the animosity between the old pagan and new Christian nobles, enabled Drahomira to consolidate her position.

She began persecuting the Christian priests in the kingdom, attempted to reinstate her religion and had Ludmila strangled in her castle at Tetin in September 921.

Drahomira now tried to undo what her mother-in-law had done and began including Wenceslas in her pagan ceremonies. The young prince, however, secretly continued with his private Christian services. He garnered support from the Christian nobles and when he turned 18 they rose in rebellion and deposed his mother.

One of his first acts was to reinstate the Christian religion and end the persecution of the priests. The young king’s Christian beliefs permeated his reign and he soon became renown for his acts of charity, especially the help he gave to the poor whom he sheltered and clothed.

All was not well within the king’s domain, however, for many of his pagan nobles still resented the return to Christianity, amongst them was his brother Boleslav.

The last straw was when Wenceslas, believing it was in the best interests of his people, swore fealty to King Henry I, the king of Germany and a Christian monarch. He felt that it was better to willingly recognize Henry than he forced to by conquest. His nobles were enraged at this, feeling that Bohemia should be a nation unto itself and not part of a foreign king’s empire.

Meanwhile, brother Boleslav was becoming troublesome. He had been raised with pagan beliefs and had the support of the pagan nobility. The same nobles responsible for the murder of Ludmila now had influence over the young prince.

The birth of Wenceslas’s son, which pushed Boleslav down the line of succession, was used to convince the king’s brother that if he did not act soon he would loose all chance to becoming king. They convinced Bolesalv that he should join them in their plot against Wenceslas.

The conspirators invited Wenceslas to attend a feast (of Saints Cosmas and Damina) that was to be held in the chapel of Boleslav’s castle. Though warned in advance that his life might be in danger, Wenceslas decided to ignore the warning and put his trust in God to see him safe.

When the Liturgy was over, the king was preparing to return to his own castle when Boleslav invited him to remain and join him and his friends in a drink. Wenceslas agreed and stayed for the rest of the day. As darkness fell he accepted his brother’s invitation to stay the night even though he had been warned of a plot against him.

The next morning, September 20, 929, he awoke, found himself still alive and set off for the chapel for his morning prayers. Boleslav and his henchman caught him alone and unarmed and stabbed him to death on the steps of the chapel.

Boleslav, who was now king, had his brother’s body interred in the church of St. Vitus and the chapel of St. Wenceslas was constructed around his tomb. In time the good king, though he had reigned for only five years, became the patron saint of Czechoslovakia.

St Wenceslas popular among all Czechs
25 September 2009

Vaclav Square in Prague's Old Town is dominated by the equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas, with the National Museum in the background.

Prague, Sept 24 (CTK) - Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech state whose day will be celebrated on Monday, is highly popular among Czechs, including those who are not church-goers.

This year, the mass following a pilgrimage to Stara Boleslav, central Bohemia, will be celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI who will arrive in the Czech Republic on Saturday.

In 2008, the pilgrimage recalled the 1100th anniversary of St Wenceslas's birth.

St Wenceslas fairs that were not organised during the era of Czechoslovak communism will be held in many Czech towns and villages during the weekend and on Monday, St Wenceslas Day and Date of Czech Statehood, which has been a national holiday since 2000.

"The cult of St Wenceslas is of crucial importance. He heads the Czech patrons, he is the most popular of them and his cult is the most widespread and has the longest tradition in the Czech lands," art historian Jan Royt told CTK.

As early as the 12th century, St Wenceslas was declared the eternal king of the Czech land.

Royt recalled that the cult of St Wenceslas was common both among Catholics and Utraquists, a moderate faction of the Czech Hussite reform movement.

The Hussites followed the teachings of Czech church reformer John Huss who died at the stake in 1415.

Thanks to 14th century Emperor Charles IV, statues of St Wenceslas can be found not only in all Czech regions but also in current Germany and Italy, Royt said.

He said the fact that St Wenceslas was a political saint probably contributed to his popularity.

"He was a respected politician and martyr, a representative of the Premyslid dynasty in heaven," Royt said, referring to the Czech dynasty that ruled Bohemia from the 9th century to the early 14th century.

St Wenceslas was murdered in Stara Boleslav by his opponents, probably on September 28, 935.

In the English-speaking world, the saint is immortalized in the Christmas carol 'Good King Wenceslas', written by John Mason Neale, a warden at Sackville College in England, and published in 1853. Sung to the tune of a popular 13th century Latin hymn to spring, it has been recorded by everyone from Joan Sutherland to the Beatles.

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."

Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."

"Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing

9/26/2009 5:56 AM
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Posted earlier today in the BENEDICT thread.

Pope Benedict to confront secularism
on his visit to the Czech Republic

by Jeffrey Donovan

ROME, Sept. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Pope Benedict XVI will confront secularism when he visits the Czech Republic, a former communist nation with a centuries-long history of religious and ideological conflict where the percentage of Roman Catholics is declining.

The Catholic leader, who speaks out often about the risk of secular Europe losing its Christian roots, arrives in Prague tomorrow for a three-day visit to one of the few European countries yet to ratify a treaty on relations with the Vatican.

The trip is his first as Pope to the Czech region, the theater of religious wars from the 15th to 17th centuries, and comes 20 years after the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in Prague.

“The Czech Republic is geographically and historically in the heart of Europe, and after having endured the dramatic events of the previous century, it needs, as does the entire continent, to rediscover the reasons for faith and hope,” Benedict said on Sept. 20 in Castelgandolfo, south of Rome, site of the papal retreat.

Benedict’s trip comes as religious practice is at a historic low in the country, where the government and the Catholic Church have yet to resolve a dispute over the restitution of property confiscated by the former communist authorities.

Atheist groups have called the visit a violation of the secular constitution, while critics of the Vatican’s ban on artificial means of birth control plan to hand out 10,000 condoms during a papal Mass in Brno on Sept. 27, the CTK news agency said on Sept. 24.

The Pope will focus his trip on the country’s dwindling Catholic population, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said. He “will encourage the local church to bring hope and vitality to a very secularized environment,” Lombardi told reporters in Rome on Sept. 23.

Benedict, 82, will address Czech political leaders and Prague-based diplomats in a speech in English tomorrow at Prague Castle. While German was spoken widely in the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia before World War II, the German-born pontiff will speak in public only in English, Italian and Czech during the visit, Lombardi said.

About 100,000 people, including pilgrims from neighboring countries, will attend the Mass in Brno, the capital of Moravia, the country’s most Catholic region, Czech Bishop Vaclav Maly told reporters in Prague yesterday.

Some 50,000 will be present when the Pope leads a ceremony celebrating St. Wenceslaus, the Czech patron saint, on Sept. 28 in Stara Boleslav, north of Prague, Maly added.

“His themes will touch on Europe, on the construction of Europe, on its Christian roots, and on democracy and freedom” in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the autumn of 1989, Lombardi said.

He added that the Pope won’t discuss relations with the Czech state or the property dispute, though such issues may come up in a meeting between Prime Minister Jan Fischer and Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state.

The Catholic Church has a tumultuous history in the region. Jan Hus, a forerunner of the Reformation, was burned at the stake by Catholic officials in Constance in 1415, becoming a national martyr. His death helped set off two centuries of religious wars that devastated the area.

Centuries of Austro-Hungarian rule that sought to re-impose Catholicism also left a lasting mark, said Father William S. Faix, a U.S.-born Catholic priest at St. Thomas Church in Prague.

In 1939, about 80 percent of the population was baptized Catholic, Faix said, adding that the number had fallen to 40 percent by 1990 and stands at just 20 percent of today’s population of 10 million.

The Czech Republic was the second-least religious country in Europe, after Estonia, according to a 2005 Eurobarometer poll, which found that only 19 percent of Czechs believed in God.

“The Czech nation was under the tutelage of the Hapsburgs from 1526 to 1918, and they did use religion as a source of centralization, and this created a sense of resentment on the part of the Czech people,” Faix said in a telephone interview. “They felt manipulated, ideologically and politically, and this was only exacerbated by the communist regime.”

Security high for Pope's visit,
public anticipation muted

By Tom Clifford

PRAGUE, Sept, 24 - A massive four-day police security operation will begin Sept. 25 for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

The visit comes against the backdrop of a domestic political crisis and a treaty, still to be ratified, between the Czech Republic and the Vatican.

One leading Church spokesperson claimed controversially that the
Church was "the largest alternative to politics causing the crisis we are witnessing."

The treaty has been the single most contentious issue between the Vatican and the Czech Republic and, while not officially on the agenda, it is highly likely to be discussed.

The Pope will arrive at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 26 at Ruzyně International Airport and depart at 5:45 p.m. Sept. 28.

He will celebrate Masses in Brno and in Stará Boleslav, where St. Wenceslas was killed in 935.

The security operation will include a parking ban at terminals 3 and 4 at Ruzyně Airport during the hours prior to his arrival and departure.

The Pope will stay at the Apostolic Nunciature on Voršilská street (between Národní street and Ostrovní street), where there will be "a complete ban on transit vehicles and parking" according to Lubomír Kvíčala, director of the Unit for the Protection of Constitutional Officials.

Karmelitská street in Malá Strana will be closed Saturday, Sept. 26, from 9 a.m. for about four hours until 1 p.m., said Eva Miklíková, spokeswoman for the Prague police.

Miklíková confirmed Hradčany Square outside Prague Castle will be closed from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 26.

On Sept. 27, there will be a massive security operation around Brno Tuřany Airport, where the pope will celebrate Mass. A 6-kilometer stretch of the D1 motorway near the airport will be sealed off to allow parking for 2,000 buses.

But Miklíková also issued a warning that further disruption to traffic in Prague is a probability.

"Further closures will be implemented by the police and will last as long as necessary if the need should arise," Miklíková said.
The police have confirmed there are no plans to close any bridges over the Vltava (Moldau) river.

As well as these measures, dozens of police vehicles will be on the streets of Prague, coordinated by eye-in-the-sky helicopters to ensure the smoothest flow of traffic as possible.

The Pope is visiting the Czech Republic not only as the head of the Vatican state but "as the symbol of Europe's own spiritual values," said Aleš Pištora, Prague Archbishopric spokesman. Pištora linked the visit to the political crisis facing the country.

"It is important to remember our own Christian roots, and, especially today, when the Church as guardian of this tradition is the largest alternative to politics causing the crisis we are witnessing."

The Pope will be in the Czech Republic officially as a result of a joint invitation from President Václav Klaus and the Czech Bishops' Conference, papal spokesman Juan Provecho said.

"The goal is to visit and support Christian life here. The Pope's words are an encouragement for believers and, for many at least, an opportunity for reflection."

The visit is not entirely related to pastoral matters. The Czech-Vatican Treaty, which has yet to be ratified, could provide a mechanism to resolve the status of Church property taken by the state and will be discussed at least on an informal basis, according to Church sources.

After the communists came to power in 1948, Church property was seized by the Czechoslovak state. Since the Velvet Revolution [of 1989], the return of Church property has been a contentious issue.

In 2002, a treaty on the position of the Catholic Church in the Czech Republic was signed but has yet to be ratified. It was rejected by the lower house of Parliament in 2003.

The treaty did not itself cover a settlement over disputed Church property but was seen as an important first step to settling issues between the church and state.

"The treaty between the Czech Republic and the Holy See is an international treaty that has been signed but not ratified by the Parliament of the Czech Republic," Provecho said.

"The treaty is certainly important, but, more importantly, in my view, is the will to work together. The treaty does not address property relations, but rather the promise of early settlement, which has so far failed. Unfortunately, we have not seen enough political will to complete the issue."

Pavel Bém, the mayor of Prague, acknowledged that it was an honor to have the Pope in his city but was cautious about the public's response.

"It is an honor, and the visit is important regardless of our beliefs. Prague has always been a place where different religious or political cultures meet, and the visit by the pope is a phenomenal event.

"In comparison with John Paul II, the role of the present Pope is far more complicated, but we will see how the public accepts him."

The Pope in the Czech Republic:
A voyage among non-believers


VATICAN CITY,Sept. 25 (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI is going to the heart of central Europe 20 years after the fall of communism ended restrictions on religion. But what he will find is a Czech Republic where nearly half the population professes to be non-believers.

Like an ancient missionary on his three-day pilgrimage starting Saturday, Benedict will try to reinvigorate the faith with a series of religious services, make a side trip to the traditional Catholic heartland in Moravia and repeat reminders of the country's Christian roots as he pays tribute to the nation's patron saint, Wenceslas.

The Czech Republic "like the entire continent, needs to refind faith and hope," Benedict told a crowd in St. Peter's Square on Sunday as he asked for prayers to make his pilgrimage a success.

"The Pope is traveling to the heart of Europe, where Christianity has made a central contribution,'" said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi. But he said that secularism is so widespread "that the practice of religion is reduced to a minority."

Even after Communism fell in 1989, the Catholic Church is still battling for the return of St. Vitus Cathedral, the Gothic centerpiece of Prague's Hradcany Castle that the Communists gave to the state along with other church property. It is used for religious services but ownership remains with the state.

The 82-year-old Pope is making the 13th foreign trip of his papacy, many of them centered around the warning that modern culture is pushing God out of people's lives and making religion irrelevant in public life.

It will be Benedict's first foreign journey since he broke his right wrist in a fall in his bedroom while vacationing in the Italian Alps in July. Doctors said the fall was not related to any underlying medical condition and that his overall health is good.

Decades of Communism dented religious faith in many countries — but the Czech Republic has been unusual in showing a particularly steep fall in the numbers of Church members since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

According to the 2001 census, some 3.3 million people in the nation of 10 million said they belonged to a church — down from 4.5 million in 1991.

A poll on the issue conducted by the STEM agency showed some 48 percent of Czechs saying they do not believe in God, while 28 percent are believers and 24 percent don't know. The margin of error of the poll was 2.5 percentage points.

The Rev. Tomas Halik, who was secretly ordained under communism and now teaches at Prague's Charles University, said the roots of non-belief date to Czech nationalism in the 19th century, when Czech lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the church was seen as the empire's ally.

The Communists took anti-Church policies to a new level of repression.

"The Czech part of Czechoslovakia witnessed an attempt to establish a totally atheistic society," Halik said. "The Church here was suppressed more than in any other Communist country."

The Communist regime, which seized power in 1948 in what was then Czechoslovakia, confiscated all the property owned by the churches and persecuted many of the priests. Churches were then allowed to function only under the state's control and supervision.

In 2008, the government drafted a bill that would compensate all religious organizations, including the Catholic Church, for property seized by the former Communist regime, but the bill has never been approved by Parliament.

The Catholic Church and the Czech government had long fought over rights to the 14th century St. Vitus Gothic cathedral, but the Supreme Court ended the dispute in March after some 17 years by ruling that it belongs to the state.

Pope John Paul II made three trips to the Czech Republic starting in 1990 in a push for religious revival after the persecutions of the communist years. Benedict visited Prague as a cardinal in 1992.

Brno-Turany airport and the Mass site. Inset shows its ultra-modern terminal building.

This week, workmen have been busy preparing for what is expected to be the best attended event of Benedict's trip, an open-air Mass beside the airport in Brno on a field that can accommodate as many as 200,000 people.

The Vatican estimates the number of Catholics as 3.2 million; the government puts the figure at below 3 million.

"I don't think that Czechs are less religious than other Europeans," Lenka Studena told Associated Press Television in Brno. "It's more that they lost trust in institutions."

In that they are not alone in Europe among lands emerging from Communism.

While about 78 percent of Germans say they believe in God, a 2007 survey showed, the number drops to 36 percent in the former communist east.

From an Italian site on the papal visit

which translates items from Czech sources:

A Czech-language biography
of Benedict XVI

Prage, Sept. 22 (CTK)- A biography of Pope Benedict XVI has been published in the Czech Republic in time for the Pope's visit.

Entitled (in English translation) Benedict XVI: A bridge between two sides, it was written by E. Munarova, who is in charge of catechism in the diocese of Ostrava-Opava, and Fr. T.C. Havel.

The authors describe Joseph Ratzinger on the basis of available historical and current data, and without hagiographic excess.

"What emerges is the portrait of a man who has always followed his conscience as a theologian worker in the vineyard of the Lord," the introduction says.

And although the Czech post office may not have issued a stamp to commemorate the visit, they have put out a commemorative postcard or envelop (I cna't tell asa I do not understand Czech)"

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/26/2009 5:57 AM]
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Here's the article John Allen alerted us that a Czech newspaper asked him to write for the visit. The accompanying cartoon is rather literal and crude, but the article is excellent, especially for the secular audience it is addressed to. Posted earlier in the BENEDICT thread.

The Pope still matters
Even in the increasingly secular West,
the Pontiff remains a key political and social force'

By John L. Allen Jr.

Sept. 23, 2009

Soviet Prime Minister Joseph Stalin, informed of an anti-communist declaration by Pope Pius XII during the 1940s, is said to have contemptuously asked, "How many divisions does the Pope have?"

Pius, a career diplomat and no stranger to Realpolitik, nevertheless offered a decidedly spiritual reply: "He will meet my divisions in the next world."

Forty years later, another Pope, John Paul II, wasn't quite so patient about picking up the gauntlet Stalin had flung down. By aggressively supporting the Solidarity movement, the Polish Pope helped send the dominoes tumbling that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism.

Today, Stalin is remembered as one of the arch-villains of the 20th century, while John Paul the Great is conventionally lifted up alongside Nelson Mandela and Gandhi as one of the century's iconic heroes.

All this offers a reminder that, while the Pope's divisions may belong to the next world, the social and political influence of the papacy is very much part of this one.

Forget about theology for a moment. In purely empirical, sociological terms, the Catholic Church is to religion what the United States is to geopolitics: the lone superpower, or at least the lone "indispensable nation," without whose involvement resolution of virtually any global crisis is difficult to imagine.

Worldwide there are 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, scattered in every nook and cranny of the planet. While Catholicism may be struggling in the West, it's exploding elsewhere. The Catholic population of sub-Saharan Africa went from 1.9 million in 1900 to 130 million in 2000, a growth rate of almost 7,000 percent.

Moreover, Catholicism is the world's most vertically integrated religious organization, with clear lines of authority radiating out from Rome down to local parishes in Africa, Latin America and points beyond. (As a thought exercise, try asking yourself sometime who's in charge of Islam, or Christian Pentecostalism, and you'll begin to see what makes Catholicism unique.)

Catholicism is also the only religious body to have its own diplomatic corps. The Holy See, the formal name of the Vatican as a sovereign state, has diplomatic relations with 177 nations (including the Czech Republic) and enjoys observer status with every major international organization, including the United Nations.

No global leader makes a trip to Italy without calling on the Pope, and usually that meeting draws far greater interest than a similar session with the Italian prime minister.

The papacy is the biggest bully pulpit on the religious stage. Analyses of global media outlets routinely show that the Pope (any Pope) is the most-covered, most-quoted religious leader in the world, easily outpacing his nearest rival, the Dalai Lama.

The unique blend of mystery, ritual and theater in Catholicism still captivates the public imagination. Can one really imagine Dan Brown selling millions of copies of a potboiler novel about the Lutheran World Federation?

To be sure, the papacy in the 21st century is not what it once was. Centuries of secularization have weakened its hold on the West, particularly in Europe, where, in some places, the Catholic Church seems a shell of its former self.

The numbers of priests and nuns have plummeted, less than 20 percent of European Catholics bother to attend Sunday Mass, and the Church's political weight is so attenuated that it couldn't persuade the European Union to include so much as a generic reference to God in its draft constitutional document.

Even in ultra-Catholic Italy, abortion and divorce are both legal, condoms are for sale just a few feet from the Vatican walls, and scantily clad women cavort every night on prime-time television.

Inside the Church, too, the Pope's authority is hardly absolute. These days, issuance of a Vatican ruling is tantamount to blowing a starter's whistle to see which bloc of dissident theologians and in-house critics can win the sprint to denounce it.

Opinion polls routinely show that majorities of self-declared Catholics in the West disagree with the Pope on all manner of issues, from birth control to female priests.

That said, Popes who know how to spend whatever social capital they have left can still change history.

John Paul II's role in ending communism is the best known example, but one could cite any number of other cases. In the mid-1990s, the Vatican and Islamic countries prevented a UN conference on population in Cairo from recognizing a right to abortion in international law. (Critics dubbed their intervention an "unholy alliance.")

In 2003, John Paul's staunch moral opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq helped the Muslim street to distinguish between the foreign policy of the Bush administration and broader Western sentiment, thereby dampening anti-Christian backlash in the world's 56 majority Muslim states.

More recently, Pope Benedict XVI set off a firestorm in the Islamic world with a Sept. 12, 2006, lecture in Regensburg, Germany, in which he linked Muhammad with violence.

Since then, however, carving out an "alliance of civilizations" with Islam has become Benedict's top inter-faith priority, and there's considerable evidence that it's working.

When Benedict traveled to the Middle East in May, Islamic leaders such as Jordan's King Abdullah and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, welcomed him with open arms, vowing to stand together against secularization.

However emancipated European societies may claim to be, they too pay close attention to the Pope. When Benedict XVI recently declared on a trip to Africa that condoms make the AIDS crisis worse, he was formally denounced by the Belgian Parliament, and Spain's Socialist regime shipped 1 million condoms to Africa in protest.

What's striking is that other religious leaders say this sort of thing all the time; it took the Pope to make secular elites react.

Even when the Pope stumbles, heads turn. ['Even when'? Especially when!] When Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist Catholic bishops last January, including one who is a Holocaust denier, without adequately explaining the logic for doing so, it set off a crisis in Jewish/Christian relations and triggered a global media frenzy.

In short, for good or ill, the Pope still matters.

To Catholics, of course, the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, so, even if he couldn't influence a single vote or draw the interest of a single journalist, he would still be a central presence in their faith.

Yet the most ardently convinced atheist ought to realize that religion remains an enormously important motivating force in human affairs, and that the Pope is the most important religious leader on the planet.

While it may take faith to recognize the Pope's spiritual authority, all it requires to grasp his relevance, even in the early 21st century, is opening one's eyes.

The author is the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter in the United States and the Vatican analyst for CNN and National Public Radio. He is the author of The Rise of Benedict XVI (Doubleday, 2005) and will be in the Czech Republic covering the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

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Posted earlier in the BENEDICT thread:

I find this reflection by Cardinal Vlk very moving - it seems so heartfelt, and while he is realistic, he is also full of hope when he describes what has been possible for the faithful in a society where 66% say they believe in God but in a God that has left the earth to mankind as its new masters.

In Prague, a small flock
will welcome a great Shepherd

by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk
Archbishop of Prague
Translated from
the 9/25/09 issue of

The visit of the Pope to a local Church is always a great event, which is extraordinary and unique for all the faithful,

Communion with the Pope, which is realized daily in the Eucharistic Prayer, when we remember him by name, becomes concrete and tangible during such a visit.

The faithful of our country were able to welcome Pope John Paul II three times following the collapse of Communism. Everyone lived them with great joy.

During the Communist era, the figure of the Pope was regarded with contempt by the regime. The Pope, called 'an enemy of the people', was calumniated, attacked, and humiliated by the Communists. The Vatican was considered a collaborator with capitalist imperialism.

Perhaps because of this, the Pope became for the people simply the 'father'. Our dioceses were without bishops because they were under house arrest or in prison. The Church, priests and faithful were persecuted.

With this painful background, it was almost taken for granted that the Pope came to be considered the 'father' and 'bishop' of everyone. It is easy to understand, therefore, what meaning John Paul II's visit had after the end of Communism in 1990. The difficult past had caused a very special love for the Pope to flower among the people. A love that has remained intact in many faithful to this day.

We have been waiting for a visit from Benedict XVI since 2005, the first time we invited him. He had to wait for the right opportunity. Last year, when he received the new Czech ambassador to the Holy See, Pavel Vosalik, the Pope expressed his desire to visit us. It was the Jubilee year for St. Wenceslas, marking the 1100th anniversary of his birth.

St. Wenceslas, martyr, occupies a special place in the spiritual history of our land. He is saint and martyr, and at the same time, the prince, the regent, the principal patron of the Church in our country.

St. Wenceslas's grandmother, St. Ludmilla, was baptized by St. Methodius himself in 800. It was she who transmitted the faith to her grandson, who educated him and raised him.

When Wenceslas governed Bohemia, Christianity was closely and indissolubly linked to the life of the nation. Historical sources describe Wenceslaus as a ruler who was very attentive to the needs of his fellowmen, especially the poor, the marginalized, those who were threatened. He gave himself fully, and served without thinking of his rank. And that is how he bore witness to Christianity before his pagan contemporaries.

His way of living was an inspiration for others. It has he, 'the eternal prince', who left his precious crown, symbol of his faith, to all the kings who followed him. But he was and remains he who brought Christian values into the roots our nation.

The sacred hymn to St. Wenceslas, which was the national hymn till the 19th century, says, "You are the heir of the Czech homeland". St. Wenceslas is the symbol of our nation and our Church which found their link in him.

I am very happy that the Pope will be in our diocese on the feast day of St. Wenceslas, on Sept 28, our national day.

I wish to recall, in this regard, that in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, on the right side of the transept, is the altar dedicated to St. Wenceslas, accompanied by St. Cyril and Methodius, apostles of Slavic faith. And that is how our nation, which is small but rich in saints, is linked to the Church of Rome.

We have shared the preparation for Pope Benedict's visit with all the nine dioceses, especially the two which the Pope is visiting. We all worked together in the preparation of the program for him.

The way we proposed for the spiritual preparation of the faithful was based on three pillars of the faith: faith, hope and love. Each of us bishops prepared a pastoral letter which was read at the Sunday Masses. And the central themes were likewise faith, hope and charity.
The priests spoke further of these themes in their daily homilies.

Each faithful was given a brochure entitled 'Let us prepare for the visit of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Czech Republic - Invitation and challenge to preparing for the encounter'.

It contains prayers, thoughts and inspirations for individual reflection, as well as for families and for communitarian use. We also distributed pictures of the Holy Father to everyone, with a prayer so that the visit may be experienced in an atmosphere of grace, in the hope that it may bring abundant fruits for the Church and for society.

In the last few days, all the parishes have been praying a novena. During this novena, the faithful are also able to attend prayers at the Archbishop's Palace at noon in order to pray together for the Pope.

The communications media of the bishops' conference and those of the dioceses, our Catholic radio Proglas, and our Catholic television Noe have been oriented towards the visit and will make possible the participation even of those who are physically unable to come to the events.

Even the secular media, radio and newspapers alike, have reported information about the visit which is, without a doubt, the greatest event of the year in the Czech Republic. That is why there is such attention from all sides.

Of course, those who will present themselves to the Pope as our ecclesial community are just part of his really 'small flock' here. In the 2001 census. some 19 percent of the country's 10 million inhabitants declared themselves Catholic, while 5% belonged to other churches.

The remaining 66% are not atheists in the true sense of the word, as they like to say in this country. Rather they are 'deists' - it means they accept that a God exists, but according them, that God does not concern himself with men, that he has left the earth to man who is now its master. It is a mentality that is difficult to detach.

After the fall of Communism, the Church enjoyed full freedom. But there are many problems continuing from the totalitarian era. For example, the State has yet to resolve the injustices carried out by the Communist regime. Above all, it has not returned the ecclesiastical properties confiscated by the Communists. They continue to be in the hands of the State.

The Church depends economically on the State, which pays the salaries of priests, contributes to maintain diocesan offices, and to some degree, it even helps in the maintenance of church buildings. But all this funding comes from the assets of the Church which are in the hands of the State.

Several years ago, two commissions, one on each side, prepared an agreement between the Holy See and the Czech Republic. Both sides signed the agreement but the Parliament has never ratified it.

Thus, even today, we live in a state of provisoriness, almost of precariousness. But we have been accustomed to living this way. At least, the life of this 'small flock' goes on, which was not all possible under Communist domination.

The lay faithful could not actively participate in the life of the Church. But now, they are working ever more actively in the parishes. Many, for instance, take part in Caritas, which is 'the face that our Church has for society'. Every year, we welcome new catechumens, among them many young people and converted adults.

However, in large strata of civilian society, the Church is kept at a distance. Substantially, one finds among them a negative opinion of the Church. They consider as to be on the edges of society, and see us only as a private association which is practically insignificant.

And that is why the visit of the Pope has a great significance for us. More so now when his beautiful encyclical Caritas in veritate has been published in Czech and widely distributed.

We are a small nation, and from the ecclesiastical point of view, our numbers are insignificant. The Pope has already visited countries which are far more significant in terms of number.

But that is one more reason for us to make of his visit to our nation, to our small Church, an event of great value. We, his small flock, beside him, will be considered - as we ourselves shall feel -an integral part of the universal Church.

We wish to welcome the Pope like Christ himself who told his Apostles: "Whoever listens to you, listens to me" (Lk 10,16) and "Whoever welcomes him whom I send, welcomes me" OJn 13,20).

The Pope comes with the power of the Word of Christ who told Peter: "And you...confirm your brothers..." (Lk 22,32).

A unique event in the history
of the diocese of Brno

by Mons. Vojtech Cikrle
Bishop of Brno
Translated from
the 9/25/09 issue of

For the first time since it was founded in 1777, the Diocese of Brno will receive a visit from the Successor of Peter.

The preparation for the Sunday eucharistic liturgy which the Pope will celebrate at the airport of Brno-Turany, in the presence of a hundred thousand faithful, was the fruit of broad cooperation among various religious and civilian organizations. This signifies how much the entire community shares the anticipation.

The celebration will take place near the international airport, in a wide natural amphitheater where the papal altar has been set up. It is a large covered stage, dominated by a 12-metere high metal cross which will later be transferred to the Cathedral of Brno as a permanent reminder of Benedict XVI's visit.

Along the road through which the Pope will be arriving by car is an 11-meter anchor which represents the theological virtue of hope, the principal theme of the celebration.

Next to the altar will be a statue of Our Lady of Turany, probably the oldest religious statue in all of Moravia. She is known as the Lady of the Thorns, from the bramble bush where she was found.

In past centuries, this Madonna attracted a great number of pilgrims. The faithful of the parish of Turany will accompany the statue as on a pilgrimage at dawn Sunday before the Pontifical Mass to bring it to the altar.

Many young people will be arriving in Brno on Saturday and will spend the night in a tent city set up for that purpose. The overnight vigil will be spent in prayer and reflection, as well as a 'Concert of Hope'.

The spiritual preparation for the Pope's visit was undertaken by the Czech bishops' conference in close collaboration with the Diocese of Brno. In Catholic churches across the land, five pastoral letters from the bishops were read. Two booklets were printed with prayers and meditations and given away to the faithful.

In the past few days, the parishes are praying a novena leading to the visit. In our diocese, many have welcomed the initiative we call 'Every day, an SMS from the Pope' which was prepared by our diocesan center for catechesis. The messages, sent to whoever wanted to receive them, are chosen daily from the Pope's three encyclicals. The participation was great - 8,000 registered in the first few days, and everyday since then, thousands more. For us, it was a source of surprise and joy, which also confirms the atmosphere of expectation that reigns during these historic days of vigil for the city.

I have also called on all the faithful of the diocese to come to confession before the Pope's visit. We have had to mobilize more confessors and to have them ready on demand even outside the usual hours.

What do we expect from Benedict XVI's visit? We know he is not coming to call attention to himself. He comes, in the fullness of his ministry pf service, to renew in us our consciousness of Christ's love, to remind us of the values of his Kingdom.

Spiritual life does not consist only in participation in liturgy, but above all, in a 'dialog with God". That is why the fruits of the solemn day which has been given us to live with him, will depend not only on the spiritual gifts that we may obtain, but also in how we develop them in our daily life afterwards.

So we expect to be encouraged to a life forged by the Holy Spirit in each of us, whhose fruits, are, according to the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, "love, joy, peace, patience, benevolence, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control"

Since the principal theme of the celebration in Brno is the hope that is founded on Christ, we also hope for new impetus in the search for hope in the civilian society and among persons who cannot manage to find it in a reality which, like that in our country today, does not allow any glimmer to come through.

We also hope the Pope's visit may bring many persons, even if they no longer call themselves believers, to ask themselves important questions on the sense to give to their lives, and to find in Christ and with Christ those answers that they have so exhaustingly sought.

I am sure that thanks to our meeting with the Pope, we will find ourselves more encouraged never to abandon this search and to persevere in it.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/26/2009 8:12 AM]
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Saturday, Sept. 26
SAINTS COSMAS & DAMIAN (born in Arabia, died in Syria 287)
Healers and Martyrs
Twin brothers beheaded under Diocletian

OR today.

Illustration: St. Wenceslas
Benedict XVI's addr3ess to Brazilian bishops on ad limina visit:
'The solidity of the Christian family is an answer to relativistic seductions'
Other Page 1 stories: A editorial on the Holy Father's trip to the Czech Republic which starts today (and three stories in the inside pages);
the G20 summit in Pittsburgh; and the UN Security Council dreams of nuclear disarmament.


Saturday, September 26


09.20 Departure for Prague from Ciampino airport.


11.30 WELCOME CEREMONY at International Airport of Stará Ruzyně
- Address by the Holy Father.

Church of St. Mary, Prague
- Greeting by the Holy Father

Presidential Palace.

Presidential Palace.
- Address of the Holy Father.

Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert.
- Address by the Holy Father.

NB: Italy and the Czech Republic are in the same time zone.


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi led civilian officials and prelates who sent off the Holy Father to Prague this morning from Rome's Ciampino airport.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/26/2009 2:06 PM]
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Before I get a chance to translate the in-flight interview given by the Holy Father enroute to Prague - Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale and Gian Guido Vecchi of Corriere della Sera, have posted their transcripts of the audio recording - I will useL'Osservatore Romano's news report on it, as published in tomorrow's issue (9/27).


An alternative to
a for-profit-only economy

At the start of his trip to the Czech Republic, Benedict XVI reiterates the need
to put back ethics and responsibility into the public debate

Translated from
the 9/27/09 issue of

In his now-customary encounter with newsmen on board the flight taking them to Prague on Saturday morning, Sept. 26, Benedict XVI more or less anticipated the themes of his discourses in the Czech Republic:
- The Christian roots of Europe
- The constructive role of the Church in building a common 'home' for all peoples
- The impact of Caritas in veritate in urging ethics in economics, and
- The need for dialog with those who consider themselves non-believers.

He also referred to his minor accident last summer when he fractured his right wrist and said he was on schedule with the second volume of Jesus of Nazareth.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican press director, presented the Pope with five questions chosen from suggestions coming from the newsmen themselves.

The Pontiff explained that this trip may be considered significant for the entire continent in the sense of building an authentic political and spiritual unity.

He said that the peoples of eastern Europe are undergoing a growth phase and are being called upon to take the place they merit as sovereign actors in the consensus of nations.

Nonetheless, he said, one should not under-estimate the price paid for forty years of repression [under Soviet-style Communism]. But the Pope also recalled the numerous priests, religious and lay faithful, men and women, who kept alive the flame of faith in those countries.

"These witnesses," he said, "taught us the great value of freedom, but have also taught us how to live it. When a nation suffers, then the concept of freedom matures as a counterpoint to the concept of dictatorship: the first is founded on the truth, and the second on lies."

This gives rise, he said, "to a lesson that is always relevant: freedom adn truth can never be separated, because freedom without truth will be destroyed."

Thus, he said, much more work is necessary to build true freedom, or better still, freedom that is closely linked to truth. He said the countries of Eastern Europe which experienced dictatorships 'based on lies' also showed the power of faith in helping people to resist and to recover lost values.

It is only right, therefore, to honor the peoples who have borne witness to that strength, and it is only right to call the attention of Europe to them, so that the continent may go back to searching its
Christian roots for a freedom based on truth - which, he pointed out, has nothing to do 'with libertinism'.

In this sense, said the Pope, the Church can do a great deal, even when it is a minority. "She can be a creative minority," he pointed out with so many values to transmit... which can be doneo even while carrying on a dialog with agnostics".

Those who call themselves non-believers, he added, "cannot be satisfied until they know everything about what they see, just as the Christian can never be satisfied only with what he knows".

As for the actual contribution that the Church can make, the Pope referred to two aspects: formation, as a response to the 'educational emergency' that the whole world is experiencing; and charity, as a contribution to mankind's common good.

On this subject, the Pope said he was very happy that his encyclical Caritas in veritate has engaged worldwide discussion. He said that it was necessary to find an alternative to an economy that is only geared for profit-making. And that in this sense, it is necessary to bring back ethics to the center of economic affairs - this being the great challenge in this time of crisis.

"I hope," he said, "that I have made an impact on this debate, but above all, that the debate continues." If only because, he said, the conviction must be consolidated that responsibility to others must be considered more important than the desire for profit.

The Pope reassured the newsmen about his health after his wrist fracture in Les Combes last July. He said, his rehabilitative therapy is in progress.

"As you see," he said, jestingly holding his arm forward, "I can do the essential things at least: I can eat and I can write" [with the right hand].

He said that the privation he most minded when his hand was in a cast was not being able to write.

Asked about his work on the second volume of JESUS OF NAZARETH, he said he was on schedule, and that if it continues well, he will finish the book by next spring.

At the Prague airport, in his first address to the Czech people, the Pontiff paid tribute to Czech culture, 'profoundly permeated with Christianity', and called on them to rediscover the Christian tradition that had distinguished the country's history.

"The truth of the Gospel', he said, "is indispensable for a prosperous society, because it opens us to hope and makes us able to discover our inalienable dignity as children of God".

The Pope's morning ended at the church of Our Lady of Victory, where the Pope issued an appeal for acceptance and respect of every human being. The person, he said, "should be valued not for what he has but for what he is".

Benedict XVI also had s special thought for children who are victims of violence and exploitation. "Children," he reminded everyone, "are the future and the hope of mankind".

Translated from the transcript

As in previous inflight interviews, five questions were chosen for the Pope to answer:

1. As you said at the Angelus, the Czech Republic is at the heart of Europe. How and why can this visit be important for the whole continent?

THE POPE: Throughout the centuries, the Czech lands have been a place for the encounter of cultures. Starting with the 9th century, in part of Moravia, we had the great mission of the brothers Cyril and Methodius who brought Byzantine culture from Byzantium itself, but also created Slavic culture by inventing the Cyrillic alphabet and a liturgy in Slavic languages.

In Bohemia meanwhile were the dioceses that proclaimed the Gospel in Latin, that is, a connection with Roman culture. Thus, the two cultures met each other. Every encounter is difficult but also fecund - and this can be shown by a few examples.

Let me jump to the 13th century and Charles IV who created here in Prague the first university in central Europe - in this case, a place of encounter between Slavic and Germanic cultures, especially in the centuries of the Reformation, when encounters and conflicts became decisive and strong.

Let me leap once again to come to the present. Last century, the Czech Republic suffer4ed through a particularly harsh dictatorship, but there was also a Catholic and lay resistance of the highest level - think of the texts of (Vaclac) Havel, of Cardinal Vlk and great personages like Cardinal Tomasek who clearly sent Europe a message of what freedom really is, and how we must live and build on freedom.

I think that from these centuries-long encounter of cultures - and particularly from this last phase which was not only of suffering, but also of reflection - there is a new concept of freedom. From a free society come so many important messages that can and should be fruitful for the construction of Europe. So we must pay careful attention to the message that comes from this nation.

2. [The second question is about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the historical phase it inaugurated].
As I said, these countries have particularly suffered under dictatorships, but were able to mature new concepts of freedom which are relevant today - and need to be further elaborated and put into practice.

It brings to mind a text of Vaclav Havel who said that dictatorship is based on lies, and that no one would lie in the light of truth, thus developing this link between truth and freedom. Freeom is not arbitrariness, nor libertinism, but it is linked to and conditioned by the great values of truth, love, solidarity, and of the general good.

Thus. I think that these concepts and ideas matured under the dictatorship should not be lost now. We should return to these concepts, recognizing that freedom today is rather empty and without values. We mustacknowledge once again that freedom is a value, freedom is an asset, that freedom and truth go together, otherwise freedom itself is destroyed.

That is the message that comes from these countries and which we should follow in our time.

3. [A question on the role of the Czech Church]
We see that normally, it is the creative minorities who deteremine the future. In this sense, I would say that the Catholic Church should see itself as a creative minority with a heritage of values which are not things of the past, but a reality that is very much alive and relevant, which should be actualized and made present in the public debate, in the fight for a true concept of freedom and peace, and thus contribute in various sectors, first of all in the intellectual dialog between believers and agnostics.

Both need each other. Agnostics should never be content not to know whether God exists or not, but should be in search of him and feel the great heritage that faith gives. The Catholic should not be content that he has the faith but should continue to find and know God. Especially in dialog with others, he must learn to know God more profoundly. This is the first level of cooperation - intellectual human dialog.

In the educational sector, the Church has much to do and much to give in the formation [of young people]. For example, let us consider Italy and its educational emergency, which is a problem common to the entire West. Education is something that the Church should always concretize and actualize, opening her great legacy to the future.

The third sector is charity. The Church has always had this as a sign of its identity - to be of help to the poor and needy, to be an organ of charity.

The Czech Republic does a lot in various situations of need and offers much to suffering people in other continents, thus giving an example that responsibility for others and international brotherfood are conditions for peace.

4 [A question on the encyclical Caritas in veritate, and whether mankind is more disposed to moral and spiritual reflection]

I am very happy for the discussion about it. This was the purpose, to incentivize and motivate a discussion of these problems - not to leave things as they are, but to find new models of a new responsible economy in individual nations as well as for all of a unified mankind.

I think it is now evident that ethics is not external to economics, that ethics is an internal principle of the economy, which cannot function unless it takes into account the human values of solidarity and reciprocal responsibility.

To integrate ethics in building the economy is the great challenge of the time. I hope I have contributed to this challenge with the encyclical. I find the current debate encouraging. We must continue to respond to the challenges of the world and help promote the idea that a sense of responsibility is greater than the desire for profit, that responsibility for others is stronger than selfishness. We wish to contribute to human economy even in the future.

5. [Question about his wrist fracture]
The problem is not yet fully overcome, but you can see that my right hand functions - at least, I can do essential things with it. I can eat and above all, I can write. My thoughts develop best when I am writing. It was a penalty as well as a school for patience not to be able to write for six weeks, but I could read and do other work.

I have made some progress with the book [JESUS OF NAZARETH, Part 2]. But there is still much to be done. With the bibliography and everything else, I think I can finish it next spring. But that is only my hope for now.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/27/2009 12:44 PM]
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Pope decries Communist-era persecution

PRAGUE, Sept. 24 (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI criticized the communist era's fierce religious persecution Saturday as he began a three-day pilgrimage to the Czech Republic, and urged the heavily secular nation to rediscover its Christian roots.

At a welcome ceremony at Prague's Ruzyne International Airport, the 82-year-old Pope spoke of how the communist regime, which was overthrown in 1989, ruthlessly persecuted the Roman Catholic Church.

"I join you and your neighbors in giving thanks for your liberation from these oppressive regimes," Benedict said, hailing the collapse of the Berlin Wall two decades ago this autumn as "a watershed in world history."

"Nevertheless, the cost of 40 years of political repression is not to be underestimated," the Pope said. "A particular tragedy for this land was the ruthless attempt by the government of that time to silence the voice of the Church."

"Now that religious freedom has been restored, I call upon all the citizens of this republic to rediscover the Christian traditions which have shaped their culture," he added.

Scores of pilgrims poured into Prague for the nation's first papal visit in a dozen years. But most Czechs seemed to shrug the trip off as irrelevant — and some were openly hostile.

"It's just a waste of money," said Kveta Tomasovicova, 56, who works at Prague's National Library. "At a time of economic crisis, when our salaries are going down, the visit is a useless investment."

Even the Vatican acknowledges the 13th foreign trip of Benedict's papacy casts the Pope as an apostle among the apostate.

Secularism is so ingrained in the modern Czech Republic that "the practice of religion is reduced to a minority," said the pope's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Even so, Czech organizers of the Pope's visit expect 100,000 faithful to pack an airfield for Sunday's outdoor Mass in Brno — the highlight of the visit. Some were expected to make the trek from neighboring Austria and Poland.

Under Communism, which ended with the 1989 Velvet Revolution that drew hundreds of thousands of Czechs to mostly nonviolent street protests, the church was brutally repressed.

The regime, which seized power in 1948 in what was then Czechoslovakia, confiscated all Church-owned property and persecuted many priests. Churches were then allowed to function only under the state's control and supervision.

An enduring symbol of that struggle is the 14th-century St. Vitus Cathedral, the iconic Gothic centerpiece of Prague's medieval Hradcany Castle. Two decades after the collapse of communism, the church is still fighting to recover it from the government.

That bitter restitution battle has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Czechs. And some — claiming the church cares more about property than souls — have drifted away from the faith.

In 1991, 4.5 million of the country's 10 million people said they belonged to a church. In 2001, a census showed that number had plunged to 3.3 million.

Recent surveys suggest the freewheeling drop continues. About one in two respondents to a poll conducted by the agency STEM said they don't believe in God. Another 28 percent said they considered themselves believers, and 24 percent were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

Moreover, the Czech Republic is one of the few nations in the world that has not ratified a standard treaty with the Vatican that spells out church-state relations.

"Czechs are getting less religious every year," said Klara Kucerova, a resident of the southern city of Brno, where the Pope will celebrate an open-air Mass on Sunday.

"They are more interested in horoscopes or other kinds of magical predictions," she said.

Underscoring the hostility toward the Church, a group calling itself Condom Positive planned to distribute condoms bearing a likeness of the Pope wearing one on his head and the words: "Papa said no! And you?"

Another group, Condoms for the Pope, said it would inflate prophylactics to condemn Benedict's assertion earlier this year that condoms are not the answer to Africa's severe AIDS problem.

The Pope's position "clearly shows us that he is more interested in preserving dogma than saving the lives of African women, men and children," it said in a statement.

At a stop Saturday at Prague's Church of Our Lady of Victory, home to a revered statuette of the infant Jesus, the Pope condemned violence and neglect against children.

"May children always be accorded the respect and attention that are due to them: They are the future and the hope of humanity!" he said.

The Pope was to meet later with President Vaclav Klaus and other current and former leaders, including Vaclav Havel, the playwright-turned-president who led the 1989 anti-Communist uprising.

After Sunday's Mass in Brno, the Pope returns to Prague to meet with local leaders of other religious faiths and with scholars at Prague's castle.

On Monday, Benedict visits the Basilica of St. Wenceslas — the nation's patron saint — in the town of Stara Boleslav, a popular pilgrimage site just northeast of the capital. He then lunches with Czech bishops in Prague before returning to Rome.

Associated Press Writer Karel Janicek contributed to this report.

Welcome Ceremony
Prague, Stará Ruzyne Airport

Pane presidente,
milí páni kardinálové a bratři biskupové,
Vaše Excelence,
dámy a pánové!

Mám velikou radost, že mohu dnes být v České republice, a jsem hluboce vděčný vám všem za srdečné přivítání.

[Mr President, Dear Cardinals, Brother Bishops, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great joy to be here with you today in the Czech Republic, and I am most grateful to all of you for the warmth of your welcome.]

I thank the President, Mr Václav Klaus, for inviting me to visit the country and for his kind words. I am honoured by the presence of representatives of the civil and political Authorities, and I greet them along with all the people of the Czech Republic.

As it is principally the Catholic communities of Bohemia and Moravia that I am here to visit, I extend a warm fraternal greeting to Cardinal Vlk, Archbishop of Prague, to Archbishop Graubner of Olomouc, President of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, as well as all the Bishops and faithful here today.

I was particularly touched by the gesture of the young couple who brought me gifts typical of this nation’s culture, together with an offering of your native soil. I am reminded how deeply Czech culture is permeated by Christianity since, as you know, these items of bread and salt have a particular significance in New Testament imagery.

While the whole of European culture has been profoundly shaped by its Christian heritage, this is especially true in the Czech lands, since it was through the missionary labours of Saints Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century that the old Slavonic language first came to be written down. Apostles of the Slavic peoples and founders of their culture, they are rightly venerated as Patrons of Europe. Yet it is also worth recalling that these two great saints from the Byzantine tradition here encountered missionaries from the Latin West.

Throughout its history, this territory at the heart of the continent, at a crossroads between north and south, east and west, has been a meeting-point for different peoples, traditions and cultures.

Undeniably this has sometimes led to friction, but in the longer term it has proved to be a fruitful encounter. Hence the significant part played by the Czech lands in Europe’s intellectual, cultural and religious history – sometimes as a battleground, more often as a bridge.

The coming months will see the twentieth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which happily brought a peaceful end to a time of particular hardship for this country, a time in which the flow of ideas and cultural influences was rigidly controlled.

I join you and your neighbours in giving thanks for your liberation from those oppressive regimes. If the collapse of the Berlin Wall marked a watershed in world history, it did so all the more for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, enabling them to take their rightful place as sovereign actors in the concert of nations.

Nevertheless, the cost of forty years of political repression is not to be underestimated. A particular tragedy for this land was the ruthless attempt by the Government of that time to silence the voice of the Church.

Throughout your history, from the time of Saint Wenceslaus, Saint Ludmila and Saint Adalbert to the time of Saint John Nepomuk, there have been courageous martyrs whose fidelity to Christ spoke far louder and more eloquently than the voice of their executioners.

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Cardinal Josef Beran, Archbishop of Prague. I wish to pay tribute both to him and to his successor Cardinal František Tomášek, whom I had the privilege of knowing personally, for their indomitable Christian witness in the face of persecution.

They, and countless brave priests, religious and lay men and women kept the flame of faith alive in this country. Now that religious freedom has been restored, I call upon all the citizens of this Republic to rediscover the Christian traditions which have shaped their culture, and I invite the Christian community to continue to make its voice heard as the nation addresses the challenges of the new millennium.

“Without God, man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is” (Caritas in Veritate, 78). The truth of the Gospel is indispensable for a healthy society, since it opens us to hope and enables us to discover our inalienable dignity as God’s children.

Mr President, I know that you wish to see a greater role for religion in this country’s affairs. The Presidential flag flying over Prague Castle proclaims the motto “Pravda Vítězí - the Truth wins”: it is my earnest hope that the light of truth will continue to guide this nation, so blessed throughout its history by the witness of great saints and martyrs.

In this scientific age, it is instructive to recall the example of Johann Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian Abbot from Moravia whose pioneering research laid the foundations of modern genetics.

Not for him the reproach of his patron, Saint Augustine, who regretted that so many were “more concerned with admiring facts than seeking their causes” (Epistula 120:5; cf. John Paul II, Address for the Commemoration of Abbot Gregor Mendel on the First Centenary of his Death, 10 March 1984, 2).

The authentic progress of humanity is best served by just such a combination of the wisdom of faith and the insights of reason. May the Czech people always enjoy the benefits of that happy synthesis.

Zbývá mi jen zopakovat: díky vám všem, a říci, že jsem se opravdu dlouho těšil na tyto dny mezi vámi v České republice, kterou hrdě nazýváte „země česká, domov můj“. Srdečné díky.

[It remains only for me to renew my thanks to all of you, and to say how much I have been looking forward to spending these days among you in the Czech Republic, which you are proud to call “zemĕ Česká, domov můj”. Thank you very much

9/26/2009 3:49 PM
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Pope delivers upbeat message
in ambivalent spot

PRAGUE - In the first spiritually evocative moment of his itinerary in the Czech Republic, Pope Benedict XVI paid a visit early this afternoon to the Church of Our Lady of Victorious, home to the famed statue known as the “Infant of Prague.”

The pope’s words were warm and devotional, even if the spot has a somewhat more ambivalent spot in the popular Czech imagination.

The 16th century statue of the child Jesus is known for its reported miraculous powers, but Benedict’s remarks today dwelt instead on the reminder it offers of Christ’s early years under the care of his parents, Mary and Joseph.

That led Benedict to offer a few words about the families of his listeners “and all the families in the world, in their joys and difficulties.”

“We pray for families in difficulty,” Benedict said, “struggling with illness and suffering, for those in crisis, divided or torn apart by infidelity.” Family harmony, the pope said, is important “for the true progress of society and for the future of humanity.”

The infant Jesus also offers a reminder, Benedict said, that every human being is a child of God.

“May our society grasp this truth!” the Pope urged. “Every human person would then be appreciated not for what he has, but for who he is, since in the face of every human being, without distinction of race or culture, God’s image shines forth.”

This theme of the family naturally led the Pope into a reflection on children, calling them “the future and the hope of humanity” and warning against their “exploitation by the unscrupulous.”

Strikingly, the Pope did not make two points which typically surface whenever he ventures into the theme of the family: opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

In general, Benedict’s approach on the first day of his visit to one of the most secular nations on earth appears to be to stress the positive, presenting Christianity as a resource for a more humane society.

Though the Pope’s tone was upbeat and affirmative, some local observers noted that the venue this afternoon was a bit more ambiguous.

The “Church of our Lady Victorious” was originally built as a Lutheran church in 161, at which time it was named for the Holy Trinity. The church was later reclaimed by Catholics and assigned to the Carmelites during the Counter-Reformation, after Protestant forces were defeated in the Battle of White Mountain in 1620.

In some ways, the Church of Our Lady Victorious became the symbol of what some Czechs remember as the forced re-Catholicization of their nation under Jesuit missionaries and with the official backing of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The church is built in the Baroque style, an architecture associated with the Austro-Hungarian period that stands in contrast to the Gothic look of other Czech landmarks.

Indeed, the word “victorious” in the name of the church recalls the Catholic triumphalism of that era, which still leaves a bad taste in some circles here.

Welcoming the Pope, Prague’s major, Pavel Bern, said that precisely because the Czech Republic “has the reputation of being one of the most atheistic societies on earth,” the papal visit is “an exceptional event … that means a great deal to us.”

Both before and after his brief remarks, Benedict spent time greeting the Carmelites in the church, as well as ordinary Czech Catholics who gathered both outside and in the church itself.

He was accompanied, as he will be throughout the trip, by the 77-year-old Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague, who has announced that this will be his last major public event before retirement.

The Holy Father offered a golden crown in homage to the miraculous image of the Infant Jesus.

Greeting by the Holy Father
Visit to the “Holy Infant of Prague”
Church of Our Lady of Victory

Dear Cardinals,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Children,

I greet all of you warmly and I want you to know what joy it gives me to visit this Church, dedicated to Our Lady of Victory, where the faithful venerate the statue of the Infant Jesus, known throughout the world as the “Holy Infant of Prague”.

I thank Archbishop Jan Graubner, President of the Episcopal Conference, for his words of welcome spoken on behalf of all the Bishops. I offer respectful greetings to the Mayor and to the other civil and religious authorities present at this gathering. I greet you, dear families, who have come in such large numbers to be here with me.

The image of the Child Jesus calls to mind the mystery of the Incarnation, of the all-powerful God who became man and who lived for thirty years in the lowly family of Nazareth, entrusted by Providence to the watchful care of Mary and Joseph.

My thoughts turn to your own families and to all the families in the world, in their joys and difficulties. Our reflections should lead us to prayer, as we call upon the Child Jesus for the gift of unity and harmony for all families.

We think especially of young families who have to work so hard to offer their children security and a decent future. We pray for families in difficulty, struggling with illness and suffering, for those in crisis, divided or torn apart by strife or infidelity.

We entrust them all to the Holy Infant of Prague, knowing how important their stability and harmony is for the true progress of society and for the future of humanity.

The figure of the Child Jesus, the tender infant, brings home to us God’s closeness and his love. We come to understand how precious we are in his eyes, because it is through him that we in our turn have become children of God.

Every human being is a child of God and therefore our brother or sister, to be welcomed and respected. May our society grasp this truth! Every human person would then be appreciated not for what he has, but for who he is, since in the face of every human being, without distinction of race or culture, God’s image shines forth.
This is especially true of children.

In the Holy Infant of Prague we contemplate the beauty of childhood and the fondness that Jesus Christ has always shown for little ones, as we read in the Gospel (cf. Mk 10:13-16).

Yet how many children are neither loved, nor welcomed nor respected! How many of them suffer violence and every kind of exploitation by the unscrupulous! May children always be accorded the respect and attention that are due to them: they are the future and the hope of humanity!

Dear children, I now want to say a special word to you and to your families. You have come here in large numbers to meet me, and for this I thank you most warmly.

You are greatly loved by the Child Jesus, and you should return his love by following his example: be obedient, good and kind. Learn to be, like him, a source of joy to your parents. Be true friends of Jesus, and always turn to him in trust. Pray to him for yourselves, for your parents, relations, teachers and friends, and pray also for me.

Thank you once again for your welcome. I bless you from my heart and I invoke upon all of you the protection of the Holy Infant Jesus, his Immaculate Mother and Saint Joseph

The Holy Father looks exceptionally gorgeous and radiant today! God bless...

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/27/2009 8:33 AM]
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Courtesy call on President Klaus
and address to Czech leaders
and the diplomatic corps

Here is a brief report translated from

PRAGUE, Sept. 26 - Pope Benedict XVI made a courtesy visit to the President of the Czech Republic at the presidential palace in the Prague Castle complex Saturday afternoon.

The Pope was welcomed at the VIP entrance by the Presdident's chief of cabinet and the commander of the honor guard who escorted him to teh Throne Room, on the second floor of the Castle's monumental complex, where he signed his name on the Golden Book of visitors.

Welcoming him to the Throne Room were President Vaclav Klaus and his iwfe Livia, before the private meeting between the Pope and the President in the Augsburg Room.

In another part of the palace, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone met with Prime Minister Jan Fisher.

After the meeting between the Holy Father and the President, there was an exchange of gifts in the Hall of Mirrors. The Pope met the President's family, and pictures were taken.

Later, he met briefly with the Prime Minister and the presidents of the Czech Senate and Chamber of Deputies.

They proceeded to the Spanish Hall for the Pope's address to Czech civilian authorities and the diplomatic corps.

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra offered a brief concert before the Pope gave his address.

has added more details based on information from Fr. Lombardi, correcting some of the earlier information given above:

The private meeting between the Pope and the Czech president lasted 15 minutes. The President's wife Livia was present. Afterwards tehy presented their daughter and her two children to the Pope.

The president's gifts to the Pope were a chalice in Bohemian crystal, two crystal candleholders, and a piano stool.

Before meeting with the Czech authorites and the diplomatic corps, teh Pope greeted the Prime Minister and the presidents of the two chambers of Parliament, as well as Vaclav Havel, the writer-intellectual who,as President of then Czechoslovakia, successfully carried out the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Fr. Lombardi said the Pope and Havel spoke in private, and in English. He said that meanwhile, Cardinal Bertone had a conversation wtih Prime Minister Jan Fisher with particular attention on how to promote international solidarity to help the poorer countries with the help of the Catholic Church.

The Pope's address
tp Czech authorities and
the diplomatic corps
Spanish Hall, Prague Castle

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful for the opportunity to meet, in such a remarkable setting, the political and civil authorities of the Czech Republic and the members of the diplomatic community. I warmly thank President Klaus for his kind words of greeting in your name.

I also express my appreciation to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra for the musical performance which opened our gathering, and which eloquently expressed both the roots of Czech culture and the outstanding contribution which this nation has made to European culture.

My pastoral visit to the Czech Republic coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the totalitarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, and the “Velvet Revolution” which restored democracy to this nation. The euphoria that ensued was expressed in terms of freedom.

Two decades after the profound political changes which swept this continent, the process of healing and rebuilding continues, now within the wider context of European unification and an increasingly globalized world.

The aspirations of citizens and the expectations placed on governments called for new models of civic life and solidarity between nations and peoples without which the long desired future of justice, peace and prosperity would remain elusive.

Such desires continue to evolve. Today, especially among the young, the question again emerges as to the nature of the freedom gained. To what end is freedom exercised? What are its true hallmarks?

Every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs, seeking to understand the proper use of human freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 25).

And while the duty to strengthen “structures of freedom” is vital, it is never enough: human aspirations soar beyond the self, beyond what any political or economic authority can provide, towards a radiant hope (cf. ibid., 35) that has its origin beyond ourselves yet is encountered within, as truth and beauty and goodness.

Freedom seeks purpose: it requires conviction. True freedom presupposes the search for truth – for the true good – and hence finds its fulfilment precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just.

Truth, in other words, is the guiding norm for freedom, and goodness is freedom’s perfection. Aristotle defined the good as “that at which all things aim”, and went on to suggest that “though it is worthwhile to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for city-states” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1; cf. Caritas in Veritate, 2). Indeed, the lofty responsibility to awaken receptivity to truth and goodness falls to all leaders – religious, political and cultural, each in his or her own way.

Jointly we must engage in the struggle for freedom and the search for truth, which either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery (cf. Fides et Ratio, 90).

For Christians, truth has a name: God. And goodness has a face: Jesus Christ. The faith of Christians, from the time of Saints Cyril and Methodius and the early missionaries, has in fact played a decisive role in shaping the spiritual and cultural heritage of this country. It must do likewise in the present and into the future.

The rich patrimony of spiritual and cultural values, each finding expression in the other, has not only given shape to the nation’s identity but has also furnished it with the vision necessary to exercise a role of cohesion at the heart of Europe.

For centuries this territory has been a meeting point between various peoples, traditions, and cultures. As we are all aware, it has known painful chapters and carries the scars of tragic events born of misunderstanding, war and persecution.

Yet it is also true, that its Christian roots have nourished a remarkable spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation and cooperation which has enabled the people of these lands to find freedom and to usher in a new beginning, a new synthesis, a renewal of hope. Is it not precisely this spirit that contemporary Europe requires?

Europe is more than a continent. It is a home! And freedom finds its deepest meaning in a spiritual homeland. With full respect for the distinction between the political realm and that of religion – which indeed preserves the freedom of citizens to express religious belief and live accordingly – I wish to underline the irreplaceable role of Christianity for the formation of the conscience of each generation and the promotion of a basic ethical consensus that serves every person who calls this continent, “home”!

In this spirit, I acknowledge the voice of those who today, across this country and continent, seek to apply their faith respectfully yet decisively in the public arena, in the expectation that social norms and policies be informed by the desire to live by the truth that sets every man and woman free (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 9).

Fidelity to the peoples whom you serve and represent requires fidelity to the truth which alone is the guarantee of freedom and integral human development (cf. ibid., 9).

Courage to articulate the truth in fact serves all members of society by shedding light on the path of human progress, indicating its ethical and moral foundations, and ensuring that public policy draws upon the treasury of human wisdom.

Sensibility to universal truth should never be eclipsed by particular interests, important though they may be, for such would lead only to new examples of the social fragmentation or discrimination which those very interest or lobby groups purport to overcome.

Indeed, far from threatening the tolerance of differences or cultural plurality, the pursuit of truth makes consensus possible, keeps public debate logical, honest and accountable, and ensures the unity which vague notions of integration simply cannot achieve.

In the light of the Church’s tradition of temporal, intellectual, and spiritual charity, I am confident that members of the Catholic community – together with members of other Churches, ecclesial communities, and religions – will continue to pursue development goals that possess a more humane and humanizing value both in this nation and beyond (cf. ibid., 9).

Dear friends, our presence in this magnificent capital, which is often spoken of as the heart of Europe, prompts us to ask in what that “heart” consists.

While there is no simple answer to that question, surely a clue is found in the architectural jewels that adorn this city. The arresting beauty of its churches, castle, squares and bridges cannot but draw our minds to God.

Their beauty expresses faith; they are epiphanies of God that rightly leave us pondering the glorious marvels to which we creatures can aspire when we give expression to the aesthetic and the noetic aspects of our innermost being.

How tragic it would be if someone were to behold such examples of beauty, yet ignore the transcendent mystery to which they point. The creative encounter of the classical tradition and the Gospel gave birth to a vision of man and society attentive to God’s presence among us.

In shaping the cultural patrimony of this continent it insisted that reason does not end with what the eye sees but rather is drawn to what lies beyond, that for which we deeply yearn: the Spirit, we might say, of Creation.

At the present crossroads of civilization, so often marked by a disturbing sundering of the unity of goodness, truth and beauty and the consequent difficulty in finding an acceptance of common values, every effort for human progress must draw inspiration from that living heritage.

Europe, in fidelity to her Christian roots, has a particular vocation to uphold this transcendent vision in her initiatives to serve the common good of individuals, communities, and nations.

Of particular importance is the urgent task to encourage young Europeans with a formation that respects and nurtures their God-given capacity to transcend the very limits which are sometimes presumed to entrap them. In sports, the creative arts and academic pursuit, young people welcome the opportunity to excel.

Is it not equally true that when presented with high ideals they will also aspire to moral virtue and a life of compassion and goodness? I warmly encourage parents and community leaders who expect authorities to promote the values which integrate the intellectual, human and spiritual dimensions of a sound education worthy of the aspirations of our young.

“Veritas vincit”. This is the motto that the flag of the President of the Czech Republic bears: In the end, truth does conquer, not by force, but by persuasion, by the heroic witness of men and women of firm principle, by sincere dialogue which looks beyond self-interest to the demands of the common good.

The thirst for truth, beauty and goodness, implanted in all men and women by the Creator, is meant to draw people together in the quest for justice, freedom and peace.

History has amply shown that truth can be betrayed and manipulated in the service of false ideologies, oppression and injustice. But do not the challenges facing the human family call us to look beyond those dangers?

For in the end, what is more inhuman, and destructive, than the cynicism which would deny the grandeur of our quest for truth, and the relativism that corrodes the very values which inspire the building of a united and fraternal world?

Instead, we must reappropriate a confidence in the nobility and breadth of the human spirit in its capacity to grasp the truth, and let that confidence guide us in the patient work of politics and diplomacy.

Ladies and Gentlemen, with these sentiments I offer prayerful good wishes that your service be inspired and sustained by the light of that truth which is a reflection of the eternal Wisdom of God the Creator. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings.

Benedict XVI offers Erasmus
for the 21st century


Prague, Sept. 26, 2009

In the court of popular opinion – certainly in the secularized Czech Republic, but to some extent everywhere – Christianity and its claim to transcendent truth are often seen as instruments of authority and control, inconsistent with a democratic spirit of freedom. The rejection of institutional religion by a broad swath of the population is often shaped, at least in part, by that root perception.

Across the former Soviet sphere, secularists often express the idea with a pithy phrase: “We didn’t overthrow the Reds just to submit to the Blacks,” they say, referring to clerical authority.

Pope Benedict XVI knows that impression all too well, which is probably why he devoted his address today to politicians and diplomats in the Czech Republic to a meditation on the relationship between freedom and truth.

Reprising one of his classic themes, the Pope argued that truth is not opposed to freedom, but rather is the door through which free people must choose to walk in order to realize the best versions of themselves.

In that sense, Benedict said, Christianity offers a key to “a new beginning, a new synthesis, and a renewal of hope.” The speech amounted to a classically Ratzingerian form of Christian humanism – if you like, a sort of Erasmus for the 21st century.

Benedict acknowledged, and applauded, the stirring for freedom that prompted the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and similar movements elsewhere, leading to the collapse of Communism. Yet freedom, the pope suggested, is not an end in itself.

“Freedom seeks purpose,” the Pope said. “It requires conviction. True freedom presupposes the search for truth, for the true good, and hence finds its fulfillment precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just.”

“Goodness,” the Pope said, “is freedom’s protection.”

For Christians, the Pope said, freedom has a name – God – and a face in Jesus Christ. That name and that face, the Pope said, are etched in the history of Europe.

“I wish to underline the irreplaceable role of Christianity for the formation of the conscience of each generation and the promotion of a basic ethical consensus that serves every person who calls this continent home,” the Pope said.

Aware that secular opinion usually sees religious conviction as a source of division – since competing religious claims are essentially irreconcilable – Benedict argued that transcendent truth is actually a necessary condition of social harmony. That's a condition, he pointedly added, which a secular spirit of “tolerance” cannot deliver.

“Courage to articulate the truth in fact serves all members of society,” he said, “by shedding light on the path of human progress, indicating its ethical and moral foundations, and ensuring that public policy draws upon the treasury of human wisdom.”

“The pursuit of truth makes consensus possible,” the Pope said. It “keeps public debate logical, honest and accountable, and ensures the unity which vague notions of integration simply cannot achieve.”

The alternative, the Pope warned, is “cynicism which would deny the grandeur of our quest for truth” as well as “relativism that corrodes the very values which inspire the building of a united and fraternal world.”

All that, Benedict suggested, is rooted in "a disturbing sundering of the unity of goodness, truth and beauty and the consequent difficulty in finding an acceptance of common values."

In that sense, Benedict said, Christianity offers society “a more human and humanizing value” by virtue of defending “the nobility and breadth of the human spirit in its capacity to grasp the truth.”

The Pope asserted that Christianity's vision of transcendent truth is reflected in the soaring architecture of Prague, which, as Benedict noted, is often dubbed "the heart of Europe."

Almost playing the part of a spiritual tour guide, Benedict added: "How tragic swould it be if someone were to behold such examples of beauty, yet ignore the transcendent mystery to which they point."

The Pope clearly seemed to want to distinguish his pitch from the stereotype many Czechs still hold of a Catholic Church which seeks social privilege and to impose itself by force.

“In the end, truth does conquer, not by force but by persuasion,” the Pope said. Truth prevails through “the heroic witness of men and women of firm principle” as well as by “sincere dialogue which looks beyond self-interest to the demands of the common good.”

Czech President Vaclav Klaus introduced Benedict XVI this afternoon, to an audience that also included former President Václav Havel, the dissident intellectual who led the Velvet Revolution and who served both as the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the new Czech Republic.

Though Havel and Benedict XVI might have their differences at the level of social policy, they share a fair bit of metaphysical common ground. Havel's political philosophy is called "living in truth," coined in the context of the country's erstwhile Communist regime.

Later this afternoon, the Pope will take part in a vespers service with the bishops of the Czech Republic. Tomorrow he travels to Brno, the most heavily Catholic region of the country, to celebrate a Mass at a regional airport expected to attract a crowd in excess of 100,000, swelled not just by Czechs but also bus- and trainloads of Slovaks, Poles, Austrians, and others.

The photos are slow in coming and are being posted by the news agencies at random....

Trivia: A not so itsy-bitsy spider
bugs the Pope in Prague

PRAGUE, Sept. 26 (AP) - A large arachnid appeared on the Pope's white robes as he addressed politicians and diplomats in Prague on Saturday afternoon.

The Pope didn't seem to notice at first -- but journalists following the speech on a large screen flinched as the spider inched toward Benedict's neck.

It disappeared from view for a moment, but then could be seen crawling up the right side of the 82-year-old pontiff's face.

When it reached his ear, Benedict gave it a swat. But it didn't go away - it reappeared on the Pope's left shoulder and scampered down his robe.

As the pope left the medieval Prague Castle's ornate Spanish Hall, the spider could be seen hanging from a piece of web.

In June, Obama now famously swatted and killed a fly that intruded on an interview for CNBC at the White House.

The Yahoo headline for this item had the phrase 'an encounter reminiscent of Obama's fly' which made me do a double-take! For a milli-second, I thought it didn't refer to an insect! Can you imagine if it had been a fly rather than a spider in the Pope's case, to have an unthinking headline writer call it 'the Pope's fly'???

P.S. The spider may be seen in the pictures above showing the Pope making his address. In the first picture it is on the right; in the second on the left.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/27/2009 6:09 PM]
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The Holy Father and Cardinal Vlk walked the few hundred meters from the Presidential Palace to St. Vitus's Cathedral for Vespers with the diocesan clergy, religiousand members of church movements.

St Vitus Cathedral

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet all of you in the words of Saint Paul that we have just heard in our Scripture reading: Grace and peace to you from God our Father!

First of all, I address these words to the Cardinal Archbishop, whom I thank for his gracious words. I extend my greeting to the other Cardinals and Bishops present, to the priests and deacons, the seminarians, men and women religious, to the catechists and pastoral workers, to the young people, the families, and to the representatives of ecclesial associations and movements.

We are gathered this evening in a place that is dear to you, a place that is a visible sign of the power of divine grace acting in the hearts of believers.

The beauty of this thousand-year-old church is indeed a living testimony to your people’s rich history of faith and Christian tradition: a history that is illuminated in particular by the faithfulness of those who sealed their adherence to Christ and to the Church by martyrdom.

I am thinking of Saint Wenceslaus, Saint Adalbert and Saint John Nepomuk, milestones in your Church’s history, to whom we may add the example of the young Saint Vitus, who preferred to die a martyr’s death rather than betray Christ, and the examples of the monk Saint Procopius and Saint Ludmila.

From the twentieth century, I recall the experiences of two Archbishops of this local Church, Cardinals Josef Beran and František Tomášek, and of many Bishops, priests, men and women religious, and lay faithful, who resisted Communist persecution with heroic fortitude, even to the sacrifice of their lives.

Where did these courageous friends of Christ find their strength if not from the Gospel? Indeed, they were captivated by Jesus who said: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).

In the hour of trial they heard another saying of Jesus resounding deep within them: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (Jn 15:20).

The heroism of these witnesses to the faith reminds us that only through personal intimacy and a profound bond with Christ is it possible to draw the spiritual vitality needed to live the Christian vocation to the full. Only the love of Christ can make the apostolate effective, especially in moments of difficulty and trial.

Love for Christ and for one’s fellow men and women must be the hallmark of every Christian and every community. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that “the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (4:32). Tertullian, an early Church writer, noted that pagans were impressed by the love that bound Christians together (cf. Apologeticum XXXIX).

Dear brothers and sisters, imitate the divine Master who “came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). Let love shine forth in each of your parishes and communities, and in your various associations and movements.

According to the image used by Saint Paul, let your Church be a well-structured body with Christ as Head, in which every member acts in harmony with the whole. Nourish your love for Christ by prayer and listening to his word; feed on him in the Eucharist, and by his grace, be builders of unity and peace wherever you go.

Twenty years ago, after the long winter of Communist dictatorship, your Christian communities began once more to express themselves freely, when, through the events triggered by the student demonstration of 17 November 1989, your people regained their freedom.

Yet you are well aware that even today it is not easy to live and bear witness to the Gospel. Society continues to suffer from the wounds caused by atheist ideology, and it is often seduced by the modern mentality of hedonistic consumerism amid a dangerous crisis of human and religious values and a growing drift towards ethical and cultural relativism.

In this context there is an urgent need for renewed effort throughout the Church so as to strengthen spiritual and moral values in present-day society. I know that your communities are already actively engaged on several fronts, especially in charitable work, carried out under the auspices of Caritas.

Your pastoral activity in the field of educating new generations should be undertaken with particular zeal. Catholic schools should foster respect for the human person; attention should also be given to the pastoral care of young people outside the school environment, without neglecting other groups of the faithful. Christ is for everyone! I sincerely hope that there will be a growing accord with other institutions, both public and private.

It is always worth repeating that the Church does not seek privileges, but only to be able to work freely in the service of all, in the spirit of the Gospel.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord in his goodness make you like the salt spoken of in the Gospel, salt that gives savour to life, so that you may be faithful labourers in the Lord’s vineyard.

Dear Bishops and priests, it is your task to work tirelessly for the good of those entrusted to your care. Always draw inspiration from the Gospel image of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep, calls them by name, leads them to safe pastures, and is prepared to give his life for them (cf. Jn 10:1-19).

Dear consecrated persons, by professing the evangelical counsels you recall the primacy that each of us must give to God in our lives. By living in community, you bear witness to the enrichment that comes from practising the commandment of love (cf. Jn 13:34).

By your fidelity to this vocation, you will help the men and women of today to let themselves be captivated by God and by the Gospel of his Son (cf. Vita Consecrata, 104).

And you, dear young people in seminaries or houses of formation, be sure to acquire a solid cultural, spiritual and pastoral preparation. In this Year of Priests, with which I chose to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of the Curé d’Ars, may you learn from the example of this pastor who was completely dedicated to God and to the care of souls; he was well aware that it was his ministry, nourished by prayer, that constituted his path to sanctification.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, with gratitude to the Lord, we shall be marking a number of anniversaries this year: the 280th anniversary of the canonization of Saint John Nepomuk, the 80th anniversary of the dedication of Saint Vitus’ Cathedral, and the 20th anniversary of the canonization of Saint Agnes of Bohemia, the event which heralded your country’s deliverance from atheist oppression.

All these are good reasons for persevering in the journey of faith with joy and enthusiasm, counting on the maternal intercession of Mary, Mother of God, and all your Patron Saints. Amen!

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/27/2009 6:22 AM]
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Thanks a lot, Marketa!

The site contains videoclips of the events on the Pope's first day in Prague - with natural sounds. Very refreshing for a change.

I hope you had a chance to see the Pope today - and that you can tell us about it.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/26/2009 11:03 PM]
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The logic of encounter
by Giovanni Maria Vian
Translated from
the 9/27/09 issue of

And the non-logic of the OR's picture choices!

What kind of editorial judgment would choose to use just one picture of the Pope's Prague trip on Page 1, choosing to go instead with a completely 'non-news' group picture of the G20 leaders' wives, for heaven's sake! It's not as if the OR had to appeal to a women's demographic...

And why choose a picture (right) where the feature that jumps at you is the cross-bearer's nose reflected on the Cross and you have to search the photo for where the Pope is - a speck in the background?

Encounter is the key word that Benedict XVI chose, on the flight to Prague, to describe his trip to the Czech Republic, the 13th international trip of his Pontificate, to the journalists travelling with him to the heart of the European continent.

Indeed, the lands of Bohemia and Moravia are a crossroads of cultures and peoples, because of their geographical location, but even more because of their history which has had its share of conflicts, of course, but equally, of fruitful encounters.

Starting with the confluence of two traditions, the Western and the Eastern, which the Church breathes, implanted in the region by Saints Cyril and Methodius, on the one hand, and by Latin missionaries, on the other.

This long history of encounters and conflicts [in Italian, 'incontri e scontri'] - which is common to other nations of central and eastern Europe - has also marked the second half of the 20th century [Just half? Rather, all of the 20th century, because World War I was a quintessential culmination of such encounters and conflicts!]. Right up to the resistance against the asphyxiating Communist regime which was experienced by Catholics and seculars alike.

They lived through it with suffering but also maturation which contributed to shape a new concept of freedom based on truth as much as dictatorship was based on lies.

So the Pope said in Prague, explicitly rendering homage to Vaclav Havel, the writer who was a leading opponent of the Communist regime and later led the Velvet Revolution whose 20th anniversary Czechs observe this year, becoming his reborn nation's first President.

But the freedom regained is now rather empty and therefore at risk in a highly secularized country where Catholics are now a minority.

Nonetheless, they are a creative minority, according to Benedict XVI, who can construct the future living values that are not just of the past. And therefore, they must be counted in the public debate between agnostics and believers, thanks to the contribution that the Church can offer on the cultural level, along with her presence in the fields of education and of charitable works.

As proven by the encyclical Caritas in veritate, Catholic presence in the contemporary scene has opened a discussion that the Pope finds encouraging. That in fact, things should not be left as they are, nor can one think of a new economic and social order without ethical principles.

This is the great challenge that Benedict XVI sees, confident in reason as a common principle and in responsibility that is stronger than any form of selfishness. In Europe and in the world.

The power of Christ's love
by Mario Ponzi
Translated from
the 9/27/09 issue of

'Láska Kristova je nasí silou': The love of Christ is our strength.

In Prague, one sees it almost everywhere these days - the slogan chosen for Benedict XVI's visit to the Czech Republic. It is found on a giant streamer across the viewing terrace of Prague's international airport Stara Ruzyne, where the Pope arrive on Saturday morning.

It would have been the first thing noticed by the Pope as he came down the plane steps. The Czech bishops had thought long and hard, and finally chose it, with the Pope's agreement, to express and contain the sense that these days of the papal visit should carry.

The people of Bohemia and Moravia should fully draw from that sense to discover that being Christian is not an 'insignificant detail' - as one often hears it said here - but represents that which has sustained them in their most difficult moments.

All the nation's leading authorities were at the airport. This visit had been awaited for at least 3-4 years. Bishops and politicians had repeatedly expressed the wish that the Pope would visit them. The Pope waited for the right occasion.

Today, the trip has materialized to coincide with many anniversaries linked to the testimony of saints and martyrs produced by these peoples and their Church through recurrent persecutions. From which they emerged with fierce pride.

The trip calso takes place as central and eastern Europe are marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of Communism. Now, the Pope is here, in the heart of the continent, to help them mark that event.

Though he is addressing the Czechs here, he is really addressing all of Europe - as he indicated at the Angelus last Sunday when he asked the faithful to pray for this mission of his.

But he is not here to celebrate the fall of communism. He is here to speak of Christ's love, of forgiveness and of reconciliation.

The welcome ceremony took place according to usual protocol. The Apostolic Nuncio in Prague, Archbishop Diego Causero, went into the airplane to give the first greeting and then followed the Pope down the steps.

At the head of the red carpet, a greeting from President Vaclav Klaus and his wife Livia. Then a homage from three young people in traditional dress, who offered the Pope bread, salt and a vase with earth from the land, according to a Bohemian tradition.

Thanking them, the Pope said he knew the meaning of the bread and salt from the Bible, and later in his arrival speech, he would say, "It reminded me how profoundly Czech culture is permeated by Christianity".

Afterwards, he passed through the reception line of ecclesiastical, civilian and military authorities, starting with Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, Archbishop of Prague; the president of the Czech bishops' conference Archbishop Jan Graubner; and the auxiliary bishop of Prague, Mons. Vaclav Maly.

Among the many prelates who came to the airport were some quite aged, their faces bearing the marks of long suffering, many moving with difficulty. But they all looked alert and intense. These were men who had not yielded.

Younger colleagues were with them, apparently full of enthusiasm, but they carry the unseen burden of disquieting unknowns: In the past 20 years, the number of Catholics has diminished alarmingly, and there is no sign that the phenomenon is slowing down.

Once the great fear had gone, all thought of God appears to have been marginalized. Most Czechs have fallen into a marked and provincial conformism - namely, that the adult, critical and modern attitude is to be cynical about any values.

The President speaks to the Pope courteously. But there are so many unresolved matters in the relationship between Church and State here, and civilian society has false ideas and prejudices regarding the Church's request for the restitution of properties confiscated by the Communist regime.

Cardinal Vlk has been very open about asserting these claims and fighting for the rights of the Church to be fully recognized. But Benedict XVI does not refer to this at all in his speech. He would be seeing the President in private later.

At the airport, he speaks of European culture which has been so profoundly shaped by the Christian heritage, especially in the Czech homeland, thanks to the missionary activities of Saints Cyril adn Methodius.

In the history of the Czechs, he said, their land, situated in the geographical heart of the continent, at the crossroads between north and south, east and west, was always a meeting ground for different peoples, traditions and cultures.

And while it cannot be denied that sometimes, these led to frictions, time proved these encounters to be mostly fruitful. And that is why, he said, the Czech people have played a significant role in the intellectual, cultural and religious history of Europe, sometimes as a battlefield but more often as a bridge.

He then recalled the coming anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which "happily put an end in a peaceful manner to an epoch that was particularly hard for this nation".

He says he is thankful for that liberation from oppressive regimes. "The fall of the Berlin Wall," he said, "was a watershed in world history".

From the airport he proceeded to the church of Our Lady of Victory for a moment of prayer at one of the shrines dearest to the Czechs. There were no oceanic crowds along the 13-kilometer route to the city, and those who took time to watch the papal motorcade showed a rather contained enthusiasm.

One senses the central European composure of a city, whose rather anonymous suburbs lead to the splendor of an urban jewel of the first water.

Oddly, it is through a narrow alley that one reaches the Church of Our Lady of Victory, whose exterior does not hint at the majesty of its interior.

Before the church door, Benedict XVI was formally greeted by the Mayor of Prague and 22 mayors of other administrative districts. In the church were numerous family groups - from young women with babies to older women, many of them grandmothers.

The Pope brushed dozens of hands as he passed through to the chapel that houses one of the most important symbols of Czech popular religiosity.

It is a little wax statue of the Infant Jesus, 47 centimeters high (just a little over one and a half feet).It is obviously very fragile, and so it can only be touched by experienced Carmelite nuns, who are responsible, among other things, for changing the Infant's ceremonial garments. There are about a hundred different sets, one of them said to have been personally sewn by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria [Marie Antoinette's mother].

After praying, the Pope addressed the families, advising them on how to deal with situations that most affect children. He spoke of the plight of children "who are not loved, nor accepted, nor respected" as well as those "who are victims of violence and every form of exploitation by unscrupulous persons".

He spoke about parents who have abdicated educating their children in commitment and moderation, and who, for the most part, are disoriented and lack any moral authority with their children. It is a situation, he said, that is far from what should be a mature and stable family. Even divorce, which happens in half of marriages, has been banalized.

This was the last appointment for the morning, In the afternoon, the Pope would go to Prague Castle for a meeting with the President and to address Czech civilian leaders and the diplomatic corps. That would be followed by Vespers at nearby St. Vitus Cathedral with the diocesan clergy and religious.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/27/2009 2:01 AM]
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Sunday, Sept. 27

ST. VINCENT DE PAUL (France, 1581-1660)
Priest, Founder of the Congregation of the Missi0n(C.M.)
Patron Saint of Charitable Societies

OR today.

At the start of his trip to the Czech Republic, Benedict XVI reiterates the need
to bring back ethics and responsibility to the economy:
'An alternative to an economy oriented to profit only'
Because of a 3 p.m. deadline, the issue only reports the Pope's activities yesterday morning, and includes the full texts of his arrival address and his remarks at the Shrine of the Infant Jesus. Other Page 1 stories: Iran discloses a second secret nuclear plant, and announce 300 new centrifuges capable of extracting high-grade weapons-suitable uranium; and G20 leaders encouraged by recovering markets despite continuing high unemployment figures.


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Left, Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, Brno. Right, Giant anchor at Mass site to symbolize hope, theme of the Mass.

Don't exclude God, Pope tells
Mass assembly of 150,000


BRNO, Czech Republic, Sept. 27 (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday told tens of thousands of faithful that societies exclude God at their peril, pressing ahead with a pilgrimage to nudge the ex-communist Czech Republic back to its religious roots.

"History has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions," Benedict said.

Church organizers estimated that 120,000 people packed a field beside an airport in the southern city of Brno for what is expected to be the biggest turnout of his trip to the heavily secular country.

[Vatican Radio commentators of the Mass coverage said the official estimate of the crowd was at least 150,000 - 100,000 were expected - and that this was the largest religious event in the 20-year history of teh Czech Republic, which saw three trips here by John Paul II.]

Cheering faithful from the Czech Republic and neighboring countries — including Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia — sang and waved Czech and Vatican flags as the Pope's plane flew in from Prague. The Vatican had said it hoped as many as 200,000 would turn out.

Officials with the Czech emergency services said 18 people collapsed and were treated for dehydration, and a police officer was taken to a hospital after he suffered injuries in a fall from his horse.

The 82-year-old Pontiff's three-day visit comes as Czechs prepare to mark 20 years since their 1989 Velvet Revolution shook off a regime that had ruthlessly persecuted the Roman Catholic Church.

The German-born Pope, speaking under a white canopy beside a 12-meter-high stainless steel cross, warned that technical progress is not enough to "guarantee the moral welfare of society."

"Man needs to be liberated from material oppressions, but more profoundly, he must be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit," Benedict said.

He spoke in Italian and his words were translated into Czech.

Benedict is using the trip to recall Communist-era religious repression and appeal to the strongly secular Czech people to reconsider a faith many have abandoned.

His predecessor, John Paul II, visited the former Czechoslovakia three times, but this weekend's tour is Benedict's first as Pope. Although the nation of 10 million has given him a lukewarm reception, he got an enthusiastic welcome Sunday in the center of the country's Roman Catholic heartland.

"The Pope's never been here. It's a unique experience to see him," said Daniel Rampacek, a 21-year-old student from the southeastern town of Breclav. "There are so many people here and the atmosphere is great. I didn't want to miss it. Above all, people need hope — especially now at a time of (economic) crisis."

Marta Moravcikova, one of 9,000 Slovaks expected to attend Sunday's Mass, said she was encouraged by the Pope's message of faith, hope and love.

"We try to keep our faith alive," she said.

The Czech Republic is one of the most secular countries in Europe, with nearly half the country professing to be nonbelievers. Under communism, the Church was brutally repressed.

The regime, which seized power in 1948 in what was then Czechoslovakia, confiscated all Church-owned property and persecuted many priests. Churches were then allowed to function only under the state's control and supervision.

In 1991, 4.5 million of the country's 10 million people said they belonged to a church. In 2001, a census showed that number had plunged to 3.3 million.

Recent surveys suggest the freewheeling drop continues. About one in two respondents to a poll conducted by the agency STEM said they don't believe in God.

On Saturday, the Pope decried the "wounds" left by decades of atheistic communism, and he urged Czechs to reconsider Christianity and the "irreplaceable role" it has played in their lives.

In his traditional Sunday Angelus blessing, Benedict urged the crowd not to forget their "rich heritage of faith."

"Maintain the spiritual patrimony inherited from your forebears ... guard it and make it answer to the needs of the present day," he said.

Later Sunday, the Pope was to meet back in Prague with leaders of other religious faiths and with scholars.

The Pope, who has been giving his speeches in either English or Italian, is making his first foreign trip since he broke his right wrist in a fall while on vacation in July. He told reporters aboard his plane that he is finally able to write again and hopes to complete a new book by next spring.

Despite the lack of posters and billboards promoting the visit, Jana Kocvarova of Brno said she was thrilled to hear the Pope.

"His visit is something money can't buy," said Kocvarova, 58. "It's of importance to all of us."

Associated Press Writers Karel Janicek in Brno and William J. Kole in Prague contributed to this report.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

Jesus invites each of his disciples to spend time with him, to find comfort, sustenance and renewal in him. This invitation is addressed in a special way to our liturgical assembly which, in accordance with the ecclesial ideal, brings the whole of your local Church together with the Successor of Peter.

I greet each and every one of you: firstly the Bishop of Brno, to whom I am grateful for the kind words he addressed to me at the start of the Mass, and also the Cardinals and the other Bishops present.

I greet the priests, deacons, seminarians, men and women religious, the catechists and pastoral workers, the young people and the many families here. I pay my respects to the civil and military authorities, particularly to the President of the Republic and the First Lady, to the Mayor of the City of Brno and the President of the Region of Southern Moravia, a land rich in history and in cultural, industrial and commercial activity.

I should also like to extend warm greetings to the pilgrims from the entire region of Moravia and the nearby dioceses of Slovakia, Poland, Austria and Germany.

Dear friends, regarding the character of today’s liturgical assembly, I gladly supported the decision, mentioned by your Bishop, to base the Scripture readings for Mass on the theme of hope: I supported it in consideration of the people of this beloved land as well as Europe and the whole of humanity, thirsting as it does for something on which to base a firm future.

In my second Encyclical, Spe Salvi, I emphasized that the only “certain” and “reliable” hope (cf. no. 1) is founded on God.

History has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions, and how hard it is to build a society inspired by the values of goodness, justice and fraternity, because the human being is free and his freedom remains fragile.

Freedom has constantly to be won over for the cause of good, and the arduous search for the “right way to order human affairs” is a task that belongs to all generations (cf. ibid., 24-25). That, dear friends, is why our first reason for being here is to listen, to listen to a word that will show us the way that leads to hope; indeed, we are listening to the only word that can give us firm hope, because it is God’s word.

In the first reading (Is 61:1-3a), the Prophet speaks as one invested with the mission of proclaiming liberation, consolation and joy to all the afflicted and the poor.

Jesus took up this text and re-applied it to himself in his preaching. Indeed, he stated explicitly that the prophet’s promise was fulfilled in him (cf. Lk 4:16-21). It was completely fulfilled when by dying on the cross and rising from the dead he freed us from our slavery to selfishness and evil, to sin and death.

And this is the message of salvation, ancient and ever new, that the Church proclaims from generation to generation: Christ crucified and risen, the Hope of humanity!

This word of salvation still resounds with power today, in our liturgical assembly. Jesus addresses himself lovingly to you, sons and daughters of this blessed land, in which the seed of the Gospel has been sown for over a thousand years.

Your country, like other nations, is experiencing cultural conditions that often present a radical challenge to faith and therefore also to hope. In fact, in the modern age both faith and hope have undergone a “shift”, because they have been relegated to the private and other-worldly sphere, while in day-to-day public life confidence in scientific and economic progress has been affirmed (cf. Spe Salvi, 17).

We all know that this progress is ambiguous: it opens up possibilities for good as well as evil. Technical developments and the improvement of social structures are important and certainly necessary, but they are not enough to guarantee the moral welfare of society (cf. ibid., 24).

Man needs to be liberated from material oppressions, but more profoundly, he must be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit. And who can save him if not God, who is Love and has revealed his face as almighty and merciful Father in Jesus Christ?

Our firm hope is therefore Christ: in him, God has loved us to the utmost and has given us life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10), the life that every person, even if unknowingly, longs to possess.

“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” These words of Jesus, written in large letters above the entrance to your Cathedral in Brno, he now addresses to each of us, and he adds: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29-30).

Can we remain indifferent in the face of his love? Here, as elsewhere, many people suffered in past centuries for remaining faithful to the Gospel, and they did not lose hope; many people sacrificed themselves in order to restore dignity to man and freedom to peoples, finding in their generous adherence to Christ the strength to build a new humanity.

In present-day society, many forms of poverty are born from isolation, from being unloved, from the rejection of God and from a deep-seated tragic closure in man who believes himself to be self-sufficient, or else merely an insignificant and transient datum; in this world of ours which is alienated “when too much trust is placed in merely human projects” (Caritas in Veritate, 53), only Christ can be our certain hope. This is the message that we Christians are called to spread every day, through our witness.

Proclaim it yourselves, dear priests, as you remain intimately united to Jesus, as you exercise your ministry enthusiastically, certain that nothing can be lacking in those who put their trust in him.

Bear witness to Christ, dear religious, through the joyful and consistent practice of the evangelical counsels, indicating where our true homeland lies: in Heaven.

And you, dear young people, dear lay faithful, dear families, base on the firm foundation of faith in Christ whatever plans you have for your family, for work, for school, for activities in every sphere of society.

Jesus never abandons his friends. He assures us of his help, because nothing can be done without him, but at the same time, he asks everyone to make a personal commitment to spread his universal message of love and peace.

May you draw encouragement from the example of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the principal patrons of Moravia, who evangelized the Slavic peoples, and of Saints Peter and Paul, to whom your Cathedral is dedicated.

Look to the shining testimony of Saint Zdislava, mother of a family, rich in works of religion and works of mercy; of Saint John Sarkander, priest and martyr; of Saint Clement Maria Hofbauer, priest and religious, born in this diocese and canonized one hundred years ago, and of Blessed Restituta Kafkova, a religious sister born in Brno and killed by the Nazis in Vienna.

May you always be accompanied and protected by Our Lady, Mother of Christ our Hope. Amen!

Before the end of the Mass, the Holy Father led a recitation of the Angelus. Here is the atican translation of his words before and after the prayers:


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have come to the end of this solemn celebration, and the midday hour invites us to pray the Angelus. I am pleased to do so here, in the heart of Moravia, Bohemia’s sister territory, a land marked for many centuries by the Christian faith, a land that reminds us of the courageous mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius.

Twenty years ago, when Pope John Paul II decided to visit Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of Communist totalitarianism, he chose to being his pastoral journey in Velehrad, the place where the famous Unionist Congresses were held, those precursors of ecumenism among the Slav peoples, a place known throughout the Christian world.

I am sure you also remember another of his visits, in 1995, when he went to Svatý Kopeček near Olomouc for an unforgettable meeting with young people.

I should like to make my own the ideas put forward by my venerable predecessor, as I invite you to remain faithful to your Christian vocation and to the Gospel, so as to build together a future of solidarity and peace.

Moravia is blessed with a number of Marian shrines that are visited by crowds of pilgrims throughout the year. At this moment I should like to make a pilgrimage in spirit to the mountainous forest shrine of Hostýn, where you venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary as your protectress.

May Mary keep the flame of faith alive in all of you, a faith that is nourished by traditions of popular piety with deep roots in the past, which you rightly take care to maintain, so that the warmth of family conviviality in villages and towns may not be lost.

At times one cannot help noticing, with a certain nostalgia, that the pace of modern life tends to diminish some elements of a rich heritage of faith. Yet it is important not to lose sight of the ideal expressed by traditional customs, and above all to maintain the spiritual patrimony inherited from your forebears, to guard it and to make it answer to the needs of the present day.

May the Virgin Mary assist you in this, as we renew the entrustment to her of your Church and of the entire Czech nation.

After the prayers. he said this in Slovenian:

I warmly welcome the pilgrims who have come from neighbouring Slovakia. Dear brothers and sisters, today’s Liturgy of the Word challenges us to recognize Jesus Christ as our one hope. I invite you to bear faithful witness to this message before the world. From my heart I bless you and your families at home. May Jesus Christ be praised!

In Polish:

I extend cordial greetings to the Poles taking part in this Mass. I thank you for coming, and for the support of your prayers. May the Pope’s pastoral visit to the Church in the Czech Republic bear abundant fruits of faith and love in your hearts. May God bless you!

In German:

I extend heartfelt greetings to the pilgrims from Germany and Austria. I am glad that you have come here to pray and to celebrate alongside your brothers and sisters in the Czech Republic.

Even more than the bonds of neighbourliness, it is faith in Jesus Christ that brings us together and unites us. And today our common witness is more necessary than ever, if we are to proclaim in new and powerful ways the message of salvation: the crucified and risen Lord – Jesus Christ, the hope of humanity!

The experience that Christ does not abandon his friends, but helps them to live lives of happiness, must not leave us cold and indifferent towards our fellow men and women who are seeking truth and love and longing for true life.

Let us show them the way to Jesus Christ, who gives us life in its fullness. With joy we seek to live day by day from our faith and our hope and we work together in building up a society on the foundations of goodness, justice and fraternity, on love of God and neighbour. May God bless our endeavours.

Finally, in Czech:

Dear friends, it is a great joy for me to be here with you in Brno, in the heart of Moravia. I also greet those who are following our celebration through the media. In a particular way, I think with affection of the elderly, the suffering and the sick.

I ask you to remember me in your prayers, just as I assure you of my own spiritual closeness. May Almighty God grant you abundant heavenly graces and blessings.]

The Hapsburgs were smiling
from Heaven today


Sept. 27, 2009

Empires come and go, but even long after they crumble, one can occasionally catch a glimpse of their past glory. Assuming that the Hapsburgs, monarchs of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, were looking down from Heaven upon a field near the Brno airport this Sunday, one can assume they were smiling.

(Officially speaking, Catholics can be reasonably sure that at least one Hapsburg had such a view from above. Karl I, the last Hapsburg monarch, was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004.)

Pope Benedict XVI presided over an open-air Mass in Brno this morning that drew a crowd estimated at roughly 120,000, composed of Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Austrians and Germans, thus representing several of the constituent elements of the old Hapsburg empire (minus, of course, the Hungarians).

Though those peoples are now scattered into different nations, today’s Mass offered a reminder of a time when the common Christian faith of central Europe was also embodied in a common political identity.

Brno, located in the southeastern corner of the Czech Republic, is the center of the heavily Catholic region of Moravia. Benedict’s Mass this morning is expected to be the largest public event of his three-day visit.

In one sign of how seriously the Czech government is taking the Pope's presence, Benedict XVI arrived in Brno aboard the personal airplane of Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who also took part in the Mass.

In his homily, the Pope did not wax nostalgic for the Hapsburg era – in part, perhaps, because for many Czechs, the three hundred years of Hapsburg rule are actually remembered as a period of imperial domination akin to the fifty years of Communist domination.

Instead, Benedict delivered what has, in effect, become his “stump speech” to the peoples of the former Communist zone: Congratulations on recovering their freedom, but a reminder that freedom is a means, not an end. To promote the common good, the Pope argued, freedom must be ordered to truth, especially those truths expressed in the Christian values which are Europe’s patrimony.

“Freedom has constantly to be won over for the cause of good,” Benedict said, speaking in Italian. Throughout his Czech swing, Benedict has alternated between English and Italian rather than his native German – another reminder of the complicated relationship that Czechs have with their German-speaking neighbors.

“History has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions,” he said.

“Technical developments and the improvement of social structures are important and certainly necessary, but they are not enough to guarantee the moral welfare of society.”

Quoting his own 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi, Benedict said that the only “certain” and “reliable” hope for a more humane future “is founded on God.”

“Man needs to be liberated from material oppressions, but more profoundly, he must be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit,” he said.

This afternoon, Benedict XVI will take part in an ecumenical meeting at the headquarters of the Prague archdiocese, an important gesture in a country divided between Catholics and Protestants, and whose national identity in some ways has been defined by resistance to Catholic domination following the Battle of White Mountain in 1620.

Benedict will also deliver a much-anticipated address to the academic world this afternoon at Prague’s famous Charles University, founded in 1348 by Emperor Charles IV.

It will actually be the second time that he has delivered a lecture there – his first came in 1992, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger addressed the Catholic Theological Faculty.

One noteworthy coda to this morning's papal Mass: At the end, a group of roughly a dozen young Czech girls, clad in flowing white garments, performed a liturgical dance on the same stage where Benedict had celebrated.

Known for his rather traditional liturgical taste, the Pope actually missed most of the performance, since he was already making his exit in the Popemobile at the time.

[I don't think the Pope would object to any such dances as long as they are not done during a Mass!]

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/27/2009 6:30 PM]
9/27/2009 6:02 PM
Post: 18,498
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As usual, Caterina's videocaps of liturgical events are so much more representative than what we get from the newsphoto agencies.And as always, GRAZIE MILLE, CATERINA!




[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/27/2009 6:35 PM]
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