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9/27/2009 7:44 PM
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Archbishop's Palace

The Holy Father met this afternoon with representatives of other Christian churches in Czechoslovakia at the Throne Room of the Archbishop's Palace in the Prague Castle complex.

Italian news agencies are reporting that there were also two Jewish leaders among those who attended. Here is the text of the Pope's address delivered in English:


Dear Cardinals,
Your Excellencies,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am grateful to Almighty God for the opportunity to meet with you who are here representing the various Christian communities of this land.

I thank Doctor Černý, President of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic, for the kind words of welcome which he has addressed to me on your behalf.

My dear friends, Europe continues to undergo many changes. It is hard to believe that only two decades have passed since the collapse of former regimes gave way to a difficult but productive transition towards more participatory political structures.

During this period, Christians joined together with others of good will in helping to rebuild a just political order, and they continue to engage in dialogue today in order to pave new ways towards mutual understanding, cooperation for peace and the advancement of the common good.

Nevertheless, attempts to marginalize the influence of Christianity upon public life – sometimes under the pretext that its teachings are detrimental to the well-being of society – are emerging in new forms. This phenomenon gives us pause to reflect.

As I suggested in my Encyclical on Christian hope, the artificial separation of the Gospel from intellectual and public life should prompt us to engage in a mutual “self-critique of modernity” and “self-critique of modern Christianity,” specifically with regard to the hope each of them can offer mankind (cf. Spe Salvi, 22).

We may ask ourselves, what does the Gospel have to say to the Czech Republic and indeed all of Europe today in a period marked by proliferating world views?

Christianity has much to offer on the practical and ethical level, for the Gospel never ceases to inspire men and women to place themselves at the service of their brothers and sisters. Few would dispute this.

Yet those who fix their gaze upon Jesus of Nazareth with eyes of faith know that God offers a deeper reality which is nonetheless inseparable from the “economy” of charity at work in this world (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 2): He offers salvation.

The term is replete with connotations, yet it expresses something fundamental and universal about the human yearning for well-being and wholeness.

It alludes to the ardent desire for reconciliation and communion that wells up spontaneously in the depths of the human spirit. It is the central truth of the Gospel and the goal to which every effort of evangelization and pastoral care is directed.

And it is the criterion to which Christians constantly redirect their focus as they endeavour to heal the wounds of past divisions. To this end – as Doctor Černý has noted – the Holy See was pleased to host an International Symposium in 1999 on Jan Hus to facilitate a discussion of the complex and turbulent religious history in this country and in Europe more generally (cf. Pope John Paul II, Address to the International Symposium on John Hus, 1999).

I pray that such ecumenical initiatives will yield fruit not only in the pursuit of Christian unity, but for the good of all European society.

We take confidence in knowing that the Church’s proclamation of salvation in Christ Jesus is ever ancient and ever new, steeped in the wisdom of the past and brimming with hope for the future.

As Europe listens to the story of Christianity, she hears her own. Her notions of justice, freedom and social responsibility, together with the cultural and legal institutions established to preserve these ideas and hand them on to future generations, are shaped by her Christian inheritance. Indeed, her memory of the past animates her aspirations for the future.

This is why, in fact, Christians draw upon the example of figures such as Saint Adalbert and Saint Agnes of Bohemia. Their commitment to spreading the Gospel was motivated by the conviction that Christians should not cower in fear of the world but rather confidently share the treasury of truths entrusted to them.

Likewise Christians today, opening themselves to present realities and affirming all that is good in society, must have the courage to invite men and women to the radical conversion that ensues upon an encounter with Christ and ushers in a new life of grace.

From this perspective, we understand more clearly why Christians are obliged to join others in reminding Europe of her roots. It is not because these roots have long since withered. On the contrary! It is because they continue – in subtle but nonetheless fruitful ways – to supply the continent with the spiritual and moral sustenance that allows her to enter into meaningful dialogue with people from other cultures and religions.

Precisely because the Gospel is not an ideology, it does not presume to lock evolving socio-political realities into rigid schemas. Rather, it transcends the vicissitudes of this world and casts new light on the dignity of the human person in every age.

Dear friends, let us ask the Lord to implant within us a spirit of courage to share the timeless saving truths which have shaped, and will continue to shape, the social and cultural progress of this continent.

The salvation wrought by Jesus’s suffering, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven not only transforms us who believe in him, but urges us to share this Good News with others. Enlightened by the Spirit’s gifts of knowledge, wisdom and understanding (cf. Is 11:1-2; Ex 35:31), may our capacity to grasp the truth taught by Jesus Christ impel us to work tirelessly for the unity he desires for all his children reborn through Baptism, and indeed for the whole human race.

With these sentiments, and with fraternal affection for you and the members of your respective communities, I express my deep thanks to you and commend you to Almighty God, who is our fortress, our stronghold and our deliverer (cf. Ps 144:2). Amen.

Benedict XVI confronts
the ghost of Jan Hus


Sept. 27, 2009

Prague - Though lengthy volumes have been written about Christian history in the Czech lands, the casual observer really only needs two words to understand the striking ambivalence that Catholicism often evokes here: Jan Hus.

In America, “Good King Wenceslas” is probably the single most famous figure from Czech history, owing largely to the popular Christmas carol.

His memory lives on here too, but more commonly it’s the medieval preacher Jan Hus who is lionized as the real father of the Czech nation and the embodiment of its virtues.

The Hus monument in Prague's Old Town. He lived from 1372-1485.

The fact that Hus was burned at the stake by the Catholic church in 1415 goes a long way toward explaining why, for some locals, being Czech and being hostile to Catholicism are practically the same thing.

Even the most avowedly atheistic Czechs celebrate Hus as a nationalist founder. Ted Turnau, who teaches the sociology of religion at Charles University, says that in Czech schools still today, Hus is often presented as the father of the nation, and of resistance to outside domination, with only scant mention of his religious views.

Born in 1372 in Bohemia, Hus is widely acknowledged as a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation, sort of a prototype for Martin Luther. He encouraged reading the Bible in Czech, condemned the medieval practice of indulgences, and insisted that “the church” is not merely the hierarchy but the entire fellowship of believers.

Summoned to the Council of Constance to face charges of heresy, Hus refused to recant and was executed on July 6, 1415.

Cartoons illustrating the Council of Constance which condemned Hus to die at the stake, and Hus burning at the stake, have been popular since his death.

Several leading Christian denominations in the country trace their origins to Hus, including, naturally, the Hussite Church. Hus’s martyrdom has long been a sticking point, not only in ecumenical relations, but in broader tensions between Czech society and the church.

Prague’s Cardinal Miloslav Vlk has played a lead role in trying to heal that wound. Beginning in 1993, Vlk chaired a commission that studied Hus’s life and legacy, with an eye towards reevaluation. In 1995, Vlk became the first official representative of the Catholic church ever to attend a memorial of Hus’s death, held at the Bethlehem Chapel where Hus preached from 1402 to 1412. One year later, Vlk expressed regret in the name of all Czech Catholics for Hus’s death.

Those efforts culminated in a three-day symposium dedicated to Hus in Rome in 1999, when Pope John Paul II issued a historic apology for his “cruel death” and praised him for his “moral courage.”

That history formed the backdrop to Pope Benedict XVI’s meeting this afternoon in Prague with leaders of other Christian churches in the Czech Republic, held at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Prague.

In welcoming the Pope, Pavel Černý, a theologian with the Church of the Brethren and president of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic, reminded Benedict that “for centuries, the figure of Jan Hus divided the churches and also the perception of history.”

He thanked the Catholic Church for the initiative of Pope John Paul II, which, Černý said, brought “his character and his struggle for the truth” to light, “which still has something to say for our struggles today.”

As expected, Benedict alluded to the need to “heal the wounds of the past,” and specifically referred to the 1999 Rome symposium on Hus.

“I pray that such ecumenical initiatives will bear fruit not only in order to persevere on the path to Christian unity, but for the good of the entire European society,” the pope said.

Benedict did not, however, offer any new apology for the death of Hus, or announce any new evaluation of Hus as a reformer.

In general, Benedict’s remarks to the ecumenical leaders were focused more on the present than the past. In the teeth of social currents that the Pope said are trying to “marginalize the influence of Christianity in public life,” he called on all Christians to join forces.

Christianity must present itself, Benedict said, as offering “the spiritual and moral support that allows a meaningful dialogue with persons of other cultures and religions.”

European Christians, the Pope suggested, have a particular contribution to make in that regard.

“When Europe sits down to listen to the story of Christianity, it hears its own story,” Benedict said. “Its notion of justice, liberty and social responsibility, together with the cultural and legal institutions created to defend these ideas and to transmit them to future generations, have been shaped by its Christian legacy.

“In truth, its memory of the past animates its aspirations for the future,” Benedict said.

In effect, the Pope’s calculation seemed to be that the best way for Catholics and the spiritual sons and daughters of Jan Hus to overcome their troubled past is to concentrate on common efforts in the here-and-now.

[But that has been Benedict XVI's consistent line on ecumenical, inter-religious and inter-cultural relations!

In this regard, the Orthodox Churches have been the most practical and open to immediate concrete collaboration among churches. Possibly because compared to Protestants and Jews who have so many rival denominations and are divided among themselves.

Muslims are limited in what they can do because they do not have central authority whose word can be accepted by all of them, and each imam with a mosque appears to have his own little autonomous jurisdiction where his word is law.]

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/29/2009 2:43 AM]
9/27/2009 9:48 PM
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Vladislav Hall, Old Royal Palace
Prague Castle

The Holy Father's final event for today was a meeting with the university world of the Czech Republic in the Vladislav Hall located in the Old Royal Palace in the Prague Castle complex.

(Since it was built in the last decade of the 15th century, this majestic hall has been used for most of the nation's important ceremonial events from, knights' tournaments in the Middle Ages to coronations, presidential elections and awarding of state decorations.)

Here is the text of the Pope's discourse to the academic world. It was delivered in English:

Vladislav Hall, Prague Castle

Mr President,
Distinguished Rectors and Professors,
Dear Students and Friends,

Our meeting this evening gives me a welcome opportunity to express my esteem for the indispensable role in society of universities and institutions of higher learning. I thank the student who has kindly greeted me in your name, the members of the university choir for their fine performance, and the distinguished Rector of Charles University, Professor Václav Hampl, for his thoughtful presentation.

The service of academia, upholding and contributing to the cultural and spiritual values of society, enriches the nation’s intellectual patrimony and strengthens the foundations of its future development.

The great changes which swept Czech society twenty years ago were precipitated not least by movements of reform which originated in university and student circles. That quest for freedom has continued to guide the work of scholars whose diakonia of truth is indispensable to any nation’s well-being.

I address you as one who has been a professor, solicitous of the right to academic freedom and the responsibility for the authentic use of reason, and is now the Pope who, in his role as Shepherd, is recognized as a voice for the ethical reasoning of humanity.

While some argue that the questions raised by religion, faith and ethics have no place within the purview of collective reason, that view is by no means axiomatic. The freedom that underlies the exercise of reason – be it in a university or in the Church – has a purpose: it is directed to the pursuit of truth, and as such gives expression to a tenet of Christianity which in fact gave rise to the university.

Indeed, man’s thirst for knowledge prompts every generation to broaden the concept of reason and to drink at the wellsprings of faith. It was precisely the rich heritage of classical wisdom, assimilated and placed at the service of the Gospel, which the first Christian missionaries brought to these lands and established as the basis of a spiritual and cultural unity which endures to this day.

The same spirit led my predecessor Pope Clement VI to establish the famed Charles University in 1347, which continues to make an important contribution to wider European academic, religious and cultural circles.

The proper autonomy of a university, or indeed any educational institution, finds meaning in its accountability to the authority of truth. Nevertheless, that autonomy can be thwarted in a variety of ways.

The great formative tradition, open to the transcendent, which stands at the base of universities across Europe, was in this land, and others, systematically subverted by the reductive ideology of materialism, the repression of religion and the suppression of the human spirit.

In 1989, however, the world witnessed in dramatic ways the overthrow of a failed totalitarian ideology and the triumph of the human spirit. The yearning for freedom and truth is inalienably part of our common humanity. It can never be eliminated; and, as history has shown, it is denied at humanity’s own peril.

It is to this yearning that religious faith, the various arts, philosophy, theology and other scientific disciplines, each with its own method, seek to respond, both on the level of disciplined reflection and on the level of a sound praxis.

Distinguished Rectors and Professors, together with your research there is a further essential aspect of the mission of the university in which you are engaged, namely the responsibility for enlightening the minds and hearts of the young men and women of today.

This grave duty is of course not new. From the time of Plato, education has been not merely the accumulation of knowledge or skills, but paideia, human formation in the treasures of an intellectual tradition directed to a virtuous life.

While the great universities springing up throughout Europe during the middle ages aimed with confidence at the ideal of a synthesis of all knowledge, it was always in the service of an authentic humanitas, the perfection of the individual within the unity of a well-ordered society.

And likewise today: once young people’s understanding of the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, they relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of how they ought to be and what they ought to do.

The idea of an integrated education, based on the unity of knowledge grounded in truth, must be regained. It serves to counteract the tendency, so evident in contemporary society, towards a fragmentation of knowledge.

With the massive growth in information and technology there comes the temptation to detach reason from the pursuit of truth. Sundered from the fundamental human orientation towards truth, however, reason begins to lose direction: it withers, either under the guise of modesty, resting content with the merely partial or provisional, or under the guise of certainty, insisting on capitulation to the demands of those who indiscriminately give equal value to practically everything.

The relativism that ensues provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk.

While the period of interference from political totalitarianism has passed, is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are – subtly and not so subtly – constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals?

What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded?

What will happen if in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots? Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble and good.

Dear friends, I wish to encourage you in all that you do to meet the idealism and generosity of young people today not only with programmes of study which assist them to excel, but also by an experience of shared ideals and mutual support in the great enterprise of learning.

The skills of analysis and those required to generate a hypothesis, combined with the prudent art of discernment, offer an effective antidote to the attitudes of self-absorption, disengagement and even alienation which are sometimes found in our prosperous societies, and which can particularly affect the young.

In this context of an eminently humanistic vision of the mission of the university, I would like briefly to mention the mending of the breach between science and religion which was a central concern of my predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

He, as you know, promoted a fuller understanding of the relationship between faith and reason as the two wings by which the human spirit is lifted to the contemplation of truth (cf. Fides et Ratio, Proemium). Each supports the other and each has its own scope of action (cf. ibid., 17), yet still there are those who would detach one from the other.

Not only do the proponents of this positivistic exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason negate what is one of the most profound convictions of religious believers, they also thwart the very dialogue of cultures which they themselves propose.

An understanding of reason that is deaf to the divine and which relegates religions into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures that our world so urgently needs. In the end, “fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom” (Caritas in Veritate, 9).

This confidence in the human ability to seek truth, to find truth and to live by the truth led to the foundation of the great European universities. Surely we must reaffirm this today in order to bring courage to the intellectual forces necessary for the development of a future of authentic human flourishing, a future truly worthy of man.

With these reflections, dear friends, I offer you my prayerful good wishes for your demanding work. I pray that it will always be inspired and directed by a human wisdom which genuinely seeks the truth which sets us free (cf. Jn 8:28). Upon you and your families I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace


A professor-Pope wields
some rhetorical jujitsu

Sept. 27, 2009

PRAGUE - In the Japanese martial art of jiu-jitsu, the key to success is turning your opponent’s strength into a weakness. If your opponent is bigger or hits harder, you deflect his energy rather than directly opposing it, turning the blows back upon the guy delivering them.

In effect, Pope Benedict XVI has been practicing some rhetorical jiu-jitsu this weekend in the Czech Republic. Time and again, the pontiff has taken charges that secularists commonly level at Christianity and turned them back around – so that they become indictments of, rather than an apologia for, a secular worldview.

The Pope’s address this evening to a group of academics at Prague’s Charles University [No, John! It was not at Charles University - it was at the Vladislaw Hall of the old Royal Palace] offered a classic case in point.

Secularists, for example, often accuse Christians of being dogmatists who are hostile to free, unfettered scientific thought. So, addressing an academic audience, Benedict XVI declared himself a former professor who remains “solicitous of the right to academic freedom.”

In fact, the Pope argued, the very university in which the meeting took place was actually founded by the Catholic Church, and was shaped by the “rich heritage of classical wisdom” which the Church nurtured over long centuries.

Academic freedom, Benedict argued, lives up to this legacy only to the extent that it is in service to truth. Once intellectuals give up on the idea of truth, he warned, all that’s left is the naked will to power – and if you want a real hornet’s nest for academic freedom, there it is.

“Relativism … provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk,” the Pope said, speaking in English as he has throughout his trip.

“Is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are – subtly and not so subtly – constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals?” the Pope asked.

“What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded?”

"What will happen if in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots?"

Benedict didn’t bother providing direct replies to those rhetorical questions, but the implied answer to “what will happen?” seemed fairly obvious: nothing good.

In a similar vein, secularists often accuse Christians, and religious believers of all sorts, of being enemies of tolerance and dialogue because they purport to possess absolute truth. Benedict turned that blow around as well, suggesting that it’s actually secular relativism which is the true foe of dialogue.

“Not only do the proponents of this positivistic exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason negate what is one of the most profound convictions of religious believers,” the pope argued, “they also thwart the very dialogue of cultures which they themselves propose.”

“An understanding of reason that is deaf to the divine and which relegates religions into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures that our world so urgently needs,” he said.

Indeed, Benedict warned that a society under the sway of “radical relativism” will not be more reasonable or tolerant, but rather “more brittle and less inclusive” because they will struggle to recognize “what is true, noble and good.”

The Pope’s bottom line amounted to this: You academics prize academic freedom, tolerance and dialogue, and so do I. If you want to defend those values, Christianity is a better bet than secularism. Christianity is able to integrate reason and faith, while “radical secularism” breeds relativism and nihilism.

The nature of tonight’s event didn’t allow for any immediate sense of how the academics in Benedict’s audience reacted to this bit of verbal jiu-jitsu.

Nevertheless, the Pope’s rhetorical tradecraft at least seemed to offer confirmation of a point made by Professor Václav Hampl, a physiologist and rector of Charles University, in his welcoming remarks.

“The power of your words and your judgment has always been praised,” Hampl said to the pontiff, “even by your opponents.”

Before his speech, Benedict XVI was treated to a performance of several classical numbers by a university vocal chorus. Obviously touched, the Pontiff got up from his throne ['Throne'? After the papal tiara went, I think it's improper to refer to the chair(s) provided for the Pope, special as they alway are, as a 'throne'] and went over afterwards to compliment the conductor.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 10/2/2009 6:10 PM]
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Uphill fight for Pope
among secular Czechs


September 26, 2009

DUH!!!Does this writer - and the fellow travellers he quotes - really think Benedict XVI would be so naive as to think that a three-day trip will undo centuries of anti-Church conditioning and the wave of secularization that has overwhelmed the Czechs? It's a highly symbolic trip, just as his trip to the Middle East was for the dwindling Christian communities there.

The Church and the Pope have to take a stand - and where better to do it than where the challenges and dangers are greatest? Good Christian that he is, Benedict knows that 'man proposes, God disposes'. But at least, man should not be found to fall short with what he proposes and must persevere in it. With prayer and good works, the Holy Spirit will 'dispose' eventually, though it may start only with 'creative minorities'.

To see the secular challenge as simply a question of who will win - in terms of numbers, because that's the only measure seculars know - is to miss completely what Christianity is about.

PRAGUE — As Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the Czech Republic on Saturday on a three-day pilgrimage aimed at battling against the forces of secularism, religious leaders warned that he faced a daunting challenge in a nation of mostly natural-born skeptics.

When the Pope comes to town, a city usually pulls out all the stops. Not so here in the Czech capital, where banners heralding the Pope’s visit and large crowds were conspicuously absent.

The local newspapers that highlighted the trip seemed more preoccupied with the Pope’s penchant for bright red loafers than with the substance of his religious mission.

“If the Pope wants to create a religious revival in Europe, there is no worse place he could come to than the Czech Republic, where no one believes in anything,” said Jaroslav Plesl, a self-confessed lapsed Catholic who is deputy editor of Lidove Noviny, a leading daily newspaper here. “Add to that the fact that the pope is German and socially conservative and he might as well be an alien here.”

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution that overthrew Communism in Czechoslovakia, the pope is visiting what many religious observers, unfairly or not, consider the ground zero of religious apathy in Europe.

Vatican officials said that he had chosen the Czech Republic for a mission central to his papacy: fomenting a continentwide spiritual revolt against what Benedict labeled Saturday as “atheist ideology,” “hedonistic consumerism” and “a growing drift toward ethical and cultural relativism.”

The Pope touched down in Prague after a send-off from Rome’s Ciampino Airport by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose popularity among Roman Catholics has dropped after a summer of sex scandals.

At a welcome ceremony at the Ruzyne Airport here, the Pope lauded the fall of the Berlin Wall as a “watershed” in world history, while underlining the toll of 40 years of political repression. “A particular tragedy for this land was the ruthless attempt by the government of that time to silence the voice of the Church,” he said.

On his first trip here as Pope, Benedict faces inevitable comparisons with Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 made Prague his first stop in the former Eastern Bloc after the fall of Communism. [What will Bilefscky say now that Benedict drew in Brno the largest gathering for a religious event in Czech history? And to hell with inevitable' comparisons. ]

Yet while John Paul, who was Polish, is revered for his role in helping to overthrow Communism, many Czechs said they were skeptical of Benedict, 82. [How many esactly? Bilefsky spoke to a few dozen maybe, hundreds, thousands?]

According to the latest census, fewer than three million of the country’s 10.5 million people identify themselves as Roman Catholics.
{Notice the artful segue to an actual census, implying that the previous conclusion - slepticism over Benedict XVI - might well have come from an actual census!]

Also casting a shadow over the visit is the issue of Church property confiscated under Communism and given to the state, which Roman Catholic Church officials value at about $15 billion. In 2008, the government drafted a bill calling for one-third of that sum to be paid to the Church, with the balance paid over 70 years. But the bill was never passed by Parliament.

The Rev. Tomas Halik, a Roman Catholic leader who was secretly ordained under Communism and now lectures at Charles University in Prague, noted that the repression of the Roman Catholic Church during the cold war had given the Church a certain moral authority because religious adherence was viewed as a cultural rebellion against the government.

He added that while some traditionalists and religious intellectuals were energized by the Pope’s visit, many Czechs inhabited a “spiritual desert.”

“A majority of people have no interest in the Pope’s visit and are more concerned about traffic congestion,” he said.

On Saturday, Benedict visited the Infant of Prague, a popular religious icon in the city’s Church of Our Lady Victorious. President Vaclav Klaus greeted him at the airport, and Benedict later met Vaclav Havel, the former president who led the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

The main event of the Pope’s visit is an open-air Mass in Brno on Sunday in the country’s Roman Catholic heartland. During the trip, a group called Condom Positive said it planned to distribute condoms with a likeness of the pope and the question, “Papa said no! And You?” [I wonder if they managed to do anything - I have not seen anyone mention them! They should have learned from their condom-obsessed colleagues in Australia who fizzled spectacularly in WYD 2008!]

Benedict is also scheduled to celebrate a Mass in Stara Boleslav,
which is about 15 miles northeast of the capital, in honor of the country’s patron saint, St. Wenceslas. Throughout, he is expected to emphasize the moral imperative that the Continent rediscover its religious roots.

Religious experts have noted that the Czechs’ abiding religious skepticism stretches to the 15th century, when Jan Hus, a revolutionary preacher, preached against what he saw as the corrupted practices of the church at a time when indulgences absolving sins were up for sale.

Hus, whose teachings anticipated the Protestant Reformation, was burned at the stake and is a hero to many Czechs. In 1999, John Paul called Hus’s violent death “a sorrowful page” in Czech history.

Czech antipathy for the Roman Catholic Church was fanned further during the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries, religious scholars say, when the church supported the emperor’s efforts to repress Czech nationalism.

After the Communists seized power in 1948, they persecuted many priests, who could fulfill their pastoral duties only with the approval of the government. Demonized by the state, many were forced to go underground.

Father Halik argued that Benedict’s fierce intelligence and moral resolve made him a worthy opponent of pervasive secularism. But he was philosophical about the chances of his success.

“The reanimation of the Catholic Church is a long-term goal,” he said. “And even the Pope can’t work miracles that quickly.” [

[Fr. Halik, you are making the same fallacious assumption that Bilefsky and his ilk make. Just because one declares he has a goal to work for - idealistic as it may be - does not necessarily mean he is not realistic about what he can actually do. It just means he is resolved to do pursue that goal, come what may.

IBesides, it's not as if Joseph Ratzinger has ever been accused of having his head in the clouds. The very reason that he advocates so passionately keeps his feet on the ground, even if his spirit soars to where it belongs.]

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/28/2009 1:05 AM]
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[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/28/2009 12:09 PM]
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Monday, Sept. 28

ST. WENCESLAS (b Prague 907, d Stara Boleslaw 936)
Duke-King of Bohemia, Martyr
Patron saint of the Czech Republic

No OR today.


9/28/2009 12:26 PM
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The Basilica of St. Wenceslas was built on the site of a church dedicated to Sts. Cosmas and Damian. Besides the martyr's remains, the other object of devotion is the so-called Palladium, a medal of the Madonna said to have been worn by Wenceslas.

Pope venerates St. Wenceslas
where he was martyred

by Jan Flemr

STARA BOLESLAV, Czech Republic (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI bowed before the skull of the Czech Republic's patron saint on Monday ahead of an open-air Mass for the country's youths.

The 82-year-old Pope visited the Saint Wenceslas Basilica in Stara Bolesav, just outside Prague, where he paid homage to the saint on the anniversary of his murder more than 1,000 years ago.

Saint Wenceslas, who was duke of Bohemia until his death, was murdered by his power-hungry pagan brother Boleslav on September 28, 935 at the gate of a church that used to stand where the basilica is now located.

The Pope also venerated the so-called Palladium, a small metal picture of the Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus, which the saint used to wear on his neck, according to legend.

Afterwards Benedict headed to a field to celebrate Mass before tens of thousands of pilgrims on the last day of his three-day visit to the former communist country.

The crowd waved Czech, Slovak, German and Vatican flags and chanted "Benedicto" as the Pope passed through in the popemobile, waving to the pilgrims.

"I expect this to be more fun than yesterday's mass in Brno," Jana, a young girl from the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, said in the chilly morning, with Stara Boleslav church towers emerging from the fog behind her.

She and her friend Zuzka slept in a tent in a nearby meadow which became home for up to 10,000 pilgrims for the night, according to police spokeswoman Stepanka Zatloukalova.

Benedict XVI arrived for his first visit to the Czech Republic and his second to Eastern Europe on Saturday.

He is visiting the country shortly before the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which toppled communism in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989 and provided the main topic for his speeches on Saturday.

For the first time ever, the pontiff met Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright and hero of the Velvet Revolution who became president after spending years in communist prisons.

On Sunday, Benedict XVI led an open-air Mass for 120,000 pilgrims in the southeastern city of Brno, the centre of southern Moravia, a region with the highest percentage of believers in the otherwise secular Czech Republic.

He called for a spiritual renewal in the former communist nation, attacked the "oppressive" communist regime again, and warned against scientific and economic progress which "opens up possibilities for good as well as evil."

"It was an interesting and comprehensible speech, it wasn't too sweet like it sometimes is," said Marie Novotna, a 30, who saw the Brno mass on TV.

Standing next to her sister before the Stara Boleslav mass, she added: "This will be an extraordinary event, we are really curious."

Tomas, a monk at the Strahov monastery in Prague, said he had already met the Pope at an evening Mass in Prague on Saturday.

"I was a bit surprised, he looks young on TV, and then I realised he's an older man, though with the spark you would expect from a spiritual person," said the man in a white robe with a red cordon.

He also commented on the fact that most Czechs are non-believers, with Catholics making up less than a third of the 10.3-million population, according to Vatican data.

"I think the Pope's visit may appeal to a few people who will like the way he acts and preaches, and who will be attracted by the 'pomp' of liturgy," he added.

After the Mass in Stara Boleslav, Pope Benedict will return to Prague for lunch with bishops from the Czech Republic and the papal entourage before leaving for Rome at 5:45 pm (15:45 GMT).

Before leaving for the Mass, the Holy Father greeted retired priests from the diocese as well as some nuns.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/28/2009 2:41 PM]
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Below, Basilica of St. Wenceslas; and field outside Stara Boleslaw where the Mass today took place.

The Diocese prepared its own missal (below) for this Mass, besides the omnibus Vatican missal for the liturgical services on this trip.

Pilgrims started arriving for the Mass before dawn, while thousands of young people camped overnight for the prayer vigil and the Mass.

Pope wraps up Czech trip
with Mass near Prague


STARA BOLESLAV, Czech Republic, Sept. 28 (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI on Monday held up the Czech Republic's martyred patron saint as a model for leaders, saying the world needs God-fearing people prepared to follow the ethical principles of Christianity.

At an open-air Mass for at least 40,000 faithful, Benedict issued a call for holiness as he wrapped up his three-day visit to this central European country two decades after the fall of communism.

"The last century — as this land of yours can bear witness — saw the fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights," Benedict said, speaking in Italian.

"Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power," he said.

Benedict said that those who deny God and appear to lead a comfortable life are in reality "sad and unfulfilled" people.

His visit, which began Saturday, came as the country prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which ousted a communist regime that had ruthlessly persecuted believers and confiscated church property.

The 82-year-old Pope told believers who packed a meadow in Stara Boleslav, 25 kilometers (15 miles) northeast of Prague, that they could learn from patron St. Wenceslas, who was murdered here by his pagan brother in 935 A.D.

Wenceslas, the Pope said, was "a model of holiness for all people."

"We ask ourselves: In our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? Do we not place more value today on worldly success and glory? Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it have?" the Pope said Monday, a national holiday honoring Wenceslas.

Although his overall reception has been tepid, with no posters or billboards announcing the trip, the faithful — some from nearby Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia — streamed into Stara Boleslav before dawn.

The Vatican said 40,000 people turned out; Czech organizers put the crowd estimate at 50,000.

"It's important for us to show that we're not just an atheist nation and that there are believers here," said Lukas Jasa, 21, who traveled with friends from the eastern Czech Republic — more than 300 kilometers (200 miles) — to glimpse the Pope.

Czechs are among Europe's most secular people.

In 1991, 4.5 million of the country's 10 million people said they belonged to a church, but a 2001 census showed that number had plunged to 3.3 million. Recent surveys suggest the number of believers remains low; about one in two respondents to a poll conducted by the agency STEM said they don't believe in God.

Benedict has used his pilgrimage to recall the evils of communist-era religious repression and to coax indifferent Czechs back to the church.

In a special message to young people, the Pope urged them not to be seduced by consumerism.

"Unfortunately, many of your contemporaries allow themselves to be led astray by illusory visions of spurious happiness, and then they find themselves sad and alone," Benedict said.

Yet throughout the trip, he has carefully avoided wading into abortion, gay marriage and other controversial issues — an apparent attempt to avoid further antagonizing already apathetic Czechs.

In November, Czechs will mark two decades since the country peacefully shook off communist rule.

Anna Bozkova, 76, said the Pope's visit comes "at a hard time."

"Everybody can feel it," she said. "(The Pope) is welcomed in all other states. Faith was common for my generation. It survived the Communist era. We were marginalized, but we maintained our faith because it's strong."

On Sunday, an estimated 120,000 cheering pilgrims greeted Benedict at an open-air Mass in the southern city of Brno, a Catholic stronghold.

There, the German-born pope broadened his message to all of Europe, appealing to people across the continent to remember their Christian heritage.

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.

Before Monday's Mass, Benedict stopped at a shrine to St. Wenceslas, where he blessed the martyr's skull and other relics.

The Pope was to return to Prague for lunch with Czech bishops before leaving for Rome late in the afternoon.

Simpson reported from Prague. Associated Press Writer William J. Kole in Prague contributed to this report.


Dear Cardinals,
My Brother Bishops and Priests,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Dear Young People,

It gives me great joy to be with you this morning, as my apostolic visit to the beloved Czech Republic draws to a close, and I offer all of you my heartfelt greeting, especially the Cardinal Archbishop, to whom I am grateful for the words that he addressed to me in your name at the start of Mass.

My greeting goes also to the other Cardinals, the Bishops, the priests and consecrated persons, the representatives of lay movements and associations, and especially the young people.

I respectfully greet the President of the Republic, to whom I offer cordial good wishes on the occasion of his name-day; and I gladly extend these wishes to all who bear the name of Wenceslaus [CVaclav in Czech] and to the entire Czech people on the day of this national feast.

This morning, we are gathered around the altar for the glorious commemoration of the martyr Saint Wenceslaus, whose relics I was able to venerate before Mass in the Basilica dedicated to him.

He shed his blood in your land, and his eagle, which – as the Cardinal Archbishop has just mentioned – you chose as a symbol for this visit, constitutes the historical emblem of the noble Czech nation.

This great saint, whom you are pleased to call the “eternal” Prince of the Czechs, invites us always to follow Christ faithfully, he invites us to be holy. He himself is a model of holiness for all people, especially the leaders of communities and peoples.

Yet we ask ourselves: In our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? Do we not place more value today on worldly success and glory? Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it have?

The last century – as this land of yours can bear witness – saw the fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights. Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power.

Those who denied and continue to deny God, and in consequence have no respect for man, appear to have a comfortable life and to be materially successful. Yet one need only scratch the surface to realize how sad and unfulfilled these people are.

Only those who maintain in their hearts a holy “fear of God” can also put their trust in man and spend their lives building a more just and fraternal world.

Today there is a need for believers with credibility, who are ready to spread in every area of society the Christian principles and ideals by which their action is inspired. This is holiness, the universal vocation of all the baptized, which motivates people to carry out their duty with fidelity and courage, looking not to their own selfish interests but to the common good, seeking God’s will at every moment.

In the Gospel we heard Jesus speaking clearly on this subject: “What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Mt 16:26).

In this way we are led to consider that the true value of human life is measured not merely in terms of material goods and transient interests, because it is not material goods that quench the profound thirst for meaning and happiness in the heart of every person.

This is why Jesus does not hesitate to propose to his disciples the “narrow” path of holiness: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (16:25). And he resolutely repeats to us this morning: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (16:24).

Without doubt, this is hard language, difficult to accept and put into practice, but the testimony of the saints assures us that it is possible for all who trust and entrust themselves to Christ. Their example encourages those who call themselves Christian to be credible, that is, consistent with the principles and the faith that they profess.

It is not enough to appear good and honest: one must truly be so. And the good and honest person is one who does not obscure God’s light with his own ego, does not put himself forward, but allows God to shine through.

This is the lesson we can learn from Saint Wenceslaus, who had the courage to prefer the kingdom of heaven to the enticement of worldly power. His gaze never moved away from Jesus Christ, who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow in his steps, as Saint Peter writes in the second reading that we just heard.

As an obedient disciple of the Lord, the young prince Wenceslaus remained faithful to the Gospel teachings he had learned from his saintly grandmother, the martyr Ludmila.

In observing these, even before committing himself to build peaceful relations within his lands and with neighbouring countries, he took steps to spread the Christian faith, summoning priests and building churches.

In the first Old Slavonic “narration”, we read that “he assisted God’s ministers and he also adorned many churches” and that “he was benevolent to the poor, clothed the naked, gave food to the hungry, welcomed pilgrims, just as the Gospel enjoins. He did not allow injustice to be done to widows, he loved all people, whether poor or rich”.

He learned from the Lord to be “merciful and gracious” (Responsorial Psalm), and animated by the Gospel spirit he was even able to pardon his brother who tried to kill him. Rightly, then, you invoke him as the “heir” of your nation, and in a well-known song, you ask him not to let it perish.

Wenceslaus died as a martyr for Christ. It is interesting to note that, by killing him, his brother Boleslaus succeeded in taking possession of the throne of Prague, but the crown placed on the heads of his successors did not bear his name.

Rather, it bears the name of Wenceslaus, as a testimony that “the throne of the king who judges the poor in truth will remain firm for ever” (cf. today’s Office of Readings).

This fact is judged as a miraculous intervention by God, who does not abandon his faithful: “the conquered innocent defeated the cruel conqueror just as Christ did on the cross” (cf. The Legend of Saint Wenceslaus), and the blood of the martyr did not cry out for hatred or revenge, but rather for pardon and peace.

Dear brothers and sisters, together let us give thanks to the Lord in this Eucharist for giving this saintly ruler to your country and to the Church. Let us also pray that, like him, we too may walk along the path of holiness.

It is certainly difficult, since faith is always exposed to multiple challenges, but when we allow ourselves to be drawn towards God who is Truth, the path becomes decisive, because we experience the power of his love.

May the intercession of Saint Wenceslaus and of the other patron saints of the Czech Lands obtain this grace for us. May we always be protected and assisted by Mary, Queen of Peace and Mother of Love. Amen!


The Pope's visit to Stara Boleslaw was planned so that it would also provide the opportunity for his encounter with the young people of Czechoslovakia. Such an encounter has been a regular feature of his trips outside Rome.

Right after the Mass, he addressed the youth separately. Here is the text of the message delivered in English:

Dear Young Friends,

At the conclusion of this celebration I turn to you directly and I greet you warmly. You have come here in great numbers from all over the country and from neighbouring countries; you camped here yesterday evening and you spent the night in tents, sharing an experience of faith and companionship.

Thank you for your presence here, which gives me a sense of the enthusiasm and generosity so characteristic of youth. Being with you makes the Pope feel young! I extend a particular word of thanks to your representative for his words and for the wonderful gift.

Dear friends, it is not hard to see that in every young person there is an aspiration towards happiness, sometimes tinged with anxiety: an aspiration that is often exploited, however, by present-day consumerist society in false and alienating ways.

Instead, that longing for happiness must be taken seriously, it demands a true and comprehensive response. At your age, the first major choices are made, choices that can set your lives on a particular course, for better or worse.

Unfortunately, many of your contemporaries allow themselves to be led astray by illusory visions of spurious happiness, and then they find themselves sad and alone. Yet there are also many young men and women who seek to transform doctrine into action, as your representative said, so as to give the fullness of meaning to their lives.

I invite you all to consider the experience of Saint Augustine, who said that the heart of every person is restless until it finds what it truly seeks. And he discovered that Jesus Christ alone is the answer that can satisfy his and every person’s desire for a life of happiness, filled with meaning and value (cf. Confessions, I.1.1).

As he did with Augustine, so the Lord comes to meet each one of you. He knocks at the door of your freedom and asks to be welcomed as a friend. He wants to make you happy, to fill you with humanity and dignity.

The Christian faith is this: encounter with Christ, the living Person who gives life a new horizon and thereby a definitive direction. And when the heart of a young person opens up to his divine plans, it is not difficult to recognize and follow his voice.

The Lord calls each of us by name, and entrusts to us a specific mission in the Church and in society. Dear young people, be aware that by Baptism you have become children of God and members of his Body, the Church.

Jesus constantly renews his invitation to you to be his disciples and his witnesses. Many of you he calls to marriage, and the preparation for this Sacrament constitutes a real vocational journey. Consider seriously the divine call to raise a Christian family, and let your youth be the time in which to build your future with a sense of responsibility. Society needs Christian families, saintly families!

And if the Lord is calling you to follow him in the ministerial priesthood or in the consecrated life, do not hesitate to respond to his invitation. In particular, in this Year of Priests, I appeal to you, young men: be attentive and open to Jesus’s call to offer your lives in the service of God and his people.

The Church in every country, including this one, needs many holy priests and also persons fully consecrated to the service of Christ, Hope of the world.

Hope! This word, to which I often return, sits particularly well with youth. You, my dear young people, are the hope of the Church! She expects you to become messengers of hope, as happened last year in Australia, during World Youth Day, that great manifestation of youthful faith that I was able to experience personally, and in which some of you took part. Many more of you will be able to come to Madrid in August 2011. I invite you here and now to participate in this great gathering of young people with Christ in the Church.

Dear friends, thank you again for being here and thank you for your gift: the book of photographs recounting the lives of young people in your dioceses.

Thank you also for the sign of your solidarity towards the young people of Africa, which you have presented to me. The Pope asks you to live your faith with joy and enthusiasm; to grow in unity among yourselves and with Christ; to pray and to be diligent in frequenting the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession; to take seriously your Christian formation, remaining ever obedient to the teachings of your Pastors.

May Saint Wenceslaus guide you along this path through his example and his intercession, and may you always enjoy the protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother. I bless all of you with affection!

He then took the occasion to give his usual plurilingual greetings, this time, to those who had come from neigboring countries. First, the Slovenians:

I extend a warm welcome to the pilgrims who have come from Slovakia, especially the young people. Dear young people, dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for your presence at today’s celebration. Do not forget: let the love of God be your strength! I gladly bless you and your loved ones. May Jesus Christ be praised!

Then, the Poles:

I address a word of greeting to the Poles here present, and especially to the young who have come to join their Czech brothers and sisters in a spirit of warm friendship. Support one another by a joyful testimony of faith, growing in Christ’s love and in the power of the Holy Spirit, so as to reach the fullness of humanity and holiness. May God bless you!]

And his German countrymen:

I offer warm greetings to the young people and to all the pilgrims who have come from neighbouring German-speaking countries. Thank you for your presence! Your participation in this feast of faith and hope is a sign that you are seeking answers to your questions and inner desires in Jesus Christ and in the community of the Church.

Christ himself is the way, the truth and the life (cf. Jn 14:6). He is the foundation that truly supports our life. On this firm basis, Christian families can be raised and young people can respond to their vocation to the priesthood and the consecrated life.

Personal friendship with Christ fills us with genuine, lasting joy and makes us ready to put into effect God’s plan for our life. To this end, I invoke upon all of you the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

He concluded in Czech:

Dear young friends, your enthusiasm for the Christian faith is a sign of hope for the Church that is present and active in these lands. In order to give a fuller meaning to your youth, follow the Lord Jesus with courage and generosity as he knocks on the door of your hearts. Christ asks you to welcome him as a friend. May the Lord bless you and bring to fulfilment every good plan that you make for your lives!

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 10/2/2009 6:12 PM]
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A day to honor
'Good King Wenceslas'

Sept. 28, 2009

PRAGUE - Celebrating the feast day of the most famous figure in Czech history, a 10th century ruler known around the world as “Good King Wenceslas” thanks to the popular Christmas carol, Pope Benedict XVI closed his three-day visit to the Czech Republic this morning with a Mass in honor of St. Wenceslas, the country’s patron saint.

The Mass was held in Stará Boleslav, a pilgrimage destination about 15 miles outside Prague believed to be the site of the death of Wenceslas in 935. (In Czech, “Wenceslas” is rendered as "Václav" and remains perhaps the most common first name in the country.)

The early history of Christianity in the Czech lands is thoroughly intertwined with the story, and at times the legend, of Wenceslas.

Tradition holds that his grandfather was converted by St. Cyril and Methodius, the legendary “apostles to the Slavs,” thereby becoming the first Christian prince of the Czechs. His grandmother Ludmilla, today venerated as a saint, was strangled to death by a pagan servant in a dynastic dispute.

When Wenceslas came to power around 924, he promoted the development of Christianity across Bohemia, importing priests and sponsoring the building of churches. He was also said to have a great love for the poor, the quality celebrated by the Christmas carol.

Alas, Wenceslas was never quite as adept at consolidating his power, and in 935 a group of nobles allied with his brother Boleslav succeeded in killing him.

Wenceslas went on to become remembered as a saint and the great protector of the Czech nation. According to one local legend, a huge army of knights is asleep inside a Bohemian mountain, and will awake under the command of Wenceslas when the motherland is in ultimate danger. (That led to a wry joke among Czechs groaning under almost four centuries of successive Austro-Hungarian, Nazi and Communist domination: “What exactly is he waiting for?”)

Another legend holds that when the nation is on the brink of ruin, the huge statue of Wenceslas astride a horse in downtown Prague will come to life. Crossing the Charles Bridge, the horse will stumble over a stone, revealing a famed sword that’s the Czech equivalent of Excalibur. With that sword, the Czechs will defeat their enemies.

Sept. 28 is the feast day of Wenceslas, and Benedict XVI praised him this morning as that rare ruler who “had the courage to prefer the kingdom of heaven to the enticement of worldly power.”

Benedict used his homily this morning, delivered in Italian and then translated into Czech, to offer Wenceslas as a model of fidelity and holiness.

The pontiff asked rhetorically whether holiness is “still relevant” or whether it’s more commonly seen as “unattractive and unimportant.” In truth, the pope said, it doesn’t take a long look at people who try to live with God, and without respect for others, to see “how sad and unfulfilled these people are.”

The same “fear of God” that animated Wenceslas, Benedict said, remains the key to “building a more just and fraternal world” today, as well as quenching “the profound thirst for meaning and happiness in the heart of every person.”

Prior to the Mass, Benedict paid a brief visit to the Church of St. Wenceslas in Stará Boleslav, where a skull believed to be that of the king, adorned with a golden crown, is preserved in a small glass case.

The Pope also spent a few moments greeting elderly clergy who live in a nearby retirement home operated by the Czech bishops’ conference. On his way out, he also waved to a youth chorus that performed during the visit.

One thing I have always admired about John Allen is that in most respects, he is a very competent, conscientious and hard-working journalist (that is why I get angry when he slips up on some facts which are easily verifiable), even if his liberal views sometimes get in the way.

His articles often contain information that provides the reader - random, casual or otherwise - with enough background information to see the subject in a historical and general context.

In short, he practices a most useful criterion for any reporter; namely - If I were a regular person reading this report, what would I like to know or have to know in order to properly evaluate it, or for it to have any use to me at all?

That is why, in my posts on the Forum, besides my comments on points I agree or disagree with, I also always try to include background or context information - and seek to correct what is verifiably wrong information, even if it may relatively be trivial - because, for instance, wrong dates or timeline of events can sometimes distort a report.

CNS, after failing to file a single report since the Pope arrived in Prague, has filed an early wrap-up on the trip. So they did have one of their Rome correspondents travel to the Czech Republic for the trip. Hard to believe CNS should keep to their SOP of not filing real news items on weekends, even during a Papal trip (which are generally almost always timed to fall or culminate on a weekend).

Pope urges Czechs to regain values
that inspired fight for freedom

By Carol Glatz

PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Sept. 28 (CNS) -- Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolt that brought down the country's communist regime, Pope Benedict XVI urged people in the Czech Republic to rediscover the spiritual and moral values that sustained their struggle for freedom.

In gatherings Sept. 26-28 with political, social, cultural and religious leaders as well as the Catholic faithful, the pope delivered a message of hope meant to inspire both the country's majority of nonbelievers and the minority Catholic community.

Central to his message was that no society, no matter how democratic, could ever maintain a healthy and ethical sense of freedom without guidance from the truth found in God and the wisdom of faith.

The Pope's trip to Prague, Brno, and Stara Boleslav was his 13th trip abroad and his seventh to Europe. The fact that more than half of his apostolic journeys so far have been to Europe reflects his deep concern for revitalizing the continent's Christian heritage.

"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," the Pope said during a meeting Sept. 26 with diplomats and political, civil, religious and cultural leaders in Prague's presidential palace.

Under the soaring gilded stucco ceilings of the palace, the Pope reminded his audience that the country's hard-fought freedom must be properly used. Leaders in society have the duty to encourage citizens to seek the truth and goodness, he said.

"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," the pope said.

He urged people "to apply their faith respectfully yet decisively in the public arena" so that the truth and wisdom of faith could light the path of human progress.

"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 a society that is united and dedicated to the common good, he said.

The Czech Republic represents a unique challenge for the Church. Some 60 percent of the population claims to profess no religious belief -- making it the most secular country in Europe.

The largest faith community on the landscape is the Catholic Church, but Catholics are still only 30 percent of all inhabitants, and only a small percent say they are active members of the church.

The Pope told journalists aboard the papal flight to Prague "that normally those who determine the future are the creative minority," and he said this applies to European countries like the Czech Republic.

"The Catholic Church must see itself as a creative minority that has a heritage of values that are not passe but are alive and relevant," he said.

At a welcoming ceremony at Prague's airport, the Pope said the impact of 40 years of an atheist totalitarian regime could not be underestimated. The flame of faith has been kept alive thanks to the many "courageous martyrs whose fidelity to Christ spoke far louder and more eloquently than the voice of their executioners," he said.

At an outdoor Mass Sept. 28 to celebrate the feast of St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Republic, the Pope said bearing witness to the Gospel was not easy.

"It is not enough to appear good and honest: One must truly be so. And the good and honest person is the one who does not obscure God's light with his own ego, does not put himself forward, but allows God to shine through," the pope said in his homily.

Sometimes it seems there is little motivation to put Christ first when so many people who exclude God from their lives and show no respect for others end up reaching the highest pinnacles of power or achieve great success, he said.

But "one need only scratch the surface to realize how sad and unfulfilled these people are," and history points to many powerful figures in history who all of a sudden were stripped of their power, he said.

Some 40,000 people assembled for the outdoor Mass in a large field in Stara Boleslav. The town, 15 miles northeast of Prague, represents the spiritual heart of Bohemia and the origin of Czech statehood.

Every year on Sept. 28 patriotic sentiment and religious devotion merge as citizens take part in a pilgrimage to Stara Boleslav, where St. Wenceslas, a 10th-century prince credited with bringing Christianity to the Czech people, was murdered by his brother.

The Mass seemed like a mini-World Youth Day celebration as past Youth Day theme songs were sung and thousands of young people cheered and waved the flags of various countries. Many slept overnight in tents and some even came by water on rafts from a small town three miles away.

After the Mass, the Pope told the young people that Christ "knocks on the door of your freedom and asks to be welcomed as a friend." While young people are often led astray by "illusory visions" of happiness, he said, only Christ can satisfy the human desire for happiness and meaning in life.

Addressing students and scholars at Prague's Hradcany Castle Sept. 27, the Pope said education is not merely "the accumulation of knowledge or skills" and must include forming the human conscience so that the individual seeks to live a virtuous and ethical life.

The Pope highlighted his concern for families and children during his visit Sept. 26 to the Church of Our Lady of Victory, where he venerated the Infant of Prague.

Kneeling before the 18-inch-high statue, which draws 2 million pilgrims a year, the Pope gave a special blessing for all the children of the world and appealed for increased attention to children in difficulty. The Holy Infant recalls the beauty of childhood, he said.

"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," he said.

There was not much public sign of the Pope's presence in Prague, with few posters and very little fanfare along the routes taken by the papal motorcade. Much of the city had emptied out for the three-day holiday weekend, perhaps spurred by dire warnings of traffic snarls during the papal visit.

But the papal visit drew Catholics from all over the Czech nation and from neighboring Austria, Slovakia, Germany and Poland, specifically for the outdoor Mass Sept. 27 in the Moravian diocese of Brno, some 140 miles southeast of Prague. Local organizers said 120,000 people attended the event, making it the largest Mass every celebrated in the Czech Republic.

Gathered on a mowed hayfield at the airport, the jubilant crowd waved flags and cheered when the Pope's plane landed. Some pilgrims wore colorful traditional dress, while others sported backpacks and pedaled bicycles to get to the event.

The Pope's homily focused on hope and how "the only certain and reliable hope 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" he said.

The country is free of oppression, but people still need to be freed "from the evils that afflict the spirit," and saved from the poverty of isolation, despair, and egoism, he said.

During a Vespers service Sept. 26 in Prague's St. Vitus Cathedral, the pope encouraged the Catholic community to bear witness to the Gospel even though it was not easy to do so in a country still scarred by atheism and often seduced by hedonistic consumerism and cultural relativism.

Msgr. Tomas Roule, secretary to Prague's archbishop, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, told Catholic News Service that the younger generations are getting used to the idea of being open about their faith.

He said those who have not experienced communism's hostility toward and persecution of religion are finding "it's now coming to be normal to believe" in God.

He said people see how easily and openly Christians in the United States express their beliefs and that proves to Czech Christians that faith is nothing out of the ordinary or to be ashamed of.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/28/2009 8:28 PM]
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The Holy Father left Prague this afternoon on schedule, after a brief departure ceremony, with very warm words from Czech President Vaclav Klaus who said he considered the Pope's mission a success.

Klaus and his wife attended both papal Masses in Brno and in Stara Boleslaw - an unusual gesture for the leader of an avowedly secular nation, and one who has himself referred to Christianity as a 'tourist atraction'.


Pane prezidente,
páni kardinálové,
bratři v biskupské službě,
Vaše Excelence,
dámy a pánové!

Ve chvíli slavnostního rozloučení vám chci vyjádřit své poděkování za štědrou pohostinnost, které se mi dostalo během krátkého pobytu v této nádherné zemi.

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

As I come to bid farewell, I wish to thank you for your generous hospitality during my short stay in this beautiful country.]

I am especially grateful to you, Mr President, for your words and for the time spent at your residence. On this feast of Saint Wenceslaus, your country’s guardian and patron, allow me once again to offer you my sincere good wishes for your name-day.

As today is also the name-day of Bishop Václav Malý, I offer my greetings to him too, and I wish to thank him for all his hard work in coordinating the arrangements for my pastoral visit to the Czech Republic.

To Cardinal Vlk, Archbishop Graubner, and all who did so much to ensure the smooth unfolding of the series of meetings and celebrations, I am deeply grateful.

Naturally I include in my thanks the public authorities, the media, the many volunteers who helped to direct the crowds, and all the faithful who have been praying that this visit might bear fruit for the good of the Czech nation and for the Church in the region.

I shall treasure the memory of the moments of prayer that I was able to spend together with the Bishops, priests and faithful of this country.

It was particularly moving this morning to celebrate Mass at Stará Boleslav, site of the martyrdom of the young duke Wenceslaus, and to venerate him at his tomb on Saturday evening in the majestic Cathedral that dominates Prague’s skyline.

Yesterday in Moravia, where Saints Cyril and Methodius launched their apostolic mission, I was able to reflect in prayerful thanksgiving on the origins of Christianity in this region, and indeed throughout the Slavic territories.

The Church in this country has been truly blessed with a remarkable array of missionaries and martyrs, as well as contemplative saints, among whom I would single out Saint Agnes of Bohemia, whose canonization just twenty years ago providentially heralded the liberation of this country from atheist oppression.

My meeting yesterday with representatives of other Christian communities brought home to me the importance of ecumenical dialogue in this land which suffered so much from the consequences of religious division at the time of the Thirty Years’ War.

Much has already been achieved in healing the wounds of the past, and decisive steps have been taken along the path towards reconciliation and true unity in Christ.

In building further on these solid foundations, there is an important role for the academic community to play, through its uncompromising search for truth. I was glad to have the opportunity to spend time yesterday with representatives of the nation’s universities, and to express my esteem for the noble vocation to which they have dedicated their lives.

I was especially delighted to meet the young people, and to encourage them to build on the best traditions of this nation’s past, particularly its Christian heritage.

According to a saying attributed to Franz Kafka, “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old” (Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka). If our eyes remain open to the beauty of God’s creation and our minds to the beauty of his truth, then we may indeed hope to remain young and to build a world that reflects something of that divine beauty, so as to inspire future generations to do likewise.

Mr President, dear friends: I thank you once again and I promise to remember you in my prayers and to carry you in my heart. May God bless the Czech Republic!

Ať Pražské Jezulátko je i nadále vaší inspirací a vede všechny rodiny vašeho národa. Kéž vám všem Bůh žehná!

[May the Holy Infant of Prague continue to inspire and guide you and all the families of this nation! May God bless all of you!]


ACKNOWLEDGMENT: It is only right to take note that for the first time in four years, the Vatican Press Office was very prompt about posting the translations of the Pope's texts almost as soon as delivered.

Translations were immediately avilable in Czech, English, French, Italian and German. I wonder why Spanish and Portuguese (the other two official languages - along with Latin, Italian, English, French and German - were left out.

I wish the missal for the trip had been illustrated, but maybe they will attend to that next time. It has been very welcome for the Office of Liturgical Services to publish the Missal for these trips as well as the libretti for the liturgical services presided by the Holy Father at the Vatican, but they have not been very consistent about the illustrations.

The Italian service of Vatican Radio

has now provided an Italian translation of President Klaus's words which I had heard in running translation during the RV coverage of the departure and which brought on tears of gratitude and surprise.

It is indeed a most unusual discourse. Thank you, and God bless you, President Klaus.


Your Holiness,

Allow me first of all to thank you in the name of our whole nation for your memorable visit.

Your stay in our country; the message you left us in such a convincing manner; your invitation to mutual understanding, tolerance, and peace, and to the importance of reason, faith and ethical principles, have been conveyed very clearly and we understand. We will remember these and keep them in mind.

You have brought us - to use your words - a new hope! Your great faith, your courage in expressing positions that are not always politically correct nor shared by everyone, your commitment in favor of respect for idas and the fundamental principles of our civilization and of Christianity have given us all an example as well as encouragement.

Tens of thousands of Czech citizens as well as people from neigboring countries had the extraordinary opportunity yo see you in person, and millions followed your visit hour after hour during these three days on their television screens.

I can say - convinced that this is not only my personal opinion - that your visit has been a success and will have a lasting effect.

The relationship between the Czech Republic and Vatican City state have been reinforced - and I am happy to say that these have been very good. I am convinced they will continue to be so in the future.

Well said, Mr. President, and spoken with true leadership! You, too, had the courage to say these words, which go against the grain of the commonplace skepticism expressed in the media about this visit by the Pope. Thank you again on behalf of all of us who love our Pope.


SIR reports that the plane taking him and his party from Prague landed at Ciampino airport in Rome at 19:36, and that after brief pleasantries with the civilian and religious authorities who welcomed him, he proceeded to Castel Gandolfo by car at 19:45.





[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/30/2009 8:51 AM]
9/29/2009 4:39 PM
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Some wrap-up stories of the visit:

A great weekend for
affirmative orthodoxy

Sept. 28, 2009

VATICAN - Pope Benedict XVI’s Sept. 26-28 trip to the Czech Republic in some ways loomed as a potential minefield, given that it’s one of the most secular societies on earth, as well as a land that harbors a traditional animus against both Germans and the Catholic church.

For a one-sentence summary of how things went, here it is: Affirmative orthodoxy is alive and well, and it had a great weekend in Prague.

That one sentence is a bit of linguistic sleight of hand, of course, because it requires explaining what “affirmative orthodoxy” means: No compromise on essential points of doctrine and discipline, but the most positive, upbeat presentation possible.

Christianity is framed not as a dry book of rules, but as the answer to, as Benedict put it Monday morning, “the profound thirst for meaning and happiness in the heart of every person.”

Over his three days here, Benedict XVI repeatedly offered variations on a core theme: Congratulations to the peoples of Eastern Europe on recovering their freedom two decades ago, along with an invitation to ponder what goals that freedom is meant to serve.

In effect, Benedict presented himself as a sort of Erasmus for the 21st century, pitching Christian humanism as the key to integrating freedom and truth, faith and reason, and creating a common set of values in an increasingly complicated world.

The three-day swing began on Saturday with a speech to politicians and diplomats in Prague, then continued on Sunday with an open-air Mass in Brno, the largest city in the heavily Catholic Moravia region, which drew an estimated 120,000 people, including large numbers of Poles, Slovaks, Austrians and Germans.

It was described by organizers as the largest Catholic Mass in the history of the Czech Republic. (Bear in mind, however, that this history only dates from the so-called “Velvet Divorce” with Slovakia in 1993.)

Benedict also delivered major addresses to ecumenical leaders and to academics on Sunday evening, and closed the trip with a Mass marking the national feast of St. Wenceslas, the “Good King Wenceslas” of the popular Christmas carol, on Monday before returning to Rome.

Popular enthusiasm for the pontiff sometimes seemed tepid, symbolized by the fact that, unlike other cities that host papal visits, Prague did not festoon its streets with Vatican flags or posters with Benedict’s image. Events were broadcast live on national television, but otherwise media discussion was limited.

Nevertheless, Fr. Jan Balík, press coordinator for the visit, told NCR that what coverage the trip drew was largely positive.

The Pope’s commitment to affirmative orthodoxy over these three days seemed to embody a deliberate effort to get back “on message.”

In many ways, Benedict’s surprisingly positive tone was the early storyline of his papacy. It seemed to go into eclipse in early ’09, however, with a furor over lifting the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including one who’s a Holocaust denier, and controversial comments on AIDS and condoms during a trip to Africa.

Pundits hinted that the “real Ratzinger,” the hard-line figure familiar from his years as the Vatican’s top doctrinal enforcer, was finally coming to the fore.

Prior to arriving in Prague on Saturday morning, Benedict’s trip here likewise seemed fated to beckon the finger-wagging, fire-breathing Pope of popular stereotypes.

The Czech Republic is perhaps the mother ship of European secularization, a point even the Mayor of Prague, Pavel Bem, conceded when he told Benedict on Saturday that his country “has the reputation of being one of the most atheistic societies on earth.”

This nation of 10 million also has the worst track record in Church-state relations in the former Soviet sphere. Some $8 billion of church property confiscated under the Communists still has not been returned or paid off, and the Czech Republic is the lone post-Communist state that hasn’t approved a basic treaty with the Vatican.

Consider, too, that the Czech Republic has approved a whole rafter of social policies at odds with Catholic moral teaching. Abortion is legal, cheap, and widely available here. The country approved a domestic partnership law for gay couples in 2006, and the Czech Parliament is currently considering a measure to legalize euthanasia.

In that context, perhaps the most striking development over these three days is what didn’t happen. Not a single word, not even one, flowed from the lips of the Pope of any of those subjects.

During a Saturday visit to the famed statue of the Infant of Prague, Benedict delivered an entire address devoted to the family without so much as mentioning abortion or gay marriage – normally staples of Vatican rhetoric on family matters.

When the Pope’s lieutenants touched on Church/state disputes, it was merely to confirm comments from interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer to the effect that the two sides agreed that resolving their standoff is not an “urgent priority.”

(That lack of urgency was apparently not shared by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague, who described his 18-year tenure as a “failure” on national television Sunday because of his inability to reach a deal on the restitution of property and a Vatican/Czech treaty.)

Lest any of this seem accidental, Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi all but acknowledged that “affirmative orthodoxy” was the marching order for the trip in a Sunday evening session with reporters in Prague.

“It’s important for Czech society to understand the positive attitude of the Catholic church,” Lombardi said, describing the spirit with which Benedict XVI approach the visit. “We want to collaborate in a positive way and contribute to the life of the society.”

“The Church has a friendly attitude, and the Pope is demonstrating this with his presence,” Lombardi said. “The focus is not on tensions and debates, but on working together.”

In part, this option for affirmative orthodoxy may be little more than a return to form for Benedict XVI after what has been, by most accounts, a rocky year so far. [A 'return to form'??? He never changed! The fact that he was opposed - not new, though in far more virulent form this time even from some cardinals and bishops - does not mean he changed in anything!]

In part, too, it was a no-brainer for a German Pope coming into the Czech Republic, where nationhood is often defined in terms of resistance to 300 years of rule by the Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire and occupation by the Nazis, and whose national hero, medieval preacher Jan Hus, was burned at the stake by the Council of Constance in 1415. [It is clearly arguable whetehr Hus or St. Wenceslas is the national hero!]

More basically, however, affirmative orthodoxy seems to be one component of Benedict’s two-pronged strategy for meeting the challenge posed by secularization and the contemporary crisis of faith in Europe.

For secular society, Benedict’s aim is to present Christianity as the best guarantee of the values which even the most ardently secular agnostic also prizes: peace, tolerance, dialogue, and freedom.

To make that case, the Pope seems to believe he can’t start the conversation with flash-points of controversy, but rather with a positive vision of what Christianity has to offer.

For the local Church, meanwhile, Benedict’s prescription boils down to embracing life as a “creative minority.” Gone are the days of Christianity as the culturally dominant force [in Euyrope]; today it’s fated to be a subculture, with fewer priests and nuns, lower levels of Mass attendance, and a generally shrunken sociological footprint. The key question, from the Pope’s point of view, is what kind of subculture it will turn out to be.

Borrowing a phrase from the British historian Arnold Toynbee, Benedict is pressing the Church to be a “creative minority.” [An expression Cardinal Ratzinger first used in this context, in the interview book Salt of the Earth.]

Toynbee’s contention was that in any civilization, renewal happens when a small subgroup works out fresh responses to new challenges, which are eventually copied by the majority.

On the papal plane en route to Prague, the Pontiff was asked what his message would be for a thoroughly secularized country where Christians have been reduced to a minority.

His answer was vintage Benedict: “It’s normally the creative minorities that determine the future,” he said.

The key question, of course, is whether that strategy will succeed. It’s not clear in the immediate aftermath of Benedict’s trip that the outing offered any clear evidence one way or the other. [Obviously, no one can POSSIBLY come to any conclusion about outcomes - immediate, short-term or long-term - at the end of a three-day trip! One can only say whether the trip was a 'success', not so much as to accomplishing the Holy Father's aim, which is always and everywhere to confirm Christians in their faith, as in terms of whether anything negative happened to 'spoil' the trip. Nothing did, from all accounts, not in the least - I don't think those condom lovers even managed to do what they threatened to do - so by that measure, it was a success.]

Trying to reach such snap judgments is especially complicated with this pope, given his penchant for thinking in the long run. Benedict is legendarily indifferent to tomorrow’s headlines; his tendency is instead to be concerned with how things will stand two or three centuries down the line.

That’s probably just as well in the Czech Republic, where the ambivalence of several centuries vis-à-vis the Catholic church was always unlikely to dissolve over a lone weekend in late September. [Well, DUH!!!!]

Alas, however, it also means that we may have to wait a couple of centuries to know whether affirmative orthodoxy actually worked. [I beg to disagree. A generation has passed since the 1989 fall of Communism. The generations that experienced atheistic Communism are passing away. There is a hopeful core for Catholic renewal in the young Czechs who turned up in Brno and Stara Bolezlaw for the Pope's Masses. The next two generations will show whether the revival holds and broadens.]

PRAGUE — Ending a three-day trip here aimed at fighting secularism, Pope Benedict XVI told about 40,000 of the faithful on Monday that the collapse of the Communist system had shown the price paid by those who chase power and deny God.

“The last century — as this land of yours can bear witness — saw the fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights,” Benedict, 82, said during an open-air Mass in Stara Boleslav, a town about 15 miles northeast of Prague where the Czech patron St. Wenceslas was slain in the 10th century.

“Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power,” he added, in an allusion to the fall of Communism in 1989.

The Pope came to this decidedly skeptical nation as part of a Continentwide mission to urge the unbelieving out of their collective apathy.

But while Benedict’s visit has been warmly received by the country’s Roman Catholics, the Pope has been faced with the overwhelming indifference of a nation unmoved by religion. According to the latest census, fewer than 3 million of the country’s 10.5 million people identify themselves as Roman Catholics.

During his visit to the Czech Republic, where civil unions between gay men and lesbians have been legal since 2006 and abortion has been permissible for decades, the Pope avoided delicate social issues.

Yet many Czechs said his mission here had been futile. “Catholicism is not going to catch on here where cynicism and ‘What’s the point?’ are the national ideology,” said Dominik Jun, 31, a filmmaker. “More Czechs believe in infomercials on television than they do in religion.” [Oh ye of little faith, indeed!]

The Pope had been expected to broach the issue of church property confiscated under Communism and given to the state, which church officials value at about $15 billion. Prime Minister Jan Fischer said over the weekend that both sides had agreed to put aside the issue for now.

NB: I find it most strange that neither Allen nor the NYT reporter made any reference at all to President Klaus's remarks at Prague airport in sending off the Holy Father. (Perhaps they did not get a translation of the text???)

Nothing could gave been a more obvious and gratifying expression of the immediate effects of the Pope's presence in the Czech Republic - the more so because it comes from an avowed non-believer who did not have to say what he said but did.

Thankfully, the AP wrap-up reporter reported something of the airport remarks - Klaus's, as well as the Pope's felicitous citation of Franz Kafka on happiness and staying young.

Czech trip was low-key,
but the Pope is 'very happy'


PRAGUE, Sept. 28 (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI wrapped up a low-key pilgrimage to the fiercely secular Czech Republic on Monday, reaching out to nonbelievers and calling on an increasingly diverse Europe to embrace Christian teachings.

Throughout the three-day visit, the crowds were contained, and so was the Pope's rhetoric.

Although he often wades into contentious issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage, this time a conciliatory Benedict — apparently unwilling to antagonize already apathetic Czechs — made no direct mention of either.

{Excuse me! It must be obvious to anyone with common sense that the Pope chooses the time, place and occasion for statements he has to make. It would have been most foolhardy of him to talk about these hot-button social issues in a highly-secularized country which has legalized abortion, same-sex marriage, and even euthanasia.]

But the Vatican pronounced the Pontiff's 13th foreign trip a success. So did President Vaclav Klaus, a non-Catholic, who called it "extraordinarily successful."

Benedict's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the 82-year-old Pope was "very happy" with the response in the ex-communist country, one of Europe's most secular nations.

While acknowledging there is little the Vatican can do to radically change the situation, Lombardi said the church must send a loud and clear appeal as a "minority" and get out its message of love and hope.

"The solution is to encourage," Lombardi told reporters.

Benedict visited less than two months before Czechs celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which peacefully toppled a Communist regime that had persecuted Roman Catholics and confiscated Church property.

On Monday, a national holiday honoring St. Wenceslas, the nation's martyred patron saint, the German-born Pope held an open-air Mass in the town of Stara Boleslav, just northeast of Prague.

At least 40,000 faithful — some from nearby Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia — packed a meadow to hear the Pope point to Wenceslas as a model for leaders and urge the world to follow the ethical principles of Christianity.

"The last century — as this land of yours can bear witness — saw the fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights," Benedict said, speaking in Italian.

"Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power," the Pope said.

Those who deny God and appear to lead a comfortable life are in reality "sad and unfulfilled" people, he added.

The Pope called Wenceslas, murdered by his pagan brother in 935 A.D. at the gate to a church, "a model of holiness for all people."

"We ask ourselves: In our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? he said.

The Vatican said 40,000 people turned out; Czech organizers put the crowd estimate at 50,000.

Some 30 people needed treatment during the Mass, mostly for dehydration and exhaustion, said Tereza Janeckova, a regional emergency services spokeswoman. Seven were hospitalized, including two who apparently suffered heart attacks.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, who served as secretary to Benedict's predecessor, the late John Paul II, urged Europeans to heed Benedict's message.

"It is a crucial moment for the future of Europe, and Benedict speaks like a prophet," he told Sky TG24 television. "Don't abandon the roots from which you grew, because a tree without roots dies. If Europe abandons these roots, the future is uncertain."

In a special message to young people, the Pope urged them not to be seduced by consumerism.

"Unfortunately, many of your contemporaries allow themselves to be led astray by illusory visions of spurious happiness, and then they find themselves sad and alone," he said.

And in his farewell before returning to Rome, Benedict quoted the great Czech writer Franz Kafka — "anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old" — and encouraged people to see beauty in God's creation and truth.

On Sunday, an open-air Mass in Brno in the southern Czech Republic, the country's Catholic heartland, drew 120,000 pilgrims.

Overall, though, the Pope got a tepid response: No posters or billboards promoted his visit, and local media coverage was thin.

That came as no surprise in this nation where polls suggest half the population of 10 million don't believe in God.

Even the nation's top churchman seemed stuck in a funk.

In an astonishingly public display of self-deprecation, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk made his confession to reporters, saying: "I have achieved almost nothing during my 20 years" as archbishop. [Cardinal Vlk is being humble instead of Pharisaic, but I think his flock knows he did his best.]

But Lukas Jasa, 21, who trekked more than 300 kilometers (200 miles) from the country's east to glimpse the Pope Monday, said he felt it was important to buck the secular trend.

"It's important for us to show that we're not just an atheist nation — that there are believers here," he said.

AP correspondents Victor L. Simpson in Prague and Karel Janicek in Stara Boleslav contributed to this report.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/29/2009 5:48 PM]
9/30/2009 12:43 AM
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Posted earlier in the BENEDICT thread:

With open arms
by Giovanni Maria Vian
Translated from
the 9/28-9/29/09 issue of

The visit of the Successor of Peter to the lands of Bohemia and Moravia was a trip made with open arms - once more, it showed Benedict XVI's gentlest face, his authentic face.

In the Czech Republic, one of the European nations that is most highly secularized, the Pope was received with affection and cordiality, not only by the Catholic minority, which was obvious on many occasions, but also by the repeated presence of President Vaclav Klaus.

In this context, the papal trip was made more signficant in that it was meant to coincide with teh anniversary of former Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the peaceful developments 10 years ago that put an end to Communist oppression in most of central and eastern Euorpe.

The discourses addressed to the Czech people by Benedict XVI, principally centered on the concept of truth - a word which is synonymous with the name of God to Christians - were also words to all nations which had suffered under atheistic totalitarianism.

To the Pope's open arms, many responded - believers and agnostics alike - with joy and visible commotion, and in any case, always with exemplary respect, which was noted especially in teh ceremonies where music could express the profound sentiments of the Czech people.

Like the Te Deum of Antonin Dvorak during the welcome by the civilian authorities and diplomatic corps in the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle. Or the songs of the choir of centuries-old Charles University at the Pope's meeting with the academic world.

On that occasion, in which some three-fourths of the professors and students present are self-declared agnostics or atheists, the consensus and warmth shown to Benedict XVI - who openly praised the role of intellectuals and students in the eventual liberation from Communism - brought to mind the intolerance in Italy which forced teh Pope to cancel a visit to La Sapienza University. Instead, it showed what an encounter between believers and non-believers should be - one carried out in reciprocal respect and in the search for the common good and for truth.

The Pope recurrently insisted on truth and the urgency that Catholics given testimony and voice to the truth in the public debate going on in all sectors of society.

In what used to be Czechoslovakia, Catholics joined seculars to defeat a dictatorship based on lies, in the words of Vaclav Havel - the intellectual who became a symbol of opposition to Communism and became the first President of the Czech Republic. Benedict XVI cited Havel often, first on the flight to Prague, and later met with him privately on the first day of the visit.

Started with a touching prayer to the Infant Jesus of Prague in his shrine, and ending at the site of St. Wenceslas's martyrdom on his liturgical feastday, the papal visit will be remembered, not only in the Czech REpublic, for liturgical celebrations distinguished by impressive dignity adn contemplativeness.

Just think of the long post-Communion silence amon gthe 150,000 faithful who attended the Mass in Brno - not just Czechs, but Slovaks, Slovenes and Poles.

The liturgies made it clear that Christian faith is not an idelogy but an encounter with a person, Jesus. Whom so many saints and martyrs from earliest times to the recent past bore witness to, in the lands of Bohemia and Moravia.

As today, the Catholic community of the Czech Repbublic, continues to bear witness to, in the face of materialism and relativism - and do so with open arms, as open as those of the Pope.

O.R. photos to illustrate
Czech visit reportage

From the 9/28-9/29/09 issue of

Courtesy visit to President Klaus and
address to Czech leaders and the diplomatic corps.
Prague Castle, 9/26/09

Veneration of relics and Vespers. St. Vitus Cathedral, 9/26/09

Mass at Brno-Turany airfield, 9/27/09.

Ecumenical meeting, Archbishop's Palace, Prague, 9/27/09.

Meeting with the Czech academic world. Vladislav Hall, Prague Castle, 9/27/09.

Stara Boleslaw: Visit to St. Wenceslas basilica, Mass and encounter with youth, 9/28/09.

The 9/30/09 issue of L'Osservatore Romano contains the concluding event of the visit to the Czech Republic - the departure ceremony, with the text of the Holy Father's remarks. Why it does not also carry the text of President Klaus's remarks - it was fairly short, and all the more impressive that it said so much in its brevity - is an editorial misjudgment that I find it hard to rationalize in any way.

But Mr. Vian offers another editorial. And anyone who read President Klaus's remarks knows that no editorial could be more eloquent than it was - not in terms of 'literary' value but for what it said concretely.

Moreover, Mr. Vian's editorial is entitled 'Il Papa Kafka e le lingue' (Pope Kafka and languages) which makes no sense - what is a 'Pope Kafka'? - and one must conclude a comma was inadvertently left out, i.e., "Il Papa, Kafka e le lingue" (The Pope, Kafka, and languages), which would make sense.

But, as you can see below, it also appears without a comma in the OR's online summary. So maybe I'm just dense - and nitpicking - but to agree with one statement Kafka made does not necessarily make Benedict XVI a 'Pope Kafka', or even a Kafkaesque Pope! (Despite touches of black humor in his best-known works, Kafka's recurrent theme was the absurdity and ultimate hopelessness of modern life.)

Translated from
the 9/30/09 issue of

A visit that was marked not only by evident success but which will have lasting effects. Thus did the Czech President Vaclav Klaus summarize the trip of Benedict XVI to his country.

An important acknowledgment from a non-Catholic political representative who showed respect and attention to the Pope's words in truly admirable fashion - representative in some way of the widespread attitude in the Czech Republic, thanks also to ample media coverage despite an insensitivity to the true significance of the Pope's itinerary.

Indeed, one must not forget that the trip of the Successor of Peter - after the three made to the same country by John Paul II - was intended to anticipate the twentieth anniversary of the end of European Communism which, in what was then Czechoslovakia, was called the Velvet Revolution.

It was an event that, after the dark decades of atheistic totalitarian regimes, involved large parts of central and eastern Europe and changed the face of the Continent.

But that peaceful change which put an end to an era of oppression - a change that was the outcome of common resistance by seculars and Catholics - was followed by a new situation in which atheistic materialism gave way to practical atheism.

And if the past dictatorship was based on lies - using Vaclav Havel's words cited by Benedict XVI - today's freedom must be founded on truth, in the search for which everyone is called on, without distinction, having the common good as the objective.

That is why the Pope's discourses repeatedly insisted on truth - and that is why his impassioned and committed words found an audience, even in the self-declared agnostic environment such as that of the Czech academic world, where the intervention of the "former professor, attentive to the right of academic freedom and to the responsibility for the authentic use of reason" was received with lengthy applause which was stunning.

Benedict XVI honored the history of the nation and its martyrs - from Duke Wenceslas to the victims of Communism - and exalted the cultural traditions of the Bohemian and Moravian lands, listening to Dvorak's Te Deum and choosing a beautiful sentence from Kafka in saying farewell to the Czech Republic: "Whoever keeps the capacity to see beauty will never grow old".

Language was used wisely in the discourses: from the brief statements made in Czech by the Pope (who delivered his texts mostly in English and Italian), to the German chosen by the student representative who welcomed him in Vladislaw Hall, and the Italian used by the Czech President at the airport.

The choices expressed the desire for encounter and dialog that are significant today for the European continent - whose Christian roots, Eastern and Western, call on it to a demanding responsibility in the international context.

Mr. Vian is no doubt well-meaning but he gives us prose that hardly sets anything afire!... And to make up in a littlw way for his failure to share President Klaus's truly remarkable remarks with OR readers, let me re-post it on this thread.

Departure Ceremony for Pope Benedict XVI
Prague International Airport
Sept. 28, 2009

Your Holiness,

Allow me first of all to thank you in the name of our whole nation for your memorable visit.

Your stay in our country; the message you left us in such a convincing manner; your invitation to mutual understanding, tolerance, and peace, and to the importance of reason, faith and ethical principles, have been conveyed very clearly and we understand. We will remember these and keep them in mind.

You have brought us - to use your words - a new hope! Your great faith, your courage in expressing positions that are not always politically correct nor shared by everyone, your commitment in favor of respect for idas and the fundamental principles of our civilization and of Christianity have given us all an example as well as encouragement.

Tens of thousands of Czech citizens as well as people from neigboring countries had the extraordinary opportunity to see you in person, and millions followed your visit hour after hour during these three days on their television screens.

I can say - convinced that this is not only my personal opinion - that your visit has been a success and will have a lasting effect.

The relationship between the Czech Republic and Vatican City state have been reinforced - and I am happy to say that these have been very good. I am convinced they will continue to be so in the future.

The only picture on the Pope's last day in the Czech Republic in the 9/30/09 issue of OR (it does not enlarge well):

9/30/2009 7:42 AM
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Pope more popular than expected

Prague, Sept 28 (CTK) - The interest of believers in two open-air Masses during the three-day visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the Czech Republic was beyond expectations, and it was comparable with those served by his predecessor John Paul II in 1997, experts told CTK on Monday.

The time between the two visits has not brought any tangible progress in the problems the state has with Catholic church and highlighted by John Paul II in 1997.

Nevertheless, Pope Benedict XVI chose the Czech Republic as the country to visit on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Communist regime, experts said.

The Czech Republic is one of the most secular countries in Europe, perhaps leading the field in this respect.

With his speeches, Pope Benedict XVI was a pleasant surprise, having spoken in a more progressive way than expected, while he eschewed any patronising, Vojtech Elias, a professor of the Catholic faculty of Charles University, said.

"John Paul II was able to open the hearts of other people in an emotive fashion, while Benedict XVI can do so through arguments," said Elias, who noticed Benedict XVI's appeal to the Czech church.

"Wait and see what this will do in our society and in church. The Pope seems to have told the Church: you live in this society and you, the Church, must bring joy and light into it," Elias said.

Priest and author Tomas Halik said he had been impressed by the Pope's behaviour.

"I was greatly impressed by his charisma. He is certainly not a man for the crowds as John Paul II used to be, but I think that unusual concentration, depth and kindness emanated from him," Halik told CTK.

Halik said the Pope represented "the voice of ethical reason" to over one billion people in the world.

The Pope was very satisfied with his visit, although the position of church is still very weak in the Czech Republic, his assistants told journalists.

Halik said the Church had made a generous gesture during the visit when it said it would not insist on its property claims during the economic downturn.

"I think that after this statement those describing the Church as greedy must see they are wrong," Halik said.

Under a bill drafted last year, the government wanted to return about one-third of the Church's property that was nationalised after the 1948 communist coup. Instead of the remaining property, the churches are to receive 83 billion crowns during the next 60 years, or approximately 270 billion crowns with interests.

However, the bill was blocked in the Chamber of Deputies and the question of property settlement between the state and churches in the Czech Republic remains unsettled.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/30/2009 7:42 AM]
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