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00Saturday, September 26, 2009 2:41 PM

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


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

Translated from
the 9/27/09 issue of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated from the transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

00Saturday, September 26, 2009 3:16 PM


Pope decries Communist-era persecution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Associated Press Writer Karel Janicek contributed to this report.

Welcome Ceremony
Prague, Stará Ruzyne Airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

00Saturday, September 26, 2009 3:49 PM


Pope delivers upbeat message
in ambivalent spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

00Saturday, September 26, 2009 6:17 PM

Courtesy call on President Klaus
and address to Czech leaders
and the diplomatic corps

Here is a brief report translated from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benedict XVI offers Erasmus
for the 21st century


Prague, Sept. 26, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

00Saturday, September 26, 2009 7:29 PM


The Holy Father and Cardinal Vlk walked the few hundred meters from the Presidential Palace to St. Vitus's Cathedral for Vespers with the diocesan clergy, religiousand members of church movements.

St Vitus Cathedral

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

00Saturday, September 26, 2009 10:28 PM

Thanks a lot, Marketa!

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

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

00Sunday, September 27, 2009 12:36 AM

The logic of encounter
by Giovanni Maria Vian
Translated from
the 9/27/09 issue of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

00Sunday, September 27, 2009 1:22 PM

Sunday, Sept. 27

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

OR today.

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


00Sunday, September 27, 2009 3:01 PM


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the prayers. he said this in Slovenian:

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

In Polish:

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

In German:

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

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

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

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

Finally, in Czech:

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

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

The Hapsburgs were smiling
from Heaven today


Sept. 27, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

00Sunday, September 27, 2009 6:02 PM


As usual, Caterina's videocaps of liturgical events are so much more representative than what we get from the newsphoto agencies.And as always, GRAZIE MILLE, CATERINA!




00Sunday, September 27, 2009 7:44 PM

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.]

00Sunday, September 27, 2009 9:48 PM

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.

00Monday, September 28, 2009 12:36 AM

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.]

00Monday, September 28, 2009 12:08 PM
00Monday, September 28, 2009 12:10 PM

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.


00Monday, September 28, 2009 12:26 PM


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.

00Monday, September 28, 2009 1:52 PM


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!

00Monday, September 28, 2009 5:10 PM

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.

00Monday, September 28, 2009 7:17 PM


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.





00Tuesday, September 29, 2009 4:39 PM

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.
00Wednesday, September 30, 2009 12:43 AM

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):

00Wednesday, September 30, 2009 7:42 AM

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.

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