00 9/18/2009 7:22 PM

Posted earlier today in the BENEDICT XVI news thread.

John Allen comments on the Czech and Malta trips in his weekly column today.

The Czech Republic:
Not an easy mission
for the Pope

Sept. 18, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI hits the road again next weekend, travelling to the Czech Republic Sept. 26-28. One highlight will be his participation in the Feast of St. Wenceslaus on Monday, Sept. 28, which is a national holiday. St. Wenceslaus is the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

In strictly capitalistic terms, if religion were a "product," the Czech Republic would arguably be one of the worst markets for that product anywhere in the world.

Although secularization has spread all across Europe, Austrian sociologist Fr. Paul Zulehner reports that the former East Germany and the Czech Republic are really the only places where atheism has become in effect the "state church," meaning the conviction of a majority and the strongest culture-shaping force.

(The standard quip is thus that in East Germany and the Czech Republic, atheism is the only proven success of the erstwhile Communist regimes.)

Here's one sign of the times: The Prague Post, the country's leading English-language paper, has asked me to write an op-ed piece in advance of the trip, the working title of which is: "Does the Pope still matter?"

When the Pope travels to other parts of the world, local media usually ask me to speculate on how he might try to deploy his influence. Only in some pockets of Europe am I asked to comment on whether he still has any.

Benedict XVI also faces several more immediate challenges.

For one thing, a draft concordat between the Holy See and the Czech Republic is still in limbo after being rejected by the Czech parliament in 2003, on the basis of objections from some politicians that it made too many concessions to the Catholic church. (Among other things, there are still church-state disputes over property confiscated under the Communists.)

Czech President Václav Klaus, whom Benedict will meet on Sept. 26, is also a prominent Euro-skeptic and critic of claims about manmade global warming -- both positions tough to reconcile with the Vatican's official diplomatic line.

I'll be in the Czech Republic to cover the trip; watch the NCR Web site for my daily reports.

In the meantime, the Vatican says that Benedict XVI is considering a trip to Malta next April to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of St. Paul's famous shipwreck on the tiny Mediterranean island. Officially, Malta is 98 percent Catholic, making it among the most Catholic societies on earth in terms of "market share."

Pope to be accompanied by 100 people
on visit to Czech Republic

VATICAN, Sept. 17 (CTK) - Pope Benedict XVI will be accompanied by a 29-member group of the Vatican representatives, including Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and people from the International Catholic Centre, as well as up to 70 journalists, the Vatican administration has told CTK.

Benedict XVI, 82, and his team will fly to Prague aboard a plane of the Italian Airlines. He will return to Rome by a Czech special plane.

The Pope's team will also include a personal doctor, his assistant, two interpreters, an official photographer and three experts in liturgical ceremonies.

On the other hand, Benedict XVI never takes a personal cook to his trips abroad as he is not on a special diet, a clerk from the Vatican administration, told CTK.

The Vatican also confirmed that Benedict XVI would spend two nights in the Czech Republic in the seat of the Vatican diplomatic mission in Prague, Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Vatican state secretariat, told CTK.

Two bulletproof "papa-mobiles" (cars specially adjusted for the Pope) were sent to the Czech Republic two weeks ahead of the visit. A Czech policeman is to drive them.

Hundreds of Czech policemen will protect the Pope during his three-day visit to the Czech Republic on September 26-28.

The security measures are to be as tight as during the April visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Prague.

Among the media representatives to accompany the Pope will be a reporter of the Italian daily L'Osservatore Romano, technicians from the Vatican radio and a photographer from the Vatican TV.

Former Papal Nuncio to Prague Giovanni Coppa will also be in the Pope's delegation.

The Pope will arrive in the Czech Republic on Saturday, September 26. On Sunday morning, September 27, he will celebrate a mass for tens of thousands of pilgrims at the Brno-Turany airport.

On September 28, the day of St Wenceslas, patron Saint of Bohemia, the Pope will celebrate a public mass in Stara Boleslav, central Bohemia, where St Wenceslas died a martyr death in 935.

Czech church and political representatives are preparing various gifts for the Pope that will be presented at a press conference in Brno this afternoon.

The Bohemian and Moravian bishops have ordered a unique rosary for for the Pope. Its rosette will become a pattern for special silver and golden commemorative medals that will be issued on this occasion.

The Pope will pay a visit to the Czech Republic for the first time after 12 years.

The predecessor of Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, visited the Czech Republic in 1995 and 1997, and in 1990 he paid a visit to the former Czechoslovakia.