00 9/26/2009 5:56 AM

Posted earlier today in the BENEDICT thread.

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

by Jeffrey Donovan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security high for Pope's visit,
public anticipation muted

By Tom Clifford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From an Italian site on the papal visit

which translates items from Czech sources:

A Czech-language biography
of Benedict XVI

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

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

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

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

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

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/26/2009 5:57 AM]