00 9/27/2009 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.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/27/2009 2:01 AM]