00 9/30/2009 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.

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