00 9/28/2009 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.]

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/28/2009 1:05 AM]