00 9/28/2009 12:26 PM


The Basilica of St. Wenceslas was built on the site of a church dedicated to Sts. Cosmas and Damian. Besides the martyr's remains, the other object of devotion is the so-called Palladium, a medal of the Madonna said to have been worn by Wenceslas.

Pope venerates St. Wenceslas
where he was martyred

by Jan Flemr

STARA BOLESLAV, Czech Republic (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI bowed before the skull of the Czech Republic's patron saint on Monday ahead of an open-air Mass for the country's youths.

The 82-year-old Pope visited the Saint Wenceslas Basilica in Stara Bolesav, just outside Prague, where he paid homage to the saint on the anniversary of his murder more than 1,000 years ago.

Saint Wenceslas, who was duke of Bohemia until his death, was murdered by his power-hungry pagan brother Boleslav on September 28, 935 at the gate of a church that used to stand where the basilica is now located.

The Pope also venerated the so-called Palladium, a small metal picture of the Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus, which the saint used to wear on his neck, according to legend.

Afterwards Benedict headed to a field to celebrate Mass before tens of thousands of pilgrims on the last day of his three-day visit to the former communist country.

The crowd waved Czech, Slovak, German and Vatican flags and chanted "Benedicto" as the Pope passed through in the popemobile, waving to the pilgrims.

"I expect this to be more fun than yesterday's mass in Brno," Jana, a young girl from the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, said in the chilly morning, with Stara Boleslav church towers emerging from the fog behind her.

She and her friend Zuzka slept in a tent in a nearby meadow which became home for up to 10,000 pilgrims for the night, according to police spokeswoman Stepanka Zatloukalova.

Benedict XVI arrived for his first visit to the Czech Republic and his second to Eastern Europe on Saturday.

He is visiting the country shortly before the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which toppled communism in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989 and provided the main topic for his speeches on Saturday.

For the first time ever, the pontiff met Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright and hero of the Velvet Revolution who became president after spending years in communist prisons.

On Sunday, Benedict XVI led an open-air Mass for 120,000 pilgrims in the southeastern city of Brno, the centre of southern Moravia, a region with the highest percentage of believers in the otherwise secular Czech Republic.

He called for a spiritual renewal in the former communist nation, attacked the "oppressive" communist regime again, and warned against scientific and economic progress which "opens up possibilities for good as well as evil."

"It was an interesting and comprehensible speech, it wasn't too sweet like it sometimes is," said Marie Novotna, a 30, who saw the Brno mass on TV.

Standing next to her sister before the Stara Boleslav mass, she added: "This will be an extraordinary event, we are really curious."

Tomas, a monk at the Strahov monastery in Prague, said he had already met the Pope at an evening Mass in Prague on Saturday.

"I was a bit surprised, he looks young on TV, and then I realised he's an older man, though with the spark you would expect from a spiritual person," said the man in a white robe with a red cordon.

He also commented on the fact that most Czechs are non-believers, with Catholics making up less than a third of the 10.3-million population, according to Vatican data.

"I think the Pope's visit may appeal to a few people who will like the way he acts and preaches, and who will be attracted by the 'pomp' of liturgy," he added.

After the Mass in Stara Boleslav, Pope Benedict will return to Prague for lunch with bishops from the Czech Republic and the papal entourage before leaving for Rome at 5:45 pm (15:45 GMT).

Before leaving for the Mass, the Holy Father greeted retired priests from the diocese as well as some nuns.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 9/28/2009 2:41 PM]