Posted earlier in the BENEDICT thread:
With open arms
by Giovanni Maria Vian
the 9/28-9/29/09 issue of
The visit of the Successor of Peter to the lands of Bohemia and Moravia was a trip made with open arms - once more, it showed Benedict XVI's gentlest face, his authentic face.
In the Czech Republic, one of the European nations that is most highly secularized, the Pope was received with affection and cordiality, not only by the Catholic minority, which was obvious on many occasions, but also by the repeated presence of President Vaclav Klaus.
In this context, the papal trip was made more signficant in that it was meant to coincide with teh anniversary of former Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the peaceful developments 10 years ago that put an end to Communist oppression in most of central and eastern Euorpe.
The discourses addressed to the Czech people by Benedict XVI, principally centered on the concept of truth - a word which is synonymous with the name of God to Christians - were also words to all nations which had suffered under atheistic totalitarianism.
To the Pope's open arms, many responded - believers and agnostics alike - with joy and visible commotion, and in any case, always with exemplary respect, which was noted especially in teh ceremonies where music could express the profound sentiments of the Czech people.
Like the Te Deum of Antonin Dvorak during the welcome by the civilian authorities and diplomatic corps in the Spanish Hall of Prague Castle. Or the songs of the choir of centuries-old Charles University at the Pope's meeting with the academic world.
On that occasion, in which some three-fourths of the professors and students present are self-declared agnostics or atheists, the consensus and warmth shown to Benedict XVI - who openly praised the role of intellectuals and students in the eventual liberation from Communism - brought to mind the intolerance in Italy which forced teh Pope to cancel a visit to La Sapienza University. Instead, it showed what an encounter between believers and non-believers should be - one carried out in reciprocal respect and in the search for the common good and for truth.
The Pope recurrently insisted on truth and the urgency that Catholics given testimony and voice to the truth in the public debate going on in all sectors of society.
In what used to be Czechoslovakia, Catholics joined seculars to defeat a dictatorship based on lies, in the words of Vaclav Havel - the intellectual who became a symbol of opposition to Communism and became the first President of the Czech Republic. Benedict XVI cited Havel often, first on the flight to Prague, and later met with him privately on the first day of the visit.
Started with a touching prayer to the Infant Jesus of Prague in his shrine, and ending at the site of St. Wenceslas's martyrdom on his liturgical feastday, the papal visit will be remembered, not only in the Czech REpublic, for liturgical celebrations distinguished by impressive dignity adn contemplativeness.
Just think of the long post-Communion silence amon gthe 150,000 faithful who attended the Mass in Brno - not just Czechs, but Slovaks, Slovenes and Poles.
The liturgies made it clear that Christian faith is not an idelogy but an encounter with a person, Jesus. Whom so many saints and martyrs from earliest times to the recent past bore witness to, in the lands of Bohemia and Moravia.
As today, the Catholic community of the Czech Repbublic, continues to bear witness to, in the face of materialism and relativism - and do so with open arms, as open as those of the Pope.
O.R. photos to illustrate
Czech visit reportage
From the 9/28-9/29/09 issue of
Courtesy visit to President Klaus and
address to Czech leaders and the diplomatic corps.
Prague Castle, 9/26/09
Veneration of relics and Vespers. St. Vitus Cathedral, 9/26/09
Mass at Brno-Turany airfield, 9/27/09.
Ecumenical meeting, Archbishop's Palace, Prague, 9/27/09.
Meeting with the Czech academic world. Vladislav Hall, Prague Castle, 9/27/09.
Stara Boleslaw: Visit to St. Wenceslas basilica, Mass and encounter with youth, 9/28/09.
The 9/30/09 issue of L'Osservatore Romano contains the concluding event of the visit to the Czech Republic - the departure ceremony, with the text of the Holy Father's remarks. Why it does not also carry the text of President Klaus's remarks - it was fairly short, and all the more impressive that it said so much in its brevity - is an editorial misjudgment that I find it hard to rationalize in any way.
But Mr. Vian offers another editorial. And anyone who read President Klaus's remarks knows that no editorial could be more eloquent than it was - not in terms of 'literary' value but for what it said concretely.
Moreover, Mr. Vian's editorial is entitled 'Il Papa Kafka e le lingue' (Pope Kafka and languages) which makes no sense - what is a 'Pope Kafka'? - and one must conclude a comma was inadvertently left out, i.e., "Il Papa, Kafka e le lingue" (The Pope, Kafka, and languages), which would make sense.
But, as you can see below, it also appears without a comma in the OR's online summary. So maybe I'm just dense - and nitpicking - but to agree with one statement Kafka made does not necessarily make Benedict XVI a 'Pope Kafka', or even a Kafkaesque Pope! (Despite touches of black humor in his best-known works, Kafka's recurrent theme was the absurdity and ultimate hopelessness of modern life.)
the 9/30/09 issue of
A visit that was marked not only by evident success but which will have lasting effects. Thus did the Czech President Vaclav Klaus summarize the trip of Benedict XVI to his country.
An important acknowledgment from a non-Catholic political representative who showed respect and attention to the Pope's words in truly admirable fashion - representative in some way of the widespread attitude in the Czech Republic, thanks also to ample media coverage despite an insensitivity to the true significance of the Pope's itinerary.
Indeed, one must not forget that the trip of the Successor of Peter - after the three made to the same country by John Paul II - was intended to anticipate the twentieth anniversary of the end of European Communism which, in what was then Czechoslovakia, was called the Velvet Revolution.
It was an event that, after the dark decades of atheistic totalitarian regimes, involved large parts of central and eastern Europe and changed the face of the Continent.
But that peaceful change which put an end to an era of oppression - a change that was the outcome of common resistance by seculars and Catholics - was followed by a new situation in which atheistic materialism gave way to practical atheism.
And if the past dictatorship was based on lies - using Vaclav Havel's words cited by Benedict XVI - today's freedom must be founded on truth, in the search for which everyone is called on, without distinction, having the common good as the objective.
That is why the Pope's discourses repeatedly insisted on truth - and that is why his impassioned and committed words found an audience, even in the self-declared agnostic environment such as that of the Czech academic world, where the intervention of the "former professor, attentive to the right of academic freedom and to the responsibility for the authentic use of reason" was received with lengthy applause which was stunning.
Benedict XVI honored the history of the nation and its martyrs - from Duke Wenceslas to the victims of Communism - and exalted the cultural traditions of the Bohemian and Moravian lands, listening to Dvorak's Te Deum
and choosing a beautiful sentence from Kafka in saying farewell to the Czech Republic: "Whoever keeps the capacity to see beauty will never grow old".
Language was used wisely in the discourses: from the brief statements made in Czech by the Pope (who delivered his texts mostly in English and Italian), to the German chosen by the student representative who welcomed him in Vladislaw Hall, and the Italian used by the Czech President at the airport.
The choices expressed the desire for encounter and dialog that are significant today for the European continent - whose Christian roots, Eastern and Western, call on it to a demanding responsibility in the international context.
Mr. Vian is no doubt well-meaning but he gives us prose that hardly sets anything afire!... And to make up in a littlw way for his failure to share President Klaus's truly remarkable remarks with OR readers, let me re-post it on this thread.
The only picture on the Pope's last day in the Czech Republic in the 9/30/09 issue of OR (it does not enlarge well):
PRESIDENT KLAUS'S REMARKS
Departure Ceremony for Pope Benedict XVI
Prague International Airport
Sept. 28, 2009
Allow me first of all to thank you in the name of our whole nation for your memorable visit.
Your stay in our country; the message you left us in such a convincing manner; your invitation to mutual understanding, tolerance, and peace, and to the importance of reason, faith and ethical principles, have been conveyed very clearly and we understand. We will remember these and keep them in mind.
You have brought us - to use your words - a new hope! Your great faith, your courage in expressing positions that are not always politically correct nor shared by everyone, your commitment in favor of respect for idas and the fundamental principles of our civilization and of Christianity have given us all an example as well as encouragement.
Tens of thousands of Czech citizens as well as people from neigboring countries had the extraordinary opportunity to see you in person, and millions followed your visit hour after hour during these three days on their television screens.
I can say - convinced that this is not only my personal opinion - that your visit has been a success and will have a lasting effect.
The relationship between the Czech Republic and Vatican City state have been reinforced - and I am happy to say that these have been very good. I am convinced they will continue to be so in the future.