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THE POPE’S JOURNEY TO THE...
from issue no. 09 - 2009

The journal of Cardinal Miloslav Vlk

“An extraordinary and wonderful visit”


So Pope Benedict XVI described his visit to the Czech Republic, a small nation in the heart of Europe where Christians account for only a third of the population. Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Archbishop of Prague, recounts the Pope’s journey in late September


by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk


Benedict XVI during Mass at Stará Boleslav on the liturgical feast of St Wenceslas, patron saint of the Czech nation, 28 September 2009 [© Osservatore Romano]

Benedict XVI during Mass at Stará Boleslav on the liturgical feast of St Wenceslas, patron saint of the Czech nation, 28 September 2009 [© Osservatore Romano]

The pastoral visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Czech Republic at the end of September was the fourth visit by a supreme pontiff to our small nation in the heart of Europe, where Christians constitute only one third of the population. John Paul II visited our country three times after the collapse of communism. In early 1990, at the invitation of the then President Havel, to “celebrate” our regained freedom. Then in 1995, to canonize in the city of Olomouc our two blesseds John Sarkander and the mother of a family, the Blessed Zdislava of Lemberk. Again, in 1997, the Holy Father came as a pilgrim, to celebrate with us the thousandth anniversary of the death of the Bohemian saint martyr Bishop Adalbert (Vojtech), whom the Czech people share with the Polish. John Paul II: a Slav Pope, coming from a neighboring country. Twelve years later, came Benedict XVI, he too originally from a neighboring country.
We invited Pope Benedict immediately after his election, when the Czech bishops went to the Vatican for the ad limina apostolorum visit. He took the invitation to heart. In the jubilee year, the one thousand one hundredth anniversary of the birth of the “eternal” Prince St Wenceslas, the martyr founder of our State and the patron saint of our Church, the Pope responded to the invitation to visit our country.
The Church in our country consists of two ecclesiastical provinces – Moravia, with the metropolitan see of Olomouc, and Bohemia, with the archdiocese of Prague. The Moravian province comprises about three quarters of the faithful, the majority in the diocese of Brno. That is why we scheduled two great meetings of the faithful with the Holy Father: the principal Mass was celebrated on Sunday, 27 September, in Moravia, in the city of Brno with a crowd of about 130,000 faithful, and the other liturgical celebration was held on the day of the feast of St Wenceslas martyr, on 28 September, in Prague, in the sanctuary of Stará Boleslav, the site of the martyr’s death. That date, 28 September, is a national holiday in fact. The Mass in Stará Boleslav, attended by about 50,000 people, was devoted mainly to young people. Both in Brno and Stará Boleslav, the Pope was welcomed with great enthusiasm and love; he passed in the “popemobile” and greeted the jubilant crowd of believers. On both occasions the main meaning and purpose of his pastoral visit was achieved. The Czech Republic is a small country of eleven million inhabitants. Christians make up about one third of the population. If the Holy Father decided to come to visit such a small country, with so few believers, he was urged only by apostolic love.
Our country has the reputation of being one of the most secular and atheist in Europe. Benedict XVI came in the spirit of the words received by the first Pope: “And you confirm your brethren”.
Basing himself on the thinking in his latest encyclical, Caritas in veritate, the Pontiff urged believers in Brno to deepen their faith, leaning on sure hope in Christ, so as to be able to offer their own experience, through a joyous way of life, to other citizens. The Holy Father recalled the example of our saints Cyril and Methodius, Ludmilla and Wenceslas. In Stará Boleslav, the holy place of the national spiritual tradition linked to St Wenceslas, he addressed young people, referring to the great desire of the young heart hidden in each of us, namely the desire to find the meaning of one’s life, to find happiness. He invited them to follow Christ through the “narrow gate” and pointed out that by the mere satisfaction of material needs one does not achieve happiness. He then spoke of St Wenceslas and his great example for the achieving of the meaning of life.
He also mentioned the ideology and lifestyle of the past communist regime, which did not lead to happiness. After Mass, in a message addressed more especially to the young, he developed some thoughts from the homily, pointing to St Augustine as an example in seeking the meaning of life, of the call. He invited the young people to be the “messengers of hope”, to live their faith with joy and enthusiasm, in unity with one another and with Christ, to draw strength for their own path in life from the sacraments and to advance their Christian training.
Besides the two central and pastoral moments of his visit, that is the Eucharistic celebrations, the Pope met with families with children in the church of the Infant Jesus of Prague, administered by the Carmelites. This was an appropriate occasion to speak of the family. The Holy Father, greeting many families and many children, experienced moments full of joy there.
Then, in the packed Cathedral in Prague, where the tombs and relics of many of our saints lie, Benedict XVI met priests, religious men and women, for the prayer of Vespers. In his speech, he highlighted our past rich in spirituality and culture and, in relation to the Year of the Priest, noted the examples of lives of saints as well as examples of the life of consecrated Christians in the time of totalitarianism.
Benedict XVI and Cardinal Miloslav Vlk [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

Benedict XVI and Cardinal Miloslav Vlk [© Associated Press/LaPresse]

Naturally the Pope’s visit was also an opportunity to meet with State and political authorities. The Pope met the President of the Republic, Václav Klaus. It had been the president, along with the Czech Bishops’ Conference, who made the invitation to the Pope to visit our country. In the Spanish Hall, the most renowned in Prague Castle, the Holy Father greeted the deputies, politicians, public figures and members of the diplomatic corps. He spoke very openly about the freedom regained after the collapse of the totalitarian regime and of the responsibility entailed by freedom. “True freedom involves the search for truth, the true good, and thus finds its fulfillment in knowing and doing precisely what is right and just. Truth, in other words, is the guideline for freedom and goodness is its perfection”. The Pope stressed the significance of Christianity for the political advancement of society. He also highlighted the cultural and political significance of the history of the Czech nation in the heart of Europe, its standing as a crossroads of the spiritual currents of the past. He spoke of Europe as a “home” that must be built... He said: “Europe is more than a continent. It is a home! And freedom finds its deepest meaning precisely in being a spiritual homeland”.
In Vladislav Hall of Prague Castle, the Holy Father then met with representatives of the academic and scientific world. There, obviously, he felt “at home”. He spoke to the audience of freedom as a precondition for the use of reason and the search for truth and that, as such, it is the principle of Christianity. “The autonomy of a university”, he said, “indeed of any educational institution, finds meaning in the capacity to become answerable before the truth”. The speech was followed by a very long applause.
The Holy Father himself has described his visit as “extraordinary and wonderful”. He was surprised by the large number of believers who attended the two masses, by the warm welcome from the social and political world and also by the fact that his visit was broadcast by many media: by national television and radio, by the Catholic television “Noe”, by the Catholic radio station “Proglas”. The whole country was involved in the visit, which was well organized in every detail. Those who took part not only stood together but demonstrated a deep and living faith.
The skepticism stirred up by the media before the visit, given that our country is one of the most atheistic in Europe, proved misplaced. Indeed, the Pope left with a very positive impression.
We are truly happy that we were able to give the Pope some joy in his apostolic mission.


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