By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
During his historic three-day visit to the Czech Republic, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in that country, Pope Benedict XVI carried a message of faith and hope to this largely atheistic nation.
“In the modern age both faith and hope … have been relegated to the private and other-worldly sphere,” the Pope said during an outdoor Mass in Brno on Sunday morning which attracted more than 100,000. “While in day-to-day public life confidence in scientific and economic progress has been affirmed . . . . We all know that this progress is ambiguous: it opens up possibilities for good as well as evil, but it is not enough to guarantee the moral welfare of society.”
Now that the Czech Republic has cast off the oppressive yoke of communism, which banned all public religious practice for decades, the Pope encouraged the people to be “liberated from material oppressions . . . from the evils that afflict the spirit. And who can save him if not God, Who is Love and has revealed His face as Almighty and Merciful Father in Jesus Christ? Our firm hope is therefore Christ.”
He added: “In present-day society, many forms of poverty are born from isolation, from being unloved, from the rejection of God and from a deep-seated tragic closure in man who believes himself to be self-sufficient . . . in this world of ours which is alienated ‘when too much trust is placed in merely human projects’, only Christ can be our certain hope. This is the message that we Christians are called to spread every day, through our witness.”
The Pope’s visit began on Saturday with a visit to Prague where he visited Our Lady of Victory Church, home of the famous Infant of Prague. He later met with former Czech president Vaclav Havel, hero of the 1989 coup that toppled communism. Havel had spent years in Communist prisons before the coup that ended with him becoming president of the newly freed nation.
However, the fall of communism failed to bring about a religious revival in Czechoslovakia where less than a third of the country’s 10.38 million people are Catholic, according to the Vatican.
On Saturday evening, while celebrating Vespers with bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and the laity in Prague’s Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert, the Pope directly addressed the problem of the atheist ideology that grips the nation.
“Twenty years ago, after the long winter of Communist dictatorship, your Christian communities began once more to express themselves freely. … Yet you are well aware that even today it is not easy to live and bear witness to the Gospel. Society continues to suffer from the wounds caused by atheist ideology, and it is often seduced by the modern mentality of hedonistic consumerism amid a dangerous crisis of human and religious values and a growing drift towards ethical and cultural relativism. In this context there is an urgent need for renewed effort throughout the Church so as to strengthen spiritual and moral values in present-day society.”
He called upon the faithful to exercise their faith with particular zeal, especially in regard to the education of youth. “Catholic schools should foster respect for the human person; attention should also be given to the pastoral care of young people outside the school environment, without neglecting other groups of the faithful. Christ is for everyone!”
After the two-hour Mass in Brno, the Pope returned to Prague to attend an ecumenical meeting and meet with scientists.
His visit ended today, on the feast of St. Wenceslas, the Czech martyr and patron saint who was murdered on Sept. 28, 935. To mark the occasion, the Pope celebrated Mass for an estimated 35,000 people in Stara Boleslav near Prague.
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