Pilgrimage and Mission
Pope Benedict XVI Reflects on His Visit to the Czech Republic
BY The Editors
October 18-24, 2009 Issue | Posted 10/9/09 at 2:15 PM
Weekly General Audience Septemeber 30, 2009
During his general audience on Sept. 30, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on his recent apostolic visit to the Czech Republic.
The Holy Father recalled his meetings with Church leaders and with civil authorities during his stay in the Czech Republic, as well as his encounters with young people, representatives of other churches in the country, and members of the academic community. He expressed his gratitude to the Czech people for their warm welcome.
Dear brothers and sisters,
As is the custom after my apostolic trips abroad, I would like to take advantage of today’s general audience to speak about my pilgrimage to the Czech Republic a few days ago.
I do so, first of all, as an act of thanksgiving to God, who allowed me to make this visit, which he blessed immensely. Truly, it was pilgrimage and, at the same time, a mission to the heart of Europe. It was a pilgrimage because Bohemia and Moravia have been lands of faith and holiness for more than 1,000 years.
It was a mission because Europe needs to rediscover a solid foundation for hope in God and in his love. It is no accident that Cyril and Methodius, the saints who evangelized the people there, are, along with St. Benedict, the patron saints of Europe.
“The love of Christ is our strength.” This was the theme for my trip — a theme that is an echo of the faith of so many of its heroic witnesses, both in the distant past and more recently, particularly during the last century.
Above all, it is an expression of a certainty of Christians today: Indeed, our strength is Christ’s love! It is a strength that inspires and animates a true revolution, peaceful yet liberating, which sustains us in times of crisis, enabling us to rise again when freedom, so arduously regained, is in danger of being lost, along with the truth it contains.
The welcome that I received was heartfelt. The president of the Czech Republic, to whom I once again express my gratitude, was present at various events and graciously received me and my co-workers at his residence, the historic Prague Castle.
With great warmth, the entire conference of bishops, and, in a special way, the cardinal archbishop of Prague and the bishop of Brno, made me aware of the deep bond that unites the Catholic community of the Czech Republic to the Successor of Peter.
I am grateful to them for having prepared the liturgical celebrations with such great care. I am also thankful to the civil and military authorities, as well as all those who, in various ways, cooperated to ensure the success of my visit.
Infant of Prague
The love of Christ was first revealed in the face of a child. In fact, upon my arrival in Prague, my first stop was at the Church of Our Lady of Victory, where the Infant Jesus is venerated as “the Infant of Prague.” Indeed, this image reminds us of the mystery of God made man, of the “God who is with us,” the foundation of our hope.
I prayed in front of the Infant of Prague for all children and their parents and for the future of the family. The true “victory” that we request from Mary today is the victory of love and life in the family and in society.
Prague Castle, which is extraordinary from a historical and architectural point of view, invites us to a much broader reflection.
Numerous monuments, sites and institutions are enclosed within its vast spaces, representing a sort of polis in which the cathedral and the palace, together with the town square and public gardens, coexist in harmony. Within this context, my visit was relevant to both the civilian and religious spheres, which are not in opposition to each other, but should be in close harmony with each other despite their distinct natures.
Thus, addressing the political and civil authorities as well as the diplomatic corps, I recalled the indissoluble bond that must always exist between freedom and truth.
Truth and Freedom
We must not be afraid of the Truth, because it is a friend of man and of his freedom. Indeed, only by sincerely seeking Truth, goodness and beauty can we truly offer a future to young people of today and to future generations.
Besides, what is it that draws so many people to Prague but its beauty — a beauty that is not only aesthetic but also historical and religious — a beauty that is human in its broadest sense?
Those who exercise authority in the fields of politics and education must be able to draw from the light of that truth, which is the reflection of the eternal wisdom of the Creator. They are called to bear witness to it personally in their own lives.
Only a serious commitment to intellectual and moral uprightness is worthy of the sacrifice of all those who paid dearly for freedom!
The splendid cathedral of Prague — a symbol of the synthesis of truth and beauty dedicated to Sts. Vitus, Wenceslas and Adalbert — was the venue where I celebrated vespers with priests, religious, seminarians and a group of lay representatives from the various Church associations and movements.
This is a difficult time for the communities in Central and Eastern Europe, due to the consequences of a long winter under atheistic totalitarianism, amplified by the harmful effects of Western secularism and consumerism. Hence, I encouraged everyone to draw fresh energy from the risen Lord in order to become an evangelical leaven within society, committing themselves, as is already happening, to charitable work and even more so to education.
Hope and Faith in Christ
This message of hope, based on faith in Christ, was addressed to all of God’s people in the two great Eucharistic celebrations that took place in Brno, the capital of Moravia, and in Stara Boleslav, the place where St. Wenceslas, the principal patron of the nation, was martyred.
Moravia immediately reminds us of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who evangelized the Slavic people, and of the unlimited power of the Gospel, which cuts across history and continents like a river of healing water, bringing life and salvation everywhere.
Christ’s words “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) are written above the doors of the cathedral of Brno. We heard these words last Sunday during the liturgy, an echo of the unrelenting voice of Our Savior — the hope of people yesterday, today and always. The life of a patron of a Christian nation like St. Wenceslas is an eloquent sign of the lordship of Christ, a lordship of grace and mercy.
St. Wenceslas was a young Bohemian of the 10th century who was killed by his brother, and who distinguished himself by his exemplary witness of Christian life. Wenceslas placed the Kingdom of heaven above the allure of earthly power and has remained forever in the hearts of the Czech people as a model and protector throughout the ups and downs of history.
I invited the many young people who were present at the Mass of St. Wenceslas — some from neighboring countries — to recognize in Christ their truest friend who satisfies the most profound desires of the human heart.
Finally, I must mention two meetings in particular — one ecumenical and another with the academic community. The first meeting took place at the Archbishop’s Palace in Prague and brought together the leaders of the various Christian communities in the Czech Republic, as well as the head of the Jewish community.
Reflecting on the nation’s history, which, unfortunately, has experienced harsh conflicts among Christians, being together as disciples of the one Lord was cause for sincere gratitude to God and reason to share together the joy of our faith and our historical responsibility as we face today’s challenges.
Our struggle to proceed towards a unity that is ever fuller and increasingly visible among believers in Christ makes our common commitment to rediscovering the Christian roots of Europe stronger and more effective.
This aspect was very close to the heart to my beloved predecessor, John Paul II, and it also emerged in my meeting with the rectors of Czech universities, along with representatives of professors and students, and other outstanding personalities in the cultural field.
In this context, I emphasized the role of the university as an institution, an important structure in Europe, with one of the oldest and most prestigious universities of the continent in Prague, Charles University, named after Emperor Charles IV, who founded it along with Pope Clement VI.
The university is a vital environment in society, a guarantee of freedom and development, as demonstrated by the fact that Prague’s “Velvet Revolution” originated in university circles.
Twenty years after that historic event I once again presented the idea of integral human formation, based on a unity of knowledge rooted in truth in order to counter a new dictatorship, one of relativism linked to the dominance of technology.
Humanistic and scientific culture cannot be separated; they are two sides of the same coin. Once again, the Czech nation reminds us of this — being home to great writers like Kafka and to Abbot Mendel, the pioneer of modern genetics.
My dear friends, I thank the Lord because this trip allowed me to meet a people and a Church with deep historical and religious roots that commemorates this year various events of important spiritual and social significance.
To our brothers and sisters in the Czech Republic, I renew a message of hope and the invitation to have the courage to do what is good and to construct the present and the future of Europe. I entrust the fruits of my pastoral visit to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to all the saints of Bohemia and Moravia. Thank you.
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