Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 5, 2009
Ignite faith's flame says pope to Czech faithful
Catholics from Austria, Slovakia, Germany, Poland travelled to attend Mass that numbered 120,000
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - A creative minority of Catholics can help to infuse a secular Czech society with the values of the Gospel, Pope Benedict said on his flight to Prague.
"Normally those who determine the future are the creative minority," the pope told journalists.
"The Catholic Church must see itself as a creative minority that has a heritage of values that are not passe but are alive and relevant," he said.
Pope Benedict's comments on the flight set the tone for his Sept. 26-28 visit to the Czech Republic, widely regarded as Europe's most secular nation.
PEACEFUL REVOLT ANNIVERSARY
The papal visit marked the 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolt that brought down the country's communist regime. The pope urged the Czech people to rediscover the spiritual and moral values that sustained their struggle for freedom.
In gatherings with political, social, cultural and religious leaders as well as the Catholic faithful, the pope delivered a message of hope meant to inspire both the country's majority of nonbelievers and the minority Catholic community.
Central to his message was that no society, no matter how democratic, could ever maintain an ethical sense of freedom without guidance from the truth found in God and the wisdom of faith.
The Czech Republic represents a unique challenge for the Church. Some 60 per cent of the population claims to profess no religious belief.
The largest faith community on the landscape is the Catholic Church, but Catholics are still only 30 per cent of all inhabitants, and only a small per cent say they are active members of the Church.
In a speech to diplomats and religious and cultural leaders, the pope urged people "to apply their faith respectfully yet decisively in the public arena.
"Far from threatening the tolerance of differences or cultural plurality, the pursuit of truth makes consensus possible, keeps public debate logical, honest and accountable" and ensures a society that is united and dedicated to the common good, he said.
At a welcoming ceremony at Prague's airport, the pope said the impact of 40 years of an atheist totalitarian regime could not be underestimated.
FLAME OF FAITH
The flame of faith has been kept alive thanks to the many "courageous martyrs whose fidelity to Christ spoke far louder and more eloquently than the voice of their executioners," he said.
At an outdoor Mass Sept. 28 to celebrate the feast of St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Republic, the pope said bearing witness to the Gospel is not easy.
Sometimes it seems there is little motivation to put Christ first when so many people who exclude God from their lives and who show no respect for others end up reaching the highest pinnacles of power or achieve great success, he said.
But "one need only scratch the surface to realize how sad and unfulfilled these people are," he said. History points to many powerful figures in history who all of a sudden were stripped of their power.
Some 40,000 people assembled for the outdoor Mass in a large field in Stara Boleslav. The town, near Prague, represents the spiritual heart of Bohemia and the origin of Czech statehood.
THOUSANDS OF YOUTH
The Mass seemed like a mini-World Youth Day celebration as past youth day theme songs were sung and thousands of young people cheered and waved the flags of various countries. Many slept overnight in tents and some even came by water on rafts from a small town five km away.
After the Mass, the pope told the young people that Christ "knocks on the door of your freedom and asks to be welcomed as a friend."
While young people are often led astray by "illusory visions" of happiness, he said, only Christ can satisfy the human desire for happiness and meaning in life.
There was not much public sign of the pope's presence in Prague, with few posters and little fanfare along the routes taken by the papal motorcade. Much of the city had emptied out for the three-day holiday weekend, perhaps spurred by dire warnings of traffic snarls during the papal visit.
But the papal visit drew Catholics from all over the Czech nation and from neighbouring Austria, Slovakia, Germany and Poland, especially for the outdoor Mass Sept. 27 in Brno, some 225 km southeast of Prague.
Local organizers said 120,000 people attended the event, making it the largest Mass ever celebrated in the Czech Republic.
The jubilant crowd waved flags and cheered when the pope's plane landed. Some pilgrims wore colourful traditional dress, while others sported backpacks and pedalled bicycles to get to the event.
The pope's homily focused on hope and how "the only certain and reliable hope is founded on God.
"History has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions, and how hard it is to build a society inspired by the values of goodness, justice and fraternity."
The Czech Republic is free of oppression, but people still need to be freed "from the evils that afflict the spirit," and saved from the poverty of isolation, despair, and egoism.
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