Friday, September 25, 2009

Benedict Goes To The Czech Republic Where He Will Find Many Secular Atheists

The Infant of Prague in one of the seasonal costumes in which the Icon is dressed through out the year. Thank God my daughter did not know about this. Purchasing certain Barbies was expensive enough.

Pope Benedict to Confront Secularism on His First Czech Visit
By Jeffrey 9/25/09

Pope Benedict XVI will confront secularism when he visits the Czech Republic, a former communist nation with a centuries-long history of religious and ideological conflict where the percentage of Roman Catholics is declining.

The Catholic leader, who speaks out often about the risk of secular Europe losing its Christian roots, arrives in Prague tomorrow for a three-day visit to one of the few European countries yet to ratify a treaty on relations with the Vatican. The trip is his first as pope to the Czech region, the theater of religious wars from the 15th to 17th centuries, and comes 20 years after the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in Prague.

“The Czech Republic is geographically and historically in the heart of Europe, and after having endured the dramatic events of the previous century, it needs, as does the entire continent, to rediscover the reasons for faith and hope,” Benedict said on Sept. 20 in Castelgandolfo, south of Rome, site of the papal retreat.

Benedict’s trip comes as religious practice is at a historic low in the country, where the government and the Catholic Church have yet to resolve a dispute over the restitution of property confiscated by the former communist authorities.

Atheist groups have called the visit a violation of the secular constitution, while critics of the Vatican’s ban on artificial means of birth control plan to hand out 10,000 condoms during a papal Mass in Brno on Sept. 27, the CTK news agency said on Sept. 24.

Dwindling Faithful

The pope will focus his trip on the country’s dwindling Catholic population, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said. He “will encourage the local church to bring hope and vitality to a very secularized environment,” Lombardi told reporters in Rome on Sept. 23. (Perhaps it would help if the Vatican stopped trying to officially sexularize Europe with their constant interference in internal politics concerning abortion and marriage.)

Benedict, 82, will address Czech political leaders and Prague-based diplomats in a speech in English tomorrow at Prague Castle. While German was spoken widely in the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia before World War II, the German-born pontiff will speak in public only in English, Italian and Czech during the visit, Lombardi said.

About 100,000 people, including pilgrims from neighboring countries, will attend the Mass in Brno, the capital of Moravia, the country’s most Catholic region, Czech Bishop Vaclav Maly told reporters in Prague yesterday. Some 50,000 will be present when the pope leads a ceremony celebrating St. Wenceslaus, the Czech patron saint, on Sept. 28 in Stara Boleslav, north of Prague, Maly added.

European Topics

“His themes will touch on Europe, on the construction of Europe, on its Christian roots, and on democracy and freedom” in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the autumn of 1989, Lombardi said. He added that the pope won’t discuss relations with the Czech state or the property dispute, though such issues may come up in a meeting between Prime Minister Jan Fischer and Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state.

The Catholic Church has a tumultuous history in the region. Jan Hus, a forerunner of the Reformation, was burned at the stake by Catholic officials in Constance in 1415, becoming a national martyr. His death helped set off two centuries of religious wars that devastated the area.

Centuries of Austro-Hungarian rule that sought to re-impose Catholicism also left a lasting mark, said Father William S. Faix, a U.S.-born Catholic priest at St. Thomas Church in Prague.

‘Sense of Resentment’

In 1939, about 80 percent of the population was baptized Catholic, Faix said, adding that the number had fallen to 40 percent by 1990 and stands at just 20 percent of today’s population of 10 million. The Czech Republic was the second- least religious country in Europe, after Estonia, according to a 2005 Eurobarometer poll, which found that only 19 percent of Czechs believed in God. (I wonder how true this is. It could be that Czechs are more inclined to agnosticism rather than particular religious denominations.)

“The Czech nation was under the tutelage of the Hapsburgs from 1526 to 1918, and they did use religion as a source of centralization, and this created a sense of resentment on the part of the Czech people,” Faix said in a telephone interview. “They felt manipulated, ideologically and politically, and this was only exacerbated by the communist regime.” (Perhaps there's a message in this for the United State of America. It does seem certain folks are tryinig to use religion as a source of centralization and engendering resentment.)


This should be an interesting trip for Pope Benedict. In some respects it has the potential for more pitfalls than his recent trip to Israel. The politics may not be as life and death in a literal sense, but Benedict's visit may have quite the effect on the future life of Catholicism in Czechoslovakia.

The Czech's, along with the East German's have by far the lowest belief in the existence of any kind of God. What's interesting though, is both countries have a much higher belief in life after death than they do the existence of God. This could be one reason both countries are experiencing a surge of interest in New Age mysticism. Poland too, is experiencing this same increase, but in Poland's case New Age techniques are an add on to existing forms of folk Catholicism.
This is not an increase in a magical mentality, which believes that one can perform rituals to control what reality manifests. This is an increase in searching for ways to develop personal abilities to achieve an experience of cosmic unity and to connect to something bigger than ones self.

It's not that one can't achieve those kind of experiences in practicing Catholic spiritual and ritual acts, because one can certainly have those same kinds of experiences in Catholicism. The difference is New Age techniques are personal, devoid of any institutional doctrines, and don't come with historical baggage. For these reasons they have a certain appeal to populations which have had their fill of oppressive forms of authority but still desire some sense of the sacred or mysterious. Benedict will have to find a way to stress the transcendent while walking in a historical mine field. Railing against secularism will probably fall on deaf ears--even if it is in English and not German.

As a note of interest, Jayden Cameron who authors the Gay Mystic (linked to at the side of this blog) lives in Prague and will be writing his experiences of the Pope's visit. I'm pretty sure Jayden's reporting will be somewhat different from John Allen's and I am really interested in what Jayden's take will be. Actually I'm kind of jealous.

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