A note from a reader in the Czech Republic:
I come from the Czech republic and I am quite frustrated that the pope`s visit gets such a negative response in the English blogs – or no response at all… In reality, it was fantastic!
There was a lot of symbolism which foreigners do not understand. For example: The first place he went (at his own request), the church of Our Lady of Victory, it is THE church – the symbol of recatholisation of the country. In the year 1620 catholics defeated protestants and this particular church in Praha got "victorious" this name. A general of carmelites, P. Dominic a Jesu Maria, found a picture of Our Lady in South Bohemia, where protestants erased Her and little Jesus`eyes – he took picture with him and before the battle of White Mountain he showed it to the catholic army generals and asked them to atack and promised God`s help. They did it, they won and the carmelites got that church afterwards. (The picture P. Dominic found, was to be seen in Sta Maria della Vittoria in Roma until the 19th century.) The catholic king of Bohemia, emperor Ferdinand II, punished the protestant rebels (who began the 30 -years war) and threw them out of the country.
In 1918, when the Habsburg empire collapsed, the Czech republican politicians wanted to distance them from the past and created Czech hussite church. The majority of the people stayed catholics, but the "political correct" historiography at schools became: "We are a hussite country, catholics were the bad ones in history". One gets brainwashed with this still now at school, even the the most people believing in God are catholics – protestants are very very few.
It was extremely courageous of Benedikt XVI to choose just this church, the symbol itself…
The interior Church situation in the Czech republic is like this: We were spared after the 2. Vatican Council of its "Spirit", because of communism. When one fights communism, one has no time for "Spirit" of Council. It came after revolution in 1989. Some bishops we got then were bad, some weak. All of them afraid of cardinal Vlk (Wolf) – one says: episcopus episcopo Lupus. I have seen the most beautiful churches destroyed because of the "Spirit" in 1990s, they are being destroyed still. My professor of art history comforted us students once: "Do not cry, the priests responsible for this come to hell." So, imagine the 1970s in Western Europe and you get the picture of the situation in the Czech republic lately. Celebrity priests (all liberal, of course) laugh at the traditional catholic way of praying, of attitudes, of belief…
So the pope comes now and goes to this church of Our Lady of Victory, THE catholic church, and gives a crown to Infant of Prague. Can he make a better gesture to support the traditional catholics? An intellectual, giving a crown to an old miraculous doll. Then he meets priests and nuns in the cathedral. Does he talk to them, discuss something? No, he just prays together with them. Vesper, in Latin, nice music. (And all the Czech nuns are dressed like nuns, of course.) He demonstrates without words: This is the stuff you ought to do, this is your job – to pray.
Then he arrives to Brno in Moravia. 120 000 people come to mass, which is in Latin, too. No big concelebration, the 40 bishops are placed somewhere invisible, only the local one concelebrates (no Vlk to be seen). Pope says to people after the mass: "Take care of your inherited catholic tradition…" Then he speaks of Our Lady of Hostyn (who saved Moravians from tartars in 1241). He venerates Her as we always did.
All this is just the opposite we have always heard from Vlk and TV -priests. We got pope`s absolute support for all we have always believed in and what some of the bishops tried to take away from us.
Only a half year ago Vlk threatened Vatican with people rebellion like in Austria, because he did not get permission to appoint his successor in Praha. (He writes about it on his blog www.cardinal.cz, but only in Czech). But now, during the visit, while we watched the live transmission, it looked like the Czech bishops got the message – they looked like they finally understood the times have changed and the "Spirit" is not popular anymore. I really hope it lasts and I hope the good nuncius gets through with a good archbishop to Praha this year, in spite of the opposition.
The good nuncius said before the papal visit: "This country has the most beautiful baroque in Europa, and it is because the churches were built while the Church was triumphant. The churches "smile". The landskape looks christian. Not only because of all the churches, but there is something more in it, some christian expression from the past still living which one should preserve."
He got it, nuncius, and the pope knows it, too. He is from Bayern and he understands…
As for the politics, the visit was a success, too. The usually very arrogant Czech president looked changed. Nobody protested even when pope reminded us about how St. Wenceslaus behaved to his neighbour countries – again, foreigners do not understand, but: St. Wenceslaus did not want war with Germans, so he prefered to be a subject of the German emperor and pay tribute. Now there are quarrels with Sudet Germans about the property confiscated after the last war.. It was so brave of Benedikt XVI to mention this –
He touched dynamite at every step, he was very brave, and proudly (for once) I must say, that he was well received, both from the politicians and from the bishops. (Normal catholics love him, of course.)
Sorry about a mail so long, but as I appreciate your articles, I just wanted you to know that there was more to this visit than eyes of foreigners can see. It was a victory!