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Freedom built on truth

“A Visit not only marked by obvious success but that will have lasting effects”: in these words the Czech President Václav Klaus summed up Benedict xvi's trip to his country. It was an important acknowledgement by a non-Catholic political leader who showed truly admirable respect and attention, in some way expressing the widespread attitude in the Czech Republic, thanks also to extensive media coverage, elsewhere less sensitive to the true meaning of the Papal Journey.

Indeed, it should not be forgotten that the Successor of Peter's Visit – after the three that John Paul ii made to the same country – was planned in order to anticipate the 20th anniversary of the end of Communism in Europe, which came to be known in what was then Czechoslovakia as the “Velvet Revolution”.  After the dark years of terror of the atheist and totalitarian regimes, it involved a large part of Central and Eastern Europe, changing the face of the continent.

The peaceful resolution that put an end to an epoch of oppression was the result of the joint resistance of both non-believers and Catholics and led to a new situation, in which atheistic materialism has given way to practical materialism.

And if the dictatorship was founded on falsehood – according to Václav Havel's words, cited by Benedict xvi – today freedom needs to be built upon truth, which everyone without distinction is called to seek, aiming at the common good.

For this reason the Pope's Discourses insisted over and over again on the truth, and for this reason his passionate and demanding words were heard, even in a declaredly agnostic environment such as that of the University of Prague where the speech of the former “professor, solicitous of the right to academic freedom and the responsibility for the authentic use of reason”, was accepted with a very long round of applause that left everyone amazed.

Benedict xvi honoured the history of the country and its martyrs – from Duke Wenceslaus to the victims of Communism – and exalted the cultural traditions of Bohemia and Moravia, listening to Antonin Dvo{l-rcaron}ák's Te Deum and choosing a most beautiful sentence attributed to Kafka to say farewell to the Czech Republic: “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old”.

And in the erudite discourses use was made of languages: from the Pope's Czech (who spoke chiefly in Italian and English) to the German in which the student who spoke at the Meeting with the academic world chose to address the Pontiff, and the Italian of President Klaus in his farewell speech. These choices seek to express a desire for encounter and friendship which today are important for the entire European continent. Called precisely from its Christian roots – western and eastern – to demanding responsibility in the international context.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 19, 2019

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