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With arms wide open

The Successor of Peter's Visit to the regions of Bohemia and Moravia was a Journey undertaken with open arms that revealed once again the kindliest and most authentic face of Benedict XVI. In the Czech Republic, one of the most widely secularized of the European countries, the Pope was welcomed with affection and cordiality, and not only by the Catholic minority. This was apparent at many of the events, also thanks to the repeated presence of President Václav Klaus.

In this setting, the significance of the Papal Journey was enhanced by purposely coinciding with the anniversary of the “Velvet Revolution”, the peaceful resolution to the upheaval which, 20 years ago, put an end to the oppression of Communism in most of Central and Eastern Europe.

Benedict XVI's Discourses to the Czech people focused mainly on the conception of truth, a word that for Christians is synonymous with the Name of God. They were addressed in spirit to all the countries in which atheistic totalitarianism caused suffering.

Great multitudes, believers and agnostics alike, responded to the open arms of the Pope, often with visible joy and emotion. In every case they never failed to show an exemplary respect that was particularly noticeable at the ceremonies where music expressed the Czechs' deepest sentiments, such as at the Pope's reception by the Civil Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps in the Spanish Hall at Prague Castle when Antonin Dvorák's Te Deum was played.

And thanks to the singing of the choir of the very old Charles University, during the meeting with the academic world. Here, where about three quarters of the teaching staff and students declare themselves to be agnostic if not atheist, the approval and warmth shown to Benedict XVI – who explicitly recognized the role of the intellectual and student movements in the liberation from Communism – were in contrast to the episode of intolerance that obliged the Pope to give up his Visit to Rome's University of La Sapienza.

Instead it showed what the exchange between believers and non-believers should consist in: mutual respect and the search for the common good and the truth.

The Pope insisted again and again on the truth and on the urgent need for Catholics to witness to it and to express it in the public debate of the different societies.

Catholics, together with non-believers in the former Czechoslovakia, were able to contribute to defeating the dictatorship founded on falsehood, according to the analysis of Václav Havel – an intellectual who was the symbol of opposition to Communism, hence the predecessor of the current President – whom Benedict XVI chose to quote several times on the flight to Prague, and whom he subsequently met.

Inaugurated with the moving prayer before the Holy Infant of Prague and concluded at the site of the martyrdom of St Wenceslaus on his feast day, the Papal Visit will live on, and not only in the memory of the country, because of the liturgical celebrations marked by a recollection and dignity that were impressive. Like the long silence during communion, observed by about 150,000 of the faithful – as well as Czechs, above all Moravians, Slovaks and Poles – who took part in the Mass at the Airport of Brno.

And the Liturgies also demonstrated that Christian faith is not an ideology but a meeting with a person, Jesus; to whom so many saints and martyrs, ancient and recent, bore witness in the lands of Bohemia and Moravia. Just as the Catholic communities of this country today continue to do, in the face of materialism and relativism, their arms wide open like those of the Pope.

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St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 22, 2019

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