From the Vatican Information Service, reports on and excerpts from addresses and homily given by the Holy Father during his trip to the Czech Republic:
EUROPE MUST KEEP ITS CHRISTIAN HERITAGE ALIVE
VATICAN CITY, 26 SEP 2009 (VIS) - At 4.30 p.m. today Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, greeted the Holy Father at Prague Castle. The castle dates from the ninth century and has been the seat of Holy Roman emperors, kings and governors. Since 1918 it has been a fortified citadel enclosing various monuments and museums. It is the seat of the president of the Republic and is the cultural and historical symbol par excellence of Bohemia.
Benedict XVI had a private meeting with President Klaus before going on to meet with Jan Fischer, prime minister of the Czech Republic, and with Premysl Sobotka and Miloslav Vlcek, presidents, respectively, of the senate and of the chamber of deputies. Subsequently, accompanied by President cKlaus and his wife, the Pope visited the Spanish Hall for a brief concert by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, after which he met the country's political and administrative authorities, the diplomatic corps, university rectors and various representatives from the civil, business and cultural worlds of the Czech Republic.
In his address to them the Holy Father mentioned the fact that his visit "coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the totalitarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, and the 'Velvet Revolution' which restored democracy to this nation. The euphoria that ensued was expressed in terms of freedom. Two decades after the profound political changes which swept this continent, the process of healing and rebuilding continues, now within the wider context of European unification and an increasingly globalised world.
"The aspirations of citizens and the expectations placed on governments", he added, "called for new models of civic life and solidarity between nations and peoples without which the long desired future of justice, peace and prosperity would remain elusive. Such desires continue to evolve. Today, especially among the young, the question again emerges as to the nature of the freedom gained".
"Every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs, seeking to understand the proper use of human freedom. ... True freedom presupposes the search for truth - for the true good - and hence finds its fulfilment precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just. Truth, in other words, is the guiding norm for freedom, and goodness is freedom's perfection".
"Indeed, the lofty responsibility to awaken receptivity to truth and goodness falls to all leaders - religious, political and cultural, each in his or her own way", said Pope Benedict. "For Christians, truth has a name: God. And goodness has a face: Jesus Christ. The faith of Christians, from the time of Sts. Cyril and Methodius and the early missionaries, has in fact played a decisive role in shaping the spiritual and cultural heritage of this country. It must do likewise in the present and into the future. The rich patrimony of spiritual and cultural values, each finding expression in the other, has not only given shape to the nation's identity but has also furnished it with the vision necessary to exercise a role of cohesion at the heart of Europe".
"As we are all aware" the Czech nation "has known painful chapters and carries the scars of tragic events born of misunderstanding, war and persecution. Yet it is also true, that its Christian roots have nourished a remarkable spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation and co-operation which has enabled the people of these lands to find freedom and to usher in a new beginning, a new synthesis, a renewal of hope. Is it not precisely this spirit that contemporary Europe requires?
"Europe is more than a continent. It is a home! ... With full respect for the distinction between the political realm and that of religion - which indeed preserves the freedom of citizens to express religious belief and live accordingly - I wish to underline the irreplaceable role of Christianity for the formation of the conscience of each generation and the promotion of a basic ethical consensus that serves every person who calls this continent, 'home'".
The Pope then went on to explain how his presence in this capital city, "which is often spoken of as the heart of Europe", prompts the question: in what does the 'heart' consist? "Surely", he said, "a clue is found in the architectural jewels that adorn this city. ... Their beauty expresses faith; they are epiphanies of God that rightly leave us pondering the glorious marvels to which we creatures can aspire when we give expression to the aesthetic and cognitive aspects of our innermost being. ... The creative encounter of the classical tradition and the Gospel gave birth to a vision of man and society attentive to God's presence among us".
"At the present crossroads of civilization, so often marked by a disturbing sundering of the unity of goodness, truth and beauty and the consequent difficulty in finding an acceptance of common values, every effort for human progress must draw inspiration from that living heritage. Europe, in fidelity to her Christian roots, has a particular vocation to uphold this transcendent vision in her initiatives to serve the common good of individuals, communities, and nations".
Having completed his address, the Holy Father went on to the cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert for the celebration of Vespers.
STRENGTHEN SPIRITUAL AND MORAL VALUES IN SOCIETY
VATICAN CITY, 26 SEP 2009 (VIS) - At 6 p.m. today the Pope presided at the celebration of Vespers with bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and members of lay movements in Prague's cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert.
"Love for Christ and for one's fellow men and women must be the hallmark of every Christian and every community", said the Holy Father, and in this context he encouraged those present to "nourish your love for Christ by prayer and listening to His word; feed on Him in the Eucharist, and by His grace, be builders of unity and peace wherever you go".
He went on: "Twenty years ago, after the long winter of Communist dictatorship, your Christian communities began once more to express themselves freely. ... Yet you are well aware that even today it is not easy to live and bear witness to the Gospel. Society continues to suffer from the wounds caused by atheist ideology, and it is often seduced by the modern mentality of hedonistic consumerism amid a dangerous crisis of human and religious values and a growing drift towards ethical and cultural relativism. In this context there is an urgent need for renewed effort throughout the Church so as to strengthen spiritual and moral values in present-day society".
"Your pastoral activity in the field of educating new generations should be undertaken with particular zeal. Catholic schools should foster respect for the human person; attention should also be given to the pastoral care of young people outside the school environment, without neglecting other groups of the faithful. Christ is for everyone! I sincerely hope that there will be a growing accord with other institutions, both public and private. It is always worth repeating that the Church does not seek privileges, but only to be able to work freely in the service of all, in the spirit of the Gospel".
The Pope told bishops and priests: "it is your task to work tirelessly for the good of those entrusted to your care". To consecrated people he pointed out that, "by professing the evangelical counsels, you recall the primacy that each of us must give to God in our lives. By living in community, you bear witness to the enrichment that comes from practising the commandment of love".
Finally the Pope turned to young people in seminaries or houses of formation. "Be sure", he told them, "to acquire a solid cultural, spiritual and pastoral preparation". And he concluded: "In this Year of Priests, with which I chose to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of the 'Cure of Ars', may you learn from the example of this pastor who was completely dedicated to God and to the care of souls; he was well aware that it was his ministry, nourished by prayer, that constituted his path to sanctification".
Following the celebration, the Holy Father travelled to the apostolic nunciature where he spent the night.
CHRIST IS OUR FIRM HOPE
VATICAN CITY, 27 SEP 2009 (VIS) - This morning the Holy Father travelled by plane from Prague to Brno, the second largest city of the Czech Republic, where at 10 a.m. he celebrated Mass on the esplanade near the city airport. Among the thousands of people present were faithful from Slovak, Polish, Austrian and German dioceses.
The readings of the ceremony were focused on the theme of hope. In his homily the Holy Father affirmed that "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, because the human being is free and his freedom remains fragile".
"In the modern age both faith and hope ... have been relegated to the private and other-worldly sphere", said the Pope, "while in day-to-day public life confidence in scientific and economic progress has been affirmed. We all know that this progress is ambiguous: it opens up possibilities for good as well as evil", yet it is "not enough to guarantee the moral welfare of society.
"Man needs to be liberated from material oppressions", he added, "but more profoundly, he must be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit. And who can save him if not God, Who is Love and has revealed His face as Almighty and Merciful Father in Jesus Christ? Our firm hope is therefore Christ".
Pope Benedict went on: "Here, as elsewhere, many people suffered in past centuries for remaining faithful to the Gospel, and they did not lose hope; many people sacrificed themselves in order to restore dignity to man and freedom to peoples, finding in their generous adherence to Christ the strength to build a new humanity.
"In present-day society, many forms of poverty are born from isolation, from being unloved, from the rejection of God and from a deep-seated tragic closure in man who believes himself to be self-sufficient, or else merely an insignificant and transient datum; in this world of ours which is alienated 'when too much trust is placed in merely human projects', only Christ can be our certain hope. This is the message that we Christians are called to spread every day, through our witness".
At the end of Mass and before praying the Angelus Benedict XVI noted how Moravia, the region in which Brno is located, "is blessed with a number of Marian shrines that are visited by crowds of pilgrims throughout the year".
And he called upon the Virgin to "keep the flame of faith alive in all of you, a faith that is nourished by traditions of popular piety with deep roots in the past, which you rightly take care to maintain, so that the warmth of family conviviality in villages and towns may not be lost. At times one cannot help noticing, with a certain nostalgia, that the pace of modern life tends to diminish some elements of a rich heritage of faith. Yet it is important not to lose sight of the ideal expressed by traditional customs, and above all to maintain the spiritual patrimony inherited from your forebears, to guard it and to make it answer to the needs of the present day.
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