Pope John Paul II
Airport of Prague-Ruzyne, Czech Republic May 20, 1995
Your Excellency the President of the Czech Republic, Your Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop and Primate of Bohemia, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, Esteemed Political, Civil and Military Leaders, Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. <Superabundo gaudio> (2 Cor 7:4)! Yes, I am filled with joy in setting foot, for the second time, on the soil of this beloved land of Bohemia. I recall 21 April of five years ago, when at long last I was able to fulfil my ardent desire to come among you, in the Federated Czech and Slovak Republic, a few months after the bloodless end of the long experience of a dictatorial regime.
I am filled with joy to be once again on the soil of Prague, and at the same time I give thanks to the Lord for this first Pastoral Visit to the Czech Republic after the historic events of 1993, when the two nations, previously united, peacefully separated from each other, thereby giving the world an eloquent lesson on how the basic demands of self-determination and independence can be resolved in mutual respect, peace and true brotherhood.
Your presence, Mr. President, is a visible sign of the new historical reality which has come to pass in such a short space of time. Thanks to your personal commitment, and to the natural gifts of industriousness, moderation and strength of character of your fellow citizens, the Czech Republic has won for itself a position of great respect in the European and international communities.
In thanking you for your gracious words of greeting, I cannot fail to recall the words which you spoke in April 1990 when, as you welcomed me to this city as President of the Federated Republic, you said: "In the same place where, five months ago, on the day in which we rejoiced over the canonization of Agnes of Bohemia, when the future of our country was decided, today the Head of the Catholic Church will celebrate Mass and probably thank our saint for her intercession before him who holds in his hands the inscrutable course of all things" (L'Osservatore Romano, 22 April 1990, p. 4). I am happy to begin this visit by renewing the expression of my gratitude to St. Agnes, the beloved patroness of this land.
2. I am filled with joy at being with Cardinal Vlk and the Czech and Moravian Bishops, with whom I feel myself so closely united in the bond of ecclesial communion. I remember with profound emotion my previous visit, when I was able to embrace the venerable Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek, the living symbol of that humble and heroic strength which had succeeded in galvanizing, together with the nation's other vital forces, the spiritual and moral energies of a whole people. How can I fail to recall, as I speak of the spiritual and moral strength of a people, the symbolic initiative of Chapter 77? Besides yourself, Mr. President, the signatories of that courageous document included men of great moral and cultural stature such as Professor Jan Patocka and the theologian the Rev. Josef Zverina, to whom the entire nation today pays its grateful respect.
When I visited you for the first time, this Church was coming out of the catacombs, after great sufferings, persecutions and deprivations; it was only a short time since all the Bishops, residential or auxiliary, had been restored to their Dioceses, some of which had for a long time been without a Pastor. The Episcopal Conference was taking its first steps. A breath of new life was perceptibly in the air.
I am filled with joy at being with you once more, beloved faithful of Bohemia and Moravia: priests, men and women religious, seminarians, permanent deacons, members of lay movements, young people, and mothers and fathers of families. The whole rich diversity of the Church has blossomed during these years, giving proof of the traditional vitality of the Christians of this generous land.
3. In a special way I greet my beloved brothers in Christ, the representatives of the various Churches and Christian communities, whom I shall meet today at the Apostolic Nunciature. From this first moment, I wish to emphasize that I come as a pilgrim of peace and love. The tragic events of past centuries, as I said on my previous visit, "must help to establish a new attitude and new relationships" (<Insegnamenti>, XIII/1, 1990, p. 969).
In the past five years many steps have been taken in this direction: ecumenical initiatives at various levels, meetings and conversations, joint agreements and above all fervent celebrations of prayer have contributed to increasing knowledge and mutual esteem. A path of fraternal cooperation has been undertaken which leads us to hope for further significant progress.
4. This Pastoral Visit to the Czech Republic will culminate in the two canonizations at Olomouc. Thus my stay in Prague will be brief, but certainly very intense. God willing, we shall see one another again, for a longer period, in 1997, for the celebrations of the Millennium of the martyrdom of St. Adalbert, when I shall visit the various European cities which he most deeply marked with his faith, pastoral zeal and witness, crowned by the supreme sacrifice of his life.
Five years ago, when I arrived here, I expressed the hope that the Decade of spiritual rebirth, initiated with prophetic insight by Cardinal Tomasek with a view to this event, would prove "an effective preparation for the celebration of the Millennium of the death of St. Adalbert by becoming a kind of training ground for a new style of life for the new millennium" (Insegnamenti, XIII/1, 1990, p. 941). I am certain that the ever firmer and more decisive path taken during these years has helped you to make progress in the search for this new way of living. I pray that you will persevere in fulfilling the commitments which you have undertaken, so as to make the celebrations which you are eagerly preparing particularly fruitful.
5. In the meantime let us prepare to live with fervor these hours of ecclesial communion. It will be an opportunity for revisiting together the journey of faith which you have traveled since the fall of the totalitarian regime, in order to verify the depth and authenticity of Christian life and practice in Bohemia since the recovery of freedom. Above all it will be an occasion for a clearer realization of your own Christian identity and of the responsibilities which follow from it with a view to the undertaking of the new evangelization.
As was the case five years ago, I am convinced that the soul of Prague and the Czech Republic will resound together in the meetings which we shall have today, and throughout my stay in your beloved nation. The precious values of faith, spirituality, history, culture and art which it enjoys undoubtedly have the power and strength to unite all of you in a great family, despite the differences between you, differences which, on the other hand, make even more interesting the spiritual panorama of this nation. Conscious of this rich reality, I wish all of you ever greater civil, moral and social progress.
Mr. President, venerable Brothers, Ladies and Gentlemen! In this magnificent vision of the spiritual and cultural heritage which enriches your homeland in an extraordinary way and makes Prague a remarkable centre of encounter and exchange. I renew my respectful greetings and, looking forward to seeing you at today's meetings, I entrust you and your dear ones to the ever loving assistance of almighty God.
Pochvalen bud' Jezis Kristus! (Praised be Jesus Christ!)
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