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VATICAN CITY (RNS) Visiting the Czech Republic 20 years after a Velvet Revolution overthrew the nation’s communist regime, Pope Benedict XVI called on one of the world’s most secular societies to reclaim its Christian heritage as the basis for “true freedom.”
“True freedom presupposes the search for truth — for the true good– and hence finds its fulfillment precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just,” Benedict told a gathering of politicians and diplomats in Prague on Saturday (Sept. 26), the first day of a three-day papal visit.
“For Christians, truth has a name: God,” he said. “And goodness has a face: Jesus Christ.”
The trip was Benedict’s 13th outside of Italy as pope, and his second to a former Soviet Bloc state, after Poland in 2006.
Yet unlike Poland, where the Catholic Church was a powerful force of resistance against Communism and remains influential today, the Czech Republic has a long tradition of secularism which has grown only stronger over the last two decades.
More than half of the country’s population of 10 million espouses no religion, and though about a third are baptized Catholics, church officials report than no more than 5 percent of those regularly attend Mass.
“I call upon all the citizens of this Republic to rediscover the Christian traditions which have shaped their culture, and I invite the Christian community to continue to make its voice heard,” Benedict said at an airport ceremony upon his arrival in Prague.
Yet the pope made clear that his message was aimed beyond the country’s borders to Europe as a whole.
“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,” he told an audience of politicians on Saturday.
Benedict has made reaffirming the Christian roots of European culture one of the central themes of his papacy.
Speaking on Sunday (Sept. 27) to academic leaders gathered at Prague Castle, the pope argued that “radical secularism” undermines the possibility of an inclusive, harmonious society.
“An understanding of reason that is deaf to the divine, and which relegates religions into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures that our world so urgently needs,” Benedict said.
The pope’s largest crowds came out for a Sunday morning Mass at an airport outside Brno, the country’s second-largest city, in the traditionally Catholic region of Moravia. The estimated 120,000 in attendance included visitors from neighboring Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia.
“Man needs to be liberated from material oppressions, but more profoundly, he must be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit,” the pope said in his homily, which he delivered in Italian after a few opening words in Czech.
Benedict spoke in English or Italian at all his appearances in the Czech Republic, rather than his native German, perhaps out of sensitivity to historical tensions stemming from the Nazi occupation during World War II and earlier centuries of rule by German-speaking Hapsburg emperors.
c. 2009 Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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