More than a thousand Czech Roman Catholics are currently converging on the Vatican to give thanks for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Czech Republic one year ago. The visit is all the more significant to the Czech Church just now, days after the pontiff cited the Czech Republic specifically when speaking of what he called the “tragic” spread of atheism. Hana Frančáková of the Pilgrimage Centre of the Bishopric of Hradec Králové was at the Vatican today. On the phone from there, she told me what the roughly 1,300 faithful will be doing on their three-day pilgrimage.
“We are waiting for the first pilgrims, who are just arriving in Rome. We start with a mass at 3 pm today in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. This is the first meeting, which will also be with the Czech seminarians. Tomorrow is the biggest day for us because we are going to meet the Holy Father during the general audience in the morning. This will also be our presentation, so we would like to show the Holy Father that we are the pride of the Church, that we love him, that we love the Church and want to serve the Church.”
Why have you organised this just now, as opposed to some other time? I suppose it has been a year since the pope’s visit to the Czech Republic.
“Yes, this is a popular question, many of the pilgrims ask why, and say we could have prepared it better, because we expect around 1,000 people on this pilgrimage, so many are saying ‘November in Rome, it will be rainy and cold’. The reason is that we found out in the middle of August that we were invited to organise the pilgrimage, because it has been one year since the visit of the Holy Father, so that is why we are here just now. I think it is God’s providence that we are here for these days.”
With a year of hindsight, do you feel that the pope’s visit changed anything?
“Yes. I saw many people who were not believers or church-goers and they were really touched. I spoke with several people who were not Catholics or who were not even Christians, and they all said it was such a beautiful occasion when the Holy Father was here, it was something special. So I think it was beautiful, and many people may have changed the way they see the Church, but that is just my own personal opinion as a layperson.”
The Czech Republic is an atheistic country, it’s even becoming more so. Is one of your aims to show the pope that there are believers in the Czech Republic?
“We are an atheistic country, but we really should renew – rebuild – the traditional faith, the traditional way of thinking and our traditional way of Christianity in the Czech Republic. And our pilgrimage is really about giving thanks to God for the visit of the Holy Father, and we would really like to express to the Holy Father that we are not only a nation of atheists. We love God very much, and we would like to change whatever is not best about the Church in our country; we would like to show that we are really in the family of God.”
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