With few Czechs getting ordained Czech Catholic Church turns to Polish priests

04-02-2005

In the Czech Republic, the Roman Catholic Church is suffering from an acute shortage of priests, as the older generation near the end of their careers and few young Czech priests are ordained. But the Church has found a solution - "importing" priests from neighbouring Poland.

The Czech Roman Catholic Church has enjoyed something of a revival since the fall of Communism, but Czech society is one of the least religious in Europe, and few young men are joining the priesthood. Here's Larry Cada, spokesman for the Czech Bishops Conference.

"The number of priestless Catholic parishes is very large. It depends on which part of the country you are in, which dioceses, but as much as half of the churches are parishes which do not have a resident priest."

Father Piotr Krysztofiak is from Poznan, but has been the parish priest at St Giles's Church in Prague's Old Town for the last eight years. He is one of 200 or so Polish priests serving in the Czech Republic. Father Krysztofiak says during the Communist era Polish Catholics had more freedom than their co-religionists in what is now the Czech Republic.

"Religion was repressed and believers were persecuted. That is the reason why here in the Czech Republic there is a great number of very old fathers, very old priests. And there is a lack of a middle generation of priests. In Poland there is an exceptional number of vocations, so it is quite natural that bishops in the Czech Republic asked bishops in Poland if they could send some priests."

But how are the Polish priests received? Larry Cada says while the Czech Catholic Church is extremely glad of their presence, parishioners might prefer home grown clerics.

"They regret the fact that they have to have a Polish priest, because they would rather have a Czech priest. Because there's a cultural difference between Czechs and Poles. And there are all the standard stereotypes that Czechs have of Polish people, which are or are not true in a particular case - but nonetheless they are active."

For his part, Father Krysztofiak says it isn't always easy for the Polish priests either, used as they are to playing a more active part in the life of the community. But, referencing a 10th century Czech Archbishop who became an important figure in the early Polish Church, he also sees things in a more historical context.

"We very often say that St Wojtech came from Czech to bring the faith, and now it is the time to repay that benefit."

04-02-2005