Prague, 28 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Pope John Paul used a weekend trip to the Czech Republic to urge its highly secularized society to renew its faith in religion.
When the pope landed in Prague on Friday, he arrived in a nation where only two-thirds of the population professes to believe in any religion. About 37 percent believe in Catholicism, but only about 10 to 15 percent are practicing Catholics.
The explicit purpose of his trip was to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Adalbert, the first Prague bishop of Czech origin. But there was clearly more to his mission during his three-day journey, his third trip to Czech lands since 1990.
On Saturday, the pope celebrated a mass for young people from the Czech Republic in the Bohemian town of Hradec Kralove. He called on them to spread Catholicism throughout the country. Yesterday, in a mass attended by more than 100,000 in Prague, the pope repeated his message, saying: "Be not afraid and open the door of your country to Christ."
In remarks during his trip, the pope also called on Czechs to reject hedonism and warned them not to fall to the temptations of a consumer society. The pope spoke out against secularization, saying it is an "acute threat for wide parts of Europe." He used a farewell address tonight at the airport to say that the country's economic advances must be matched by spiritual progress.
He also addressed the centuries-old tension between the Catholics and Protestants, asking for forgiveness for the past wrongs inflicted by the Catholic Church on fellow Christians. He said Christians have unfortunately become divided, despite a profound longing for unity. He said that the Catholic Church has forgiven those who imposed sufferings on its followers. He made his remarks in an address to Czech church leaders at an ecumenical service for non-Catholic Christians.
The pope seemed to especially enjoy his interaction with young people at the mass in Hradec Kralove, chuckling and joking with them. Observers often say that the pope seems rejuvenated whenever he meets with the young. Today's mass in Prague was more subdued, although the pope joked with the crowd that it was "stronger than weather," for staying until the end on a cool, cloudy day.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said today that the pope was "very satisfied" with the trip, the 76th of his papacy, and was feeling well. Czech President Vaclav Havel said of the pontiff's journey: "It is always good when we realize through his presence that there is something above us, that there is a world of higher values which it is good to respect."