PhDr. Markéta Koronthályová:

The situation of the Czech catholic church 15 years after the "velvet revolution"

After 40 years of communist totalitarian system, which ended in 1989 by so called "velvet revolution", had the churches in our country, Czechoslovak Republic, a very high credit, many people trusted to them.
In the time of this totalitarian system was life in paradox some way more simply, it was black and white. And all the churches have stood common in one line, in the opposite against communists. They were something like a sign of the resistance.

Many people felt sympathy to the churches and to faith without thinking deeply about, what does it mean. They wanted to be against the system, against the state and government.
All the Christian churches were oppressed (especially the Catholic Church, of course) and this pressure joined us to the cooperation, which made a very good basis for ecumenical work, f. e. the ecumenical translation of Bible, which was officially allowed by the state. We had one common enemy and therefore we tried to find what is common in our Christian religion rather than to point out what is different, what divides us. Here are probably the roots of very good ecumenical relations between the churches in our country.

The velvet revolution constituted for all of us a really big change. First of all the churches received freedom, which they could not imagine before: we could do in public all this, what we had to do in secret: spiritual exercises, pilgrimage, meetings of young people - and finally: the pope, the head of Catholic Church came to visit our country: it was something like a dream!!

But our new government took care at first about material things, not the spiritual ones, and it was a big disappointment: it had only one big goal - to have so good economy and to be so rich like the states in the Western Europe! First is economy, than we will have time to speak about morality. Churches tried to explain, that the way (action, consecution) ought to be quite reverse: at first to build moral and ethics in relations, because this is the condition of good economical transformation of the country. But this was something, what society did not want to hear: speaking about postulates (requirements), which are joined with the faith, with the life of people believing in Christ, was not very popular.

People wanted to be rich and to live in luxury immediately without any postulates. We must understand, that our country is one of the most atheistic countries in Europe (the first one is Albania, we are in the second position together with Eastern Germany) and Europe is the most atheistic continent in the world.

It has own deep historical roots, of course, but our contemporary situation is the result of 40 years of atheistic education at schools. Several generations have heard that religion is opium of men and all the churches, especially the Catholic Church like an institution, are something very bad.

Therefore when we opened the discussion about the property of churches, it became a really big problem, which was not resolved until now.

All the church properties were communized at 1948 and priests became the civil servants of communist state. The communist ideology supposed, that during 20 years all believers will be dead and there will be no more any church, indeed. Fortunately this was only proposal, but not reality.

But now, after the revolution, the churches needed their property back, because they wanted to work not only like empty institutions, but to have schools, hospitals, the centres of charity and social work and so they could show to the unbelieving people, what is the real way of life of the churches in society. It was quite impossible without the property.

The parliament had made such particular law: some main objects were during so called restitution given back to the churches, but most of them remained in the hands of the state. So the normal work of churches could not start as we wanted and the churches have lost their credit, which they had in the end of totality, in the time of "velvet revolution".

Our situation was worse and worse, but it was not only problem of property and finances.

Now I will speak about the situation of my catholic church, in my country, Czech Republic, after the division Czechoslovakia into two subjects: Czech Republic and Slovak Republic.

In the end of totalitarian system, at 1987, the Catholic Church started so called "Program of spiritual renovation of our nation", because we felt that after so many years of destruction we need it very much. First Czech Republic, founded at 1918 in the ruins of Austrian Monarchy, was full of liberalism and the main idea "Far from the Rome" guided to the foundation of Czech national Church called Hussite church. Than the Second World War meant for our nation real slavery of Nazism and German, and after a few years we went on with the slavery of communism and Russian.

The group of catholic intellectuals around cardinal Tomášek have prepared a perfect plan of pilgrimages, lectures and meetings for next ten years, which ought to be finished with the celebration of millennium of the death of our first Czech bishop and martyr, saint Vojtěch (Adalbertus). Every year in these ten years had as a patron one saint person from our catholic heaven and a concrete theme joined with practical life of the church in contemporary society. This program was accepted also by our brothers and sisters from other Christian churches, because they have seen it's actually need for us all.

The themes were for example:

The doctors and medics and the care (service to the) about ill and suffering people - St. Agnes of Bohemia

The faith in modern world - all the defenders (advocates) of faith

The family life (St. Zdislava and all the Christian married couples)

Education and erudition, the tradition and dialog between generations (St. Ludmila)

The work and our responsibility to the society (St. Wenceslaus) etc.

You can see that the themes are very actual and very important for the life of the whole society. But unfortunately the decade was not finished with so big attention of the whole nation, as it started, because the velvet revolution and the freedom came.

Many people said it was the miraculous help of the patron of the first year of this decade, St. Agnes, which was in the autumn 1989 affirmed in Rome as a Saint.

But till now I am persuaded, that it was big damage (detriment) for us all we could not fill in all the points of this well prepared program of spiritual renovation. We feel now entails of this in our new, so called post modern society, in this new capitalism built on wrong basis of bad human relations.

So we received at 1989 this big gift, freedom, and we were not prepared.

At the beginning there was big hunger after the spiritual values in the society, but when the people did not find in our church something, what would be addressed to them, they turned instead out to another place, f. e. to the eastern spiritualities, like Buddhism or other sects etc.

Our catholic church was not united in the opinion, how to go on. One part wanted in this new freedom to go back to the position we have lost 50 years ago and to do everything by the same way as it was done before the communists have destroyed it.

Another part said: we must respond to the contemporary questions - read the signs of our time, this is the appeal of the 2nd Vatican council! But it means to try new thinks and risk, to do something, what we have not done before. The difference between these two opinions grew up more and more and now we can say there are two parts of scissors, opening more and more: the so called progressive and conservative.

Because of communist totalitarian system we had no possibilities to study the documents of 2nd Vatican and to translate them or press and public. In other countries of Western Europe the theologian had occasion to read, to discuss and try to find the ways how to realise them in the conditions of their own countries. Here (and in other parts of Eastern Europe) we could do it only in secret, it was prohibited and therefore dangerous. So only some people have done it (both of priests and lay people). Now the question was: shall we start with publication of 2nd Vatican documents and to study them and discuss with all the people, or to public directly the results of our own secret studies from the past and offer them to the public?

Most of the members of our church till now do not know anything about the common priesthood of Christian people, lay people. They want only to fill on their religious duty, they come to the church only on Sundays or on the Feasts and do not understand, why they ought to do anything more. This is my own experience from my parish - last 15 years we are trying to move the parish on, to bring in some initiative, but there are always the same people coming for meetings, lectures, trips, ecumenical worships, to prepare meals for agape etc. The other 600 members of our parish family visit only the Sunday's holy mass.

There is an actual question in our Catholic Church now about the big role of lay people and importance of the evangelization in the atheistic society, but it is not clear, how to realize it. Lay people could not study theology before the revolution, and then only slowly the theological faculties opened their doors to lay students (in Prague it is possible only last 3 years). We must consider also an importance of different role of man and women in the Catholic Church. The women can study theology, but they cannot be ordained for any service in the church.

In this situation our catholic church has declared the Plenary assembly, which ought to be something like continuation of the decade of spiritual renovation and ought to help us to find the way, how to go on in this new situation of freedom and democracy, how to realize the principles of 2nd Vatican in our country.

The preparation of this plenary assembly started at 1997 and many small working groups in parishes were initiated. They started to discuss some actual questions and sent the results to the bishops' conference, but later the moving took another direction: the bishops have sent instructions, what we have to discuss and the initiative of lay people was restricted.

The Plenary assembly had two sessions: at 2003 and 2005. We were a little sad from the results: the final material for the last session was not very concrete. The results of assembly were secret and they were sent to Rome, where they are waiting for the approbation.

As to the role of women: there was no one word about it in the materials. We as Union of catholic women have sent there (although we were not asked for the cooperation and we had no delegate in this assembly) one short paragraph to the article about role of lay people in the church declaring the specific gifts of women, our differences from the men roles and possibilities, according to the last church documents (f.e. the letter to the bishops about the role of women in the church and society from 2004). We do not know, which parts from it were accepted, because the final material is secret until it will be appropriated from Rome.

And which is our situation now?

We as catholic women are working in our Union of catholic women, which has about 600 members in all the Czech Republic. The main branches are in Praha, Brno, České Budějovice, Ostrava and Boskovice. We try to find again the true identity of women in the light of Gospel, to help women in their concrete problems of daily life (advice, consult), to discuss role of women in the church and society in the light of church documents, to find our spirituality of women. This year we started the lectures on this last theme.

On February we will have our annual Plenary session on the theme Women bringing the peace everywhere (Mt 5, 9).

We also work together with the women from other Christian churches in the Ecumenical forum of Christian Women in ČR: we have meetings with sharing our experiences; we have common prayers (f.e. the World day of prayers or the Week of prayers for Unity of Christians).

We have quite a strange position now: When we want to say something to an actual problem, f.e. against the reality show or homosexual partnership or some billboards with neck women or girls, our society, media etc. say we are very conservative. When we say something in the church: we ask for the role of women or how we can bring in our special gifts into the relations in our church, how we can be active as lay persons - women etc. - we are considered to be very progressive or liberal.

So we try to live in it and find out our own place in the church and society here and now.

We seek to hear the Holy Spirit, keep open our hearts and be able to hear every challenge for life in humility, charity and service to the people around us: in the family, in the parish, in our working place, in our town and state.

We know we must give Him a chance and time to find a way, how we can realize our gifts, which we received from God as women and which are so necessary for this world, especially now in our times.



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