Update: LIVE BROADCAST of the VISIT
The leaders of the Czech Republic and the Vatican in their characteristic hats. Note the similarity between the two.
Tomorrow, the Holy Father arrives to Czechia which is probably the most atheist country in the world. The Reference Frame wishes him a lot of good luck and a nice, relaxing stay.
On Monday, we celebrate a national holiday, the St Wenceslaus Day (from the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslaus), our patron and one of the first dukes (and de facto kings) who was murdered by his brother in the town of Boleslav that the Holy Father will visit.
For 95% of the Czechs, it's just another work-free day, as we will explain.
When the Slavs came to Europe, they were pagans who close to Mother Nature. Our country's (or, more precisely, Great Moravia's) cultural roots in the 9th century are connected with the Eastern, Orthodox Churches. However, since the 10th century, we have been an integral part of the Western, Catholic civilizational space. The Czech Kingdom has received its sovereignty from the Roman Empire from the very beginning.
At the same moment, the Catholic aspect was largely identified with the German-speaking elite while the "true Czechs" (imagine mostly unrefined peasants, at least between 1620 and 1918) often revolted.
Mr John Huss, an early 15th century church reformer, fought against the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and his followers who were good thieves, communists, terrorists, warriors, and musicians ;-) became a chapter of the Czech history that inspires a lot of national pride, even for Czechs like your humble correspondent who normally dislike thieves, communists, and terrorists (but not musicians). ;-)
However, the distance between the typical Czechs and the Catholic Church was growing bigger. Most Czechs have been transformed into atheists or, to use a moderate word, skeptics. (This naturally developed Czech skepticism often applies to other systems of ideas that easily buy big masses in other nations, too.)
The communist regime has only confirmed the long-term downtrend of Catholicism in the Czech lands. Today, only 20% of the Czechs are baptized as Catholics and only 5% of the population regularly attends masses of any church. The percentage is even smaller in Northern Bohemia - the most atheist region within Czechia - where the Pope will celebrate St Wenceslaus. ;-)
But the atheists in other countries shouldn't imagine that the Czech atheism is a safe recipe for a high intelligence or a fast progress. It's not.
Most old people only see the church as an entity that is taking some money that would otherwise go to them. A significant portion of them is violently anti-religious and many of them vote for the so-called social democratic party and the communist party. These two parties often promise their electorate to financially choke the churches. Well, they also want to steal the money from anyone else who is successful or who works hard and to distribute it to the freeloaders who vote for these left-wing parties.
Rev Václav Malý who organizes the papal visit just offered some very wise and realistic opinions about the state of the Catholic Church in Czechia to the TV viewers. He understands that the church is locally weak and he doesn't exclusively blame the Czech society. He knows that the Church is just one of the players that compete for the Czech citizens' souls. He knows that some of the young preachers are detached from life or otherwise incompetent.
On the other hand, he also knows that the young Czechs are no longer vigorously anti-religious but many of them eclectically mix all conceivable religious and non-religious spiritual directions which is, of course, less than optimal an outcome for him. He considers the Eastern religions to be the main competitor of the Catholic Church. ;-)
The Holy Father is a very intelligent guy and I am kind of impressed with him. His predecessor may have been more charismatic and more accurately fine-tuned for the superficial world of the modern and postmodern media and the empire of P.R. However, I am convinced that Benedict XVI is deeper and brighter.
Joseph Ratzinger takes a big team with him (100 people or so) but he will rely on the Czech cooks, among other occupations. ;-) He knows that he is visiting a country where he doesn't have to be afraid of anything. But he is also visiting a country where most people won't sit on their buttocks just because the Pope has arrived.
Still, the pilgrims could surprise in the positive way.
In some sense, I believe that it will be a good relief and relaxation for him. It must be annoying to be surrounded by so many "Yes men" who parrot so many things that have become somewhat oversimplified or vacuous after those 2,000 years. Some of the Catholic officials believe those things because they're limited, others believe them because of their hypocrisy. Some of them may be both honest and sensible but be sure that the percentage is less than 100 percent. :-)
Prague Infant Jesus will probably get new diapers for Benedict's visit. ;-)
Joseph Ratzinger may be pleased to be surrounded by some atheist common sense and wit for a while - and he may also feel important because there's a chance that a part of those 95% of the Czechs who don't attend masses will suddenly be converted if God helps Benedict XVI a little bit. The Bible is full of similar big challenges and the Pope may like his one, too. But be careful. If a mass conversion is his goal, Czechia is a true lion's den!
God may help Benedict XVI, assuming that He exists and that He can help in such matters, of course. ;-)
As I expected, Pope has been feeling well in Czechia so far, partly due to Václav Klaus's permanent presence, partly because of a successful 120,000-strong mass at the Brno Airport - and surely because of other reasons, too.
Good for him that he's been largely isolated from the numerous bitter anti-Catholics. ;-)
According to the editors of the BBC website, the most important event in the Pope's visit was a double spider's round trip around the Pope's clothes. Unlike Obama, he didn't use the dominion over animals that God gave him (and us) and didn't kill the innocent friend. But that's probably because he didn't notice the additional listener of his talk. :-)