Czech Catholics Begin Synod, Keenly Aware of Challenges

At a Difficult Time in Church-State Relations

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VELEHRAD, Czech Republic, JULY 9, 2003 (Zenit.org).- For the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Czech Catholics have launched a Church synod in this republic.



Bishops, priests, religious and laity gathered Sunday in the Velehrad Shrine of Moravia to begin addressing the challenges posed to the Church by the political, social and economic changes of the country, as well as by its entry into the European Union.

The synod opened at a tense time in the Church's relations with the Czech government. At Velehrad, Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, archbishop of Prague, accused Minister of Culture Pavel Dostal of creating "difficulties" for the Church.

Under Social Democrat Dostal, the Ministry "impedes the Church from carrying out its mission," said Archbishop Jan Graubener of Olomouc, the president of the episcopal conference.

Church representatives also deplored Parliament's failure to approve a concordat to regulate church-state relations. A proposal was signed in July 2002 by government and Vatican representatives, but was rejected by the Chamber of Deputies last May.

The synod's sessions, which will continue for three years, will focus on questions such as interreligious dialogue, the role of the laity in the Church, evangelization, the social apostolate, pastoral care of the sick and elderly, and Christian initiation. Time will also be allocated to the history of the Czech people.

"Our Church has lost much in the past, but it has demonstrated that it is capable of facing violent totalitarianism," Archbishop Graubener said. During its Communist era the Czech Republic became known as one of the most atheist countries in the world.

The Church, the archbishop said, "has lived in the mystery of the cross and has retained a healthy popular piety, especially Marian. However, now it needs to raise its head, to be aware of its own values, commitment and enthusiasm to share the treasure of the faith with the rest, to take the Gospel to society. But, to do all this, it needs formation and education."

Among the republic's 10.2 million inhabitants, 39.2% are Catholic. Some statistics say 39.8% of the population is atheist. Attendance at Sunday Mass is among the lowest in the world.