Czech Catholics praise Pope’s “courageous” decision to resign

Pope Benedict XVI, photo: ČTK

The news of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down has surprised the world. Here in the Czech Republic, church leaders have praised his courage and recalled his visit to the country in 2009. However, Pope Benedict’s retirement for health reasons raises questions over whether his successor will attend a huge Catholic celebration in Velehrad planned for later this year.

Pope Benedict XVI,  photo: ČTK
Pope Benedict XVI visited the Czech Republic in 2009. An open-air mass in Brno – one of two public appearances he made during his trip – was attended by an estimated 120,000 people, and many felt that the Papal visit brought new momentum for Roman Catholics in a country regarded as one of the most atheistic in the world.

Reacting to Pope Benedict’s announced resignation on Monday, the head of the Czech Roman Catholic Church, Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka praised his interest in the country.

“On behalf of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, I would like to personally thank the Pope for his resolute courage. I also want to thank him for his visit to the Czech Republic and for his interest in the Czech Catholic Church and life in the Czech Republic, which he displayed on many occasions and during our encounters with him.”

Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka,  photo: Jan Sklenář / Archive of ČRo
Prime Minister Petr Nečas expressed surprise at the Pope’s decision to resign, which is extremely rare in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Mr Nečas said he respected the responsibility and selflessness with which Benedict’s XVI served the church.

The Papal Conclave, a body of all the cardinals in the Catholic Church, will choose a successor sometime between Benedict’s resignation on February 28 and Easter, which this year falls in early April. The Archbishop Emeritus of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, took part in the last conclave in Rome eight years ago. This time, says Monsignore Vlk, the choice will be more difficult.

“I think it will be harder than when we were choosing the successor to John Paul II. At least the way I see it, there is no one outstanding or extraordinary personality, although there are many distinguished cardinals. So it will be a difficult task to choose someone from this group.”

Pope Benedict XVI,  photo: ČTK
Pope Benedict XVI was set to visit the Czech Republic again this year to attend celebrations of the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who brought Christianity to this part of the world. While events marking the anniversary are being held throughout the year, the main celebrations will place in the Moravian pilgrimage site of Velehrad in early July. Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka says he hopes the new pope will attend.

“It remains our wish but it hard to say what the situation will be with the new pope. We will have to leave this to our Lord; if people pray and plead for the visit, it might happen. But right now, I cannot really promise anything.”