Memorial unveiled to Czech religious leader who defied dictatorships

Photo: CTK

A statue has just been unveiled in Prague to one of the most courageous Czech opponents of the Communist regime, Cardinal Josef Beran. The memorial is a tribute to a man whom the Communists even feared after his death in exile. The authorities refused to allow the body of the one-time archbishop of Prague to be brought back to his homeland for burial.

Photo: CTK
He was dubbed the archbishop who refused to be silenced. Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Josef Beran was imprisoned during the Nazi occupation and by the Communist regime after it came to power in 1948.

Cardinal Beran took a stand for religious freedom that put him on a crash course with a regime which regarded the Vatican as a hot bed of subversion.

He was appointed Archbishop of Prague and head of the church in Czechoslovakia in 1946, after spending five years in Nazi prisons and concentration camps.

At first the Communists seemed hesitant about taking on the Catholic Church. They even ordered a special mass in Prague cathedral to commemorate their seizure of power.

But the clash with the Communists became inevitable when Cardinal Beran refused to bow to the government’s demands. He banned clergy from taking an oath of loyalty to the government and denounced its seizure of church property.

Frustrated, the Communists even tried to promote a rebel pro-government priest as an alternative focus for the faithful. The move was not successful.

Over the following 17 years they gradually stepped up the pressure on Cardinal Beran. House arrest was followed by a show trial and imprisonment. Cardinal Beran was eventually allowed to leave for exile in Rome in 1965. He died there aged 80 and was given the special honour of being buried in a special crypt at St. Peter’s usually reserved for popes.

Cardinal Miloslav Vlk unveils the statue, photo: CTK
Forty years after Josef Beran’s death, the current Prague archbishop, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, unveiled a statue to him at the Catholic theological faculty in Dejvice on Monday. It is a sort of symbolic return to the Czech Republic on the 20th anniversary of the fall of Communism.