National pilgrimage at Velehrad
Some 25,000 people took part in the largest religious pilgrimage of the year at Velehrad, in southern Moravia on Wednesday. Velehrad has a very special place not only in the history of the Czech Church, but in the nation's history as well. It was here that the missionary brothers Cyril and Methodius came to preach Christianity in a language the common people understood, Old Church Slavonic - we are talking about the second half of the 9th century. They also taught the people to write - in the script named after one of the brothers - Cyrillic. Olga Szantova is in the studio with a report about the Wednesday celebrations.
As Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, followed by 22 Czech and foreign bishops approached the tribune in front of the Velehrad church at ten thirty on Wednesday morning, the dark clouds suddenly dispersed and the sun appeared, quite miraculously, some of those present believed. People had been gathering since early, very early in the morning, to be up front and to have a good view of the festive mass. Velehrad has always had a very special significance for Czechs. Father Jan Lang heads the Czech Religious and Social Center in London. When it was founded in 1965, the obvious name for it, he says, was Velehrad, not only because of the ancient historic significance of the place, but also because of its importance in modern history.
And just as throughout Czech history, the Church and state have developed together, Wednesday's mass was more than just a Church event. It was an important step in the Church's attempt to find a significant place in contemporary Czech life. In that spirit Cardinal Vlk expressed apologies for the wrongs done by the Czech Catholic Church in the past, stating that not all Christians nor all priests had lived and acted in accordance with the gospel and that the Church must express its apologies for those deeds. He was joined in this expression of repentance by members of other churches who were present. For example, German church representatives apologized for the crimes of the Second World War, and in their turn, the Czech churches apologized for the collective expulsion of Germans and Hungarians after the war.