Saint Agnes joins the revolution

Photo: CTK

In last week’s From the Archives, we heard Jaroslav Hutka, singing at the huge demonstration that took place in Prague’s Letná park on November 25 1989. This was over a week after the Velvet Revolution had begun, but the hard liners in the communist party were still clinging on to power. The demonstration was a sign of the huge momentum for change that had built up in the previous days, and despite the cold weather, with sleet and snow, it was attended by nearly a million people.

Václav Malý at the demonstration on Letná plain in November 25,  1989,  photo: CTK
A few hours earlier, the head of the Catholic Church in the Czech lands, Cardinal Tomášek, had led a mass at Prague’s Saint Vitus’ Cathedral. The mass was to celebrate the canonization of Saint Agnes of Bohemia by Pope John Paul II just a few days before, and in her honour the mighty Zikmund bell rang out.

This was one of the rare occasions in modern Czech history when the nation has united behind the Catholic Church, and many thousands gathered at the cathedral. The spiritual mood lingered into the afternoon, and the demonstration in Letná park, just a few hundred metres to east of the cathedral, was led by the dissident priest and former Charter 77 spokesman, Václav Malý. At the very end of the afternoon, Malý addressed the crowd:

“I would like to round up this special and unusual occasion with a prayer. I’m a Catholic priest, and therefore I would like to invite those who know how to pray to join me, and those who do not know the words, to join me in spirit.”

At this point Václav Malý recited the Lord’s Prayer, and all who could, joined in. The Velvet Revolution was almost complete.

A further demonstration took place in the same park the following day. On that occasion the communist Prime Minister, Ladislav Adamec also spoke, promising further reforms, but he failed to convince the crowd. Three days later the Federal Parliament succumbed to pressure, and removed the article in the constitution, guaranteeing the leading role of the communist party.