Tomáš Halík: Templeton Prize tribute to Czech spiritual culture

Tomáš Halík, photo: Jiří Hošek

Czech Catholic priest and academic Tomáš Halík has received the Templeton Prize in recognition of his efforts to bridge gaps between atheists and believers and his underground work under communism. The honour, which comes with a large monetary award, has in the past gone to Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, and other internationally renowned spiritual leaders.

Tomáš Halík,  photo: Jiří Hošek
At a news conference in London on Thursday, the BBC’s Edward Sourton announced that Czech priest Tomáš Halík had won this year’s Templeton Prize for spiritual and religious progress.

Monsignor Halík received the prize, awarded by the US-based John Templeton Foundation, for his work in promoting dialogue between people of various religious backgrounds as well as atheists.

In his remarks, John Templeton Jr., the son of the prize’s founder, also paid tribute to Halík’s activities in communist Czechoslovakia after the 1968 Soviet occupation.

“He helped to organize and build an extensive secret network of academics, theologians, philosophers and students who especially cultivated the intellectual and spiritual foundations for the democratic state he envisioned.

“He risked imprisonment for his participation in his underground university and underground church. But he and his colleagues were determined to always create the moral and spiritual biosphere, which is his own way of framing the larger sense of how the mind and the spirit can grow, and were then to prepare the Czech society for a life in freedom.”

The Templeton Prize, established in 1972, is awarded to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension, according to the foundation. It first went to Mother Theresa; other recipients include Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Tomáš Halík spoke to Czech Radio shortly after the ceremony.

“Naturally, it makes me feel somewhat abashed that my name has been permanently added to this company. One would like to cry out, ‘I don’t deserve this’. But I also understand it as an honour that’s not just for me.

“I would like to see it as an honour for my country and, above all, for all those who helped form my personality. Many of them died during communism, spent their best years in prison, could not publish, and so on.”

Since the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, Monsignor Halík has authored 17 books; his work Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing In Us became a bestseller and was named Europe’s best theological book for 2009–2010.

Tomáš Halík, who in the 1990s served as advisor to Václav Havel, says the prize was also a tribute to the late president and other Czech thinkers.

Jan Patočka,  photo: Jindřich Přibík,  archive of Jan Patočka,  CC BY-SA 3.0
“I would to see that as homage to the spiritual culture of my country which includes Václav Havel as well as Jan Patočka, my teacher. Coincidentally, I received the prize on the anniversary of his death.

“He died after twelve hours of interrogation by the secret police, becoming a martyr for truth. That is very moving. And it’s also the anniversary of Pope Francis’ election whom I like very much.”

In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Tomáš Halík said he would use the 1.1 million pounds in prize money to develop his work on dialogue with other faiths and atheists, especially at his own church, the Prague Academic Parish.