VATICAN CITY, 26 SEP 2009 (VIS) - At 4.30 p.m. today Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, greeted the Holy Father at Prague Castle. The castle dates from the ninth century and has been the seat of Holy Roman emperors, kings and governors. Since 1918 it has been a fortified citadel enclosing various monuments and museums. It is the seat of the president of the Republic and is the cultural and historical symbol par excellence of Bohemia.
Benedict XVI had a private meeting with President Klaus before going on to meet with Jan Fischer, prime minister of the Czech Republic, and with Premysl Sobotka and Miloslav Vlcek, presidents, respectively, of the senate and of the chamber of deputies. Subsequently, accompanied by President Klaus and his wife, the Pope visited the Spanish Hall for a brief concert by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, after which he met the country's political and administrative authorities, the diplomatic corps, university rectors and various representatives from the civil, business and cultural worlds of the Czech Republic.
In his address to them the Holy Father mentioned the fact that his visit "coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the totalitarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, and the 'Velvet Revolution' which restored democracy to this nation. The euphoria that ensued was expressed in terms of freedom. Two decades after the profound political changes which swept this continent, the process of healing and rebuilding continues, now within the wider context of European unification and an increasingly globalised world.
"The aspirations of citizens and the expectations placed on governments", he added, "called for new models of civic life and solidarity between nations and peoples without which the long desired future of justice, peace and prosperity would remain elusive. Such desires continue to evolve. Today, especially among the young, the question again emerges as to the nature of the freedom gained".
"Every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs, seeking to understand the proper use of human freedom. ... True freedom presupposes the search for truth - for the true good - and hence finds its fulfilment precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just. Truth, in other words, is the guiding norm for freedom, and goodness is freedom's perfection".
"Indeed, the lofty responsibility to awaken receptivity to truth and goodness falls to all leaders - religious, political and cultural, each in his or her own way", said Pope Benedict. "For Christians, truth has a name: God. And goodness has a face: Jesus Christ. The faith of Christians, from the time of Sts. Cyril and Methodius and the early missionaries, has in fact played a decisive role in shaping the spiritual and cultural heritage of this country. It must do likewise in the present and into the future. The rich patrimony of spiritual and cultural values, each finding expression in the other, has not only given shape to the nation's identity but has also furnished it with the vision necessary to exercise a role of cohesion at the heart of Europe".
"As we are all aware" the Czech nation "has known painful chapters and carries the scars of tragic events born of misunderstanding, war and persecution. Yet it is also true, that its Christian roots have nourished a remarkable spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation and co-operation which has enabled the people of these lands to find freedom and to usher in a new beginning, a new synthesis, a renewal of hope. Is it not precisely this spirit that contemporary Europe requires?
"Europe is more than a continent. It is a home! ... With full respect for the distinction between the political realm and that of religion - which indeed preserves the freedom of citizens to express religious belief and live accordingly - I wish to underline the irreplaceable role of Christianity for the formation of the conscience of each generation and the promotion of a basic ethical consensus that serves every person who calls this continent, 'home'".
The Pope then went on to explain how his presence in this capital city, "which is often spoken of as the heart of Europe", prompts the question: in what does the 'heart' consist? "Surely", he said, "a clue is found in the architectural jewels that adorn this city. ... Their beauty expresses faith; they are epiphanies of God that rightly leave us pondering the glorious marvels to which we creatures can aspire when we give expression to the aesthetic and cognitive aspects of our innermost being. ... The creative encounter of the classical tradition and the Gospel gave birth to a vision of man and society attentive to God's presence among us".
"At the present crossroads of civilization, so often marked by a disturbing sundering of the unity of goodness, truth and beauty and the consequent difficulty in finding an acceptance of common values, every effort for human progress must draw inspiration from that living heritage. Europe, in fidelity to her Christian roots, has a particular vocation to uphold this transcendent vision in her initiatives to serve the common good of individuals, communities, and nations".
Having completed his address, the Holy Father went on to the cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert for the celebration of Vespers.
PV-CZECH REP./AUTHORITIES/PRAGUE VIS 20090927 (900)