By Eva-Maria Kolman
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need mourns for Cardinal Miroslav Vlk, who passed away on Saturday 18th March at the age of 84. “Cardinal Vlk was a beacon of faith in a country tested by communism, a country in which today, the ties that link people to the faith are the weakest in all of Europe,” said Fr Martin Barta, the charity’s International Ecclesiastical Assistant. According to Fr Barta, the former archbishop of Prague, who had to work for years as a window cleaner after his ordination to the priesthood due to the anticlerical reprisals of the communist government, only carrying out his work as a priest in secret, “decisively influenced many people by faithfully bearing priestly witness under the most difficult conditions” and became an “iconic figure of the faith in a society that had to rediscover the path to God” after the political turnaround.
Cardinal Miroslav Vlk was also “a longstanding friend of our charity,” Fr Martin Barta emphasised. He returned the aid given to him by Aid to the Church in Need to rebuild the church in his Archdiocese of Prague “in a different currency – that of prayer,” as the cardinal repeatedly told the pastoral charity.
(Cardinal Miroslav Vlk © Aid to the Church in Need)
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need on the occasion of his 75th birthday in 2007, the cardinal focused on his experiences during the time of the persecution. “The persecution helped us to be more faithful to God. Who else could have helped us otherwise? At the beginning, when the communists seized power, many people in Czechoslovakia still thought that the Americans would intervene. But that was just an illusion. God alone was our light. During the persecution, there was no literature, no funds. One could only choose and look for God. For me, this was a great mercy.”
Today you see that the communists have gone. “But God has not disappeared. HE is still here!” the cardinal emphasised.
However, Cardinal Miroslav Vlk was also deeply concerned about the deterioration of the fundamental values in society: a lack of respect for other people, for life, a disappearing sense of honour, a spreading self-centredness. He emphasised, “A society cannot be built on selfishness, but instead it is a part of our human identity to be open to one another. Above all, the church must bear witness, for living witness evokes respect and can trigger a response in the human heart.”
For Aid to the Church in Need, “the friendly ties the cardinal maintained towards us, as well as his witness, are a precious legacy that we will carry in our hearts,” Fr Barta said. “We hope and pray that even after his death, his example will continue to lead people to find the faith that was radically destroyed through communism and that is only now gently beginning to blossom again.”
If in 1950, 76 per cent of the population living in the territories of today’s Czech Republic (at the time part of Czechoslovakia) was still Catholic, today it is only 10.4 per cent. Another 11 per cent belong to other Christian denominations. With 34 per cent unaffiliated with any religion as well as another 44 per cent who do not specify their religious affiliation, of all European countries, the Czech Republic is the one most marked by atheism. In communist times, the former Czechoslovakia was one of the countries in which the Catholic church suffered the greatest persecution.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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