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Pope wraps up Czech trip with Mass near Prague

Last Updated: Monday, September 28, 2009 - 21:18

Stara Boleslav: Pope Benedict XVI on Monday held up the Czech Republic`s martyred patron saint as a model for leaders, saying the world needs God-fearing people prepared to follow the ethical principles of Christianity.
At an open-air Mass for at least 40,000 faithful, Benedict issued a call for holiness as he wrapped up his three-day visit to this central European country two decades after the fall of Communism.

"The last century — as this land of yours can bear witness — saw the fall of a number of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights," Benedict said, speaking in Italian.

"Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power," he said.

Benedict said that those who deny God and appear to lead a comfortable life are in reality "sad and unfulfilled" people.

His visit, which began on Saturday, came as the country prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which ousted a communist regime that had ruthlessly persecuted believers and confiscated church property.

The 82-year-old pope told believers who packed a meadow in Stara Boleslav, 25 kilometres (15 miles) northeast of Prague that they could learn from patron St Wenceslas, who was murdered here by his pagan brother in 935 AD.

Wenceslas, the pope said, was "a model of holiness for all people”.

"We ask ourselves: In our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? Do we not place more value today on worldly success and glory? Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it have?" the pope said Monday, a national holiday honouring Wenceslas.

Although his overall reception has been tepid, with no posters or billboards announcing the trip, the faithful — some from nearby Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia — streamed into Stara Boleslav before dawn.

The Vatican said 40,000 people turned out; Czech organisers put the crowd estimate at 50,000.

Some 30 people needed treatment during the Mass, said Tereza Janeckova, a regional emergency services spokeswoman. Fourteen collapsed due to dehydration and exhaustion, and nine were hospitalised, including two who apparently suffered heart attacks.

Czechs are among Europe`s most secular people.

In 1991, 4.5 million of the country`s 10 million people said they belonged to a church, but a 2001 census showed that number had plunged to 3.3 million. Recent surveys suggest the number of believers remains low; about one in two respondents to a poll conducted by the agency STEM said they don`t believe in God.

Benedict has used his pilgrimage to recall the evils of communist-era religious repression and to coax indifferent Czechs back to the church.

In a special message to young people, the pope urged them not to be seduced by consumerism.

"Unfortunately, many of your contemporaries allow themselves to be led astray by illusory visions of spurious happiness, and then they find themselves sad and alone," Benedict said.

Yet throughout the trip, he has carefully avoided wading into abortion, gay marriage and other controversial issues — an apparent attempt to avoid further antagonizing already apathetic Czechs.

In November, Czechs will mark two decades since the country peacefully shook off communist rule.

Bureau Report

First Published: Monday, September 28, 2009 - 21:18
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