STARA BOLESLAV, Czech Republic (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, ending a trip to this highly secular nation, said on Monday the fall of communists who tried to erase religion was proof that God cannot be excluded from public life.
At a mass in this town where the Czech patron St Wenceslas was murdered in the 10th century, Benedict addressed a crowd of around 50,000 mainly young people.
Making his first papal visit as the country marks 20 years since the Velvet Revolution ended four decades of communist rule, Benedict spoke of the fall “of powerful figures who had apparently risen to almost unattainable heights.”
“Suddenly they found themselves stripped of their power,” he said in a clear reference to the fall of communism here in 1989.
“Today there is a need for believers with credibility, who are ready to spread in every area of society the Christian principles and ideals by which their action is inspired,” he said, speaking on the saint’s feast day, a national holiday.
Evoking Wenceslas, who was killed by his brother, Benedict said the Bohemian saint “had the courage to prefer the kingdom of heaven to the enticement of worldly power.”
The pope’s three-day visit to support the Czech Catholic Church, the biggest in a country that has one of the lowest proportions of religious people in the world, has attracted large crowds, but some say partly out of spectacle.
Around 120,000, many from neighboring Poland and Slovakia, turned out in the Czech second city, Brno, for a Mass Sunday.
Four decades of Communist rule suppressed religious activity, which has dwindled even more in the following decades. Today fewer than 3 million of the 10.5 million population claim to be Catholic.
Some who attended the pope’s final public event Monday said they hoped his visit would help the future of the Church.
“This (event) is proof that there is youth in the Church. I hope the Czech Republic will notice that to be a Christian is not just an image, but is something true,” said 23-year-old Pavel Hora, of Hradistko.
Relations between Prague and the Vatican have been clouded by the fact that the Czechs have not ratified a treaty on ties, and politicians have rejected proposals that would settle claims for the restitution of Church assets seized by the Communists.
Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said Saturday after meeting Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, second in the Vatican hierarchy, that the two sides had agreed to set aside the restitution issue for now, given the economic crisis.
Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Dominic Evans