Czech President Havel Meets Pope in Private Audience

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 7, 2002 ( John Paul II and Czech President Vaclav Havel, two key figures in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, reminisced at a weekend audience.

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«Havel to power,» the Pope exclaimed, recalling one of the most famous slogans of Prague´s «Velvet Revolution,» which in 1989 took Havel to the presidency in what was then Czechoslovakia.

The meeting Saturday was private and without interpreters. The Pope spoke in Polish, Havel in Czech. «It is easy to understand one another from Polish to Czech,» the Holy Father commented.

Havel, 67, who has been head of state for 12 years, was the helmsman of the 1992 peaceful separation of Slovakia from the Czech Republic. He is now trying to integrate his country into the European Union. This was the purpose of his trip to Italy, where he met with high political authorities.

Havel was accompanied by his wife and an entourage. He gave the Holy Father a crystal candelabrum.

The Czech Republic ranks 35th in terms of world competitiveness, and is struggling to adapt its economy to European standards.

The country, about 40% Catholic, is regarded as one of the most secularized in the world. Religious practice is less than 3% in some areas.

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