Press Conference en Route to Czech Republic

«Freedom and Truth Go Together»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 27, 2009 ( Here is a translation of the press conference that Benedict XVI gave Saturday on his flight to the Czech Republic.

* * *

Father Federico Lombardi [director of the Vatican press office]: Your Holiness, we are very grateful that once again you would like to give us a few minutes and some replies to the questions that have been gathered in preparation for this voyage, and in this way you also give us the occasion to wish you a good trip.

First Question: As you said after the Angelus last Sunday, the Czech Republic finds itself at the heart of Europe not only geographically but also historically. Could you better explain to us this “historically” and tell us how and why this visit could be significant for the whole continent, in its cultural, spiritual and possibly political path toward the construction of the European Union?

Benedict XVI: In every century the Czech Republic, the territory of the Czech Republic, has been a place for the meeting of cultures. Let us start with the 9th century: On one hand, in Moravia we have the mission of Cyril and Methodius, who bring the Byzantine culture from Byzantium, but create a Slavic culture, with the Cyrillic characters and with a liturgy in the Slavic tongue; on the other hand, in Bohemia, there are the dioceses that border Regensburg and Passau that bring the Gospel in the Latin tongue, and, with the connection with the Roman-Latin culture, the two cultures meet. Each encounter is difficult, but also fruitful. It could easily be demonstrated with this example. 

Taking a big leap: In the 12th century Charles IV creates here, in Prague, the first university in central Europe. The university is in itself a place of the meeting of cultures; in this case it becomes, furthermore, a place of meeting between the Slavic and German-speaking cultures. As in the century and the times of the Reformation, precisely in this territory, the meetings and the conflicts become decisive and great, we all know this. 

I will now leap ahead to our time: In the last century the Czech Republic suffered under a particularly harsh communist dictatorship but there was also strong Catholic and secular resistance. I think of the texts of Vaclav Havel, of Cardinal Vlk, a figure like Cardinal Tomasek, who truly gave Europe a message about what freedom is and how we should live and work in freedom. And I think that from this meeting of cultures over centuries, and precisely from this last phase of reflection — but not only this period — of suffering for a new concept of freedom and free society, many important messages emerge for us that can and must be fruitful for the building of Europe. We must be very attentive indeed to the message of this country.

Question: Here we are 20 years after the fall of the communist regimes of eastern Europe; John Paul II, visiting different countries that had survived communism, encouraged them to the freedom that they had regained responsibly. What is your message for the peoples of Eastern Europe today in this new historical phase?

Benedict XVI: As I said, these countries really suffered under dictatorships, but in the suffering, concepts of freedom developed that are current and that must now be further elaborated and realized. I have in mind, for example, a text of Vaclav Havel that says: “Dictatorships are based on lies and if the lie is overcome, if no one lies any more and if the truth comes to light, there will also be freedom.” And this was how he explained the connection between truth and freedom, where freedom is not libertinism, arbitrariness, but is connected to and conditioned by the great values of truth and love and solidarity and the good in general. Thus, I think that these concepts, these ideas that matured under the dictatorship, must not be lost: Now we must return to them! 

And, in the freedom that is often a little empty and without values, again recognize that freedom and values, freedom and good, freedom and truth go together: Otherwise freedom too is destroyed. This seems to me to be the message that comes from these countries and that must be realized in this moment.

Question: Your Holiness, the Czech Republic is a very secularized country in which the Catholic Church is a minority. In such a situation, how can the Church contribute effectively to the common good of the country?

Benedict XVI: I would say that normally the creative minorities determine the future, and in this sense the Catholic Church must understand itself as a creative minority that has a legacy of values that are not things of the past but a reality that is very alive and current. The Church must act, be present in the public debate, in our struggle for a true concept of freedom and peace. 

In this way it can contribute in different sectors. I would say that the first is precisely the dialogue between agnostics and believers. Each has need of the other: the agnostic cannot be content not to know if God exists or not, but must seek and sense the great legacy of the faith; the Catholic cannot be content to have faith, but must seek out God further, and in dialogue with others re-learn God in a deeper way. This is the first level: the great intellectual, ethical and human dialogue. 

Then, in the sector of education, the Church has much to do in regard to formation. In Italy we speak of the educational emergency. It is a problem common to the whole West: here again the Church must actualize, concretize, open up its great legacy for the future. 

“Caritas” is a third sector. The Church’s help of the poor, her being an instrument of charity has always been a sign of her identity. In the Czech Republic, Caritas has done a great deal in the different communities, giving an example of responsibility for others, of international solidarity, which is still a condition of peace.

Question: Your Holiness, your last encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” caused a significant stir throughout the world. What is your evaluation of this? Are you happy with it? Do you think that in fact the recent global crisis is an occasion in which humanity has become more disposed to reflect on the importance of moral and spiritual values, to face the great problems of its future? And the Church will continue to offer orientation in this direction?

Benedict XVI: I am very happy with this great discussion. This was indeed the purpose: to incite and motivate a discussion of these problems, not to let things continue as they are, but to find new models for a responsible economy, whether in individual countries or in the totality of unified humanity. 

It seems that today it is truly evident that ethics is not something extrinsic to economics, which could [supposedly] function on its own like a type of technology, but is rather a principle intrinsic to economics, which does not function unless it takes account of the human values of solidarity, of reciprocal responsibilities and if it does not integrate ethics in the building of the economy itself: It is the great challenge of this moment. I hope, with the encyclical, to have contributed to this challenge. 

The debate that is taking place seems encouraging to me. Certainly we want to continue to respond to the challenges of the moment and to help so that the sense of responsibility is stronger than the will-to-profit, that responsibility in regard to others is stronger than egoism; in this sense, we want to contribute to a human economy in the future too.

Question: And to conclude, a more personal question: Over the summer there was a little accident with your wrist. Do you think it is completely better now? Have you been able to take up your activities fully again and have you been able to work on the second part of your book about Jesus, as you wished?

Benedict XVI: It is not completely healed, but you can see that my right hand works and essentially I can carry on: I can manage and, above all, I ca
n write. My thought develops above all as I write; so, for me it has really been an inconvenience, a school of patience, I have not been able to write for six weeks. Nevertheless, I was able to work, read, do other things and I have also made a little progress with the book. But I still have a lot to do. I think that, with the bibliography and what is still left to do, “Deo adiuvante,” [with God’s help] I could be done by next spring. But this is a hope!

Father Lombardi: Thanks so much, Your Holiness, and once again best wishes for this trip that is short, but very intense and, as you explained to us, it is also very significant.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation