Would you say that Czechs became more interested in spiritual life in this time of crisis?
The effects of coronavirus are definitely not only about [bodily] health, but also about its psychological effects on people. Here, experts state that this situation creates a kind of helplessness in people, but also the loss of the meaning of the world, the meaning of society, and then of the individual. On one hand, we can perceive this as a danger but, on the other hand, as a Church, we must see space to be addressed, to offer the Good News.
The Church could attenuate this whole experience the moment we become accustomed to a limited regime, or if we replace the Eucharist with spiritual lectures, as is happening now everywhere. In a way, I must say that many people have found contact with the Church and worship, many even after decades of disinterest. I also saw a greater interest in a common family religious life, such as family prayer, common catechesis, and an interest in Christianity in general. So I am optimistic in this regard.
The Czech Republic is sometimes described as one of the world's least religious countries. Do you agree with that description?
I personally consider these statistics to be very inaccurate or biased. It is true that in the Czech nation there is historically a high level of distrust in any institution, not only the religious ones. This is due to the Nazi and communist occupations of the country.
The number of baptized people has decreased by about 35% since the beginning of the century, but this is a consequence of other phenomena than the said communist atheism. Between the wars, a national church was formed, which is now almost extinct. After World War II, we lost almost three million German-speaking people as a result of war losses and subsequent population transfers. Further migrations followed the communist coup in 1948 and the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops in the year 1968. Intense atheization of society, coupled with a certain bullying of believers, imprisonment of clergy, and violent re-education in schools, also definitely played a role in excluding religious life from the society.
Now I see that we have built dozens of new churches and spiritual centers, and several hundred chapels in the last three decades. The Church has been accepted as part of the academic environment, it is admitted into healthcare, primary education, the army, and prisons.
The Marian Column returned to Prague's main square, which was torn down by the crowd as a supposed symbol of Austrian Catholicism at the founding of the republic more than a hundred years ago, and its restoration was met with a favorable reaction from the society. At a time when similar religious monuments around the world are being programmatically destroyed, this is a real uniqueness. All this only confirms to me that we are not an atheistic country in the true sense of the word, that we cannot claim our country to be atheistic in the sense of the word a-theos, that is, against God.
What do you think is the best way to evangelize highly secular societies?
Our main task was and remains pastoral care and evangelization. Here, too, we should be well aware that society is in constant motion and that we must reflect on our activities in order to be on the level of time. We cannot offer formulas to today's man. We must do evangelism in a spirit of deep humility and an invitation to dialogue. Let's discuss, let's talk, let's look.
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The principles of the Gospel that we proclaim are also the principles of our civilization, which grew out of ancient Jewish heritage, but which was also enriched by Germanic, Celtic and Slavic influence. The new technologies -- microphones, phones, televisions, the internet and others that today's times have to offer -- must be used, but also with caution. Let us not encourage propaganda and ultimate expressions. These are just elements of the time that we need to address society so that it can somehow understand us. The new is not the essence, but the approach in reality is.
In a secularized society, we then face the question of how, on the one hand, not to sell off all the values we have and, on the other hand, not to close ourselves and say that culture ended in the 17th or 18th century. We are in the 21st century, in the middle of globalization. And so not only the Catholic Church but also the whole Christian world has to rethink how to share the message of Christ to the future generations.
At the same time, we should also realize that Christianity is not a declining religion. This may seem to be reality to us in Europe, but it is not the reality worldwide, as the number of Christians has almost doubled in the last century. Today, European Catholics make up only a quarter of the Catholic Church, and the Church's focus shifts to the countries of the so-called Third World, i.e. Asia, Africa, and South America.
Your Twitter account was suspended recently. When it was reactivated, you drew a comparison between online censorship today and communist repression in the 1980s. Do you consider tech censorship a serious threat to Christians?
I consider freedom of speech to be one of the basic pillars of real democracy. But censorship is not just a matter of communist time of repressive normalization or undemocratic regimes. It doesn't even come to us from abroad. Nevertheless, we see it today and every day in the form of self-censorship, hidden behind correctness. It is also a question of choosing partners to debate, avoiding certain topics. We are prevented from speaking on certain topics, or we can speak, but then a media lynch follows, embarrassing, refuting, and ridiculing the spoken, or even the speaker. I have experienced that certain Christian themes are excluded from society, such as the protection of human life or the traditional family as the union of man and woman. Or let's ask who is the most persecuted group in the world and only those who deal with this topic will give you answers.