The Pope is using his visit to the Czech Republic this week to call on the country's Catholic population to turn back to the Church. Loyalty to Catholicism appears to be declining in traditionally Catholic areas.
33 per cent of Czechs defined themselves as Roman Catholic in a 2001 census, down from 45 per cent in 1991.
Speaking to a crowd of around 120,000 in the city of Brno yesterday (27 September), Benedict XVI insisted that “history has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions”.
The visit coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which toppled the undemocratic regime of the former Czechoslovakia.
The Pope acknowledged that “man needs to be liberated from material oppressions”, but said that “more profoundly, he must be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit”.
However, these comments are likely to face criticism, not least from certain Catholics and other Christians, for apparently downplaying material and structural justice in favour of conservative interpretations of personal morality.
A recent survey reported that half the Czech population did not believe in God, giving the country one of the highest percentage of atheists in the world.
Meanwhile, rumours emerged that the Pope may visit Northern Ireland next year as part of this trip to the UK. However, the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland said today that there are no official plans for such a visit.