'I sat with Blessed John Paul as Communism crumbled'

Tomas Halik

On the night before the Berlin Wall came down, this year’s Templeton Prize winner, Fr Tomáš Halík, visited John Paul II. The Pope turned away from the television, which was showing protests in Germany, and said: 'This is the end of Communism'.

- The Catholic Herald

Fr Halík remembers replying: 'Holy Father, excuse me. I don’t believe papal infallibility works in the political world. We’ll have five years of perestroika.’ And he said: ‘No, no, it will come in 10 days'.' And he was right. The following day the Berlin Wall fell and nine days after that the Communist regime in Prague crumbled too.

That was also the week that Agnes of Prague was canonised, and for the priest, philosopher and academic, who was as old as the Communist State itself, it was a fulfilment of the prophecy that when Agnes was declared a saint Bohemia would have a brighter future.

A quarter of a century later, with Blessed John Paul himself about to be canonised next month, Fr Halík is a hugely respected international figure who has had more than 200 publications translated into countless languages, who lectures around the world on the philosophy and psychology of religion, and has received more awards than most of us have had hot dinners.

Now his name has been added to the Wikipedia page of recipients of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, under those of Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, the Rev. Billy Graham and the very first winner in 1973, Mother Teresa. The award, established by the American philanthropist John Templeton, is the second largest in monetary terms, at A$1.6m, although its prestige value is greater.

Perhaps the world expert on religion and culture, Fr Halík grew up in a secular household in one of the most irreligious circles of the most atheistic society on earth.

His father was an art historian and part of Bohemia’s intellectual elite. 'There was an atmosphere of secular humanism. We celebrated Christian festivals but we never went to church, and the Bible was part of the education, like the Greek myths.'

Today the Czech Republic has the lowest religious observance of any European country, a result not just of Communism but a history of religious dissent that extends from Jan Hus onwards. 'The anti-clerical tradition is deep,' he says.

'It was there in the first republic [between the wars] and it was perhaps the reason why the Communists chose Czechoslovakia as a field of experiment for the total atheistisation of society.' This was in contrast with Poland, where Catholicism was far stronger and so the regime had to accommodate it to some extent.

FULL STORY ‘I sat with John Paul as Communism crumbled’ (The Catholic Herald)

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