A place for the reawakening of the love of Christ
On 17 May 2017, Cardinal Miloslav Kardinal Vlk, the former Archbishop of Prague, would have celebrated his 85th birthday. However, he died just two months earlier. Just a few hours before his death, he whispered the words “Most beautiful King”. When asked what he meant by this, he replied, “Jesus on the Cross.” Those were his last words.
Embracing the Cross, and with it the Crucified One, were not empty words. For many long years of his life, throughout the years of the communist persecution of the Church, he had to wait for the privilege of even permission to attend university, since as a young man he had refused to join the communist youth groups. For 17 long years, after completing his secondary schooling, he had to wait for ordination to the priesthood, without ever knowing for sure if this day would ever arrive.
Even after his ordination, and serving as a parish priest and secretary to his bishop, he was banned for 11 years by the state from working as a priest. During this time, he earned his living as a window cleaner and as an archivist, and practiced his priesthood in secret. He would often recall how hard it had been for him to make this sacrifice. Yet, he was also able to say later, “I discovered that this cross did more for my salvation and that of others than if I had continued as the bishop’s secretary during those years… that time as a window cleaner was the most blessed time of my life. And I understood that I was living my priesthood in all its fullness.”
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you,” (1 Peter 5:6). These words stayed with Miloslav Vlk like a leitmotiv in his life. He heard them first as a young man, when he felt the call to the priesthood, yet saw no possibility of achieving this goal. In 1994, when he was made a cardinal, he was shaken to hear these words once again in the letter of Saint Peter and realized how they had literally come true in his life.
He was finally laid to rest on March 25, 2017, in Prague Cathedral. Hundreds of bishops and priests from all over the world, and thousands of people from Prague and all over the Czech Republic were there to pay him their last respects. He was buried in the most important church in the Czech Republic, the same place where the Bohemian kings had been crowned and buried. However, his only King was Christ the Crucified.
As his coffin was lowered into his tomb in the stone floor, the ancient hymn rang out in the packed cathedral: “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat” (“Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules”). This is the King he saw when he whispered his last words, the King who allowed him throughout his life to share in his sufferings and his abandonment and who will now exalt him at the proper time.
The greatest wish of the Cardinal was to reawaken the love of Christ in the hearts of his people. After the years of communism, this was a huge challenge. Cardinal Vlk was a lifelong friend of ACN, and the help our charity was able to help him in rebuilding the Church in his Archdiocese of Prague was repaid by him “in a different currency – that of prayer,” as he again and again repeated to ACN.
However, there is still a great deal to do for the Church in his country today. Even now, many of the confiscated Church buildings have still not been returned by the state, and many of them are still in a pitiful condition. But most of all, it is the souls of the people that need to be rebuilt. For the Czech Republic is one of the most atheistic countries in Europe today. The good news is that wherever people see the Catholic Faith truly being lived; many young people soon rediscover this Faith and seek baptism. So new and living communities are being formed, with young families bringing their children up in the Faith and so laying the foundations for the Church of the future.
That is why this Project of the Week is particularly important in order to fulfill the wishes of Cardinal Vlk. In Tuchomerice, a small town not far from Prague, the new Catholic community Chemin Neuf (New Road) has set up a centre. It is a very active community on an international level, comprising 2,000 members in about 30 countries (Canada among them) organizing meetings for young people, young adults and married couples. They offer retreats, prayer groups and a Bible school. Every day Holy Mass is celebrated in the community, along with the Morning Prayer of the Divine Office and there is a regular time for Eucharistic adoration. The centre is also intended to be available to visiting groups, so that not only local people but also Catholics from other parts of the Archdiocese can take advantage of the facilities it offers.
Thanks to help from ACN they have already been able to complete the chapel and the refectory, plus more recently an additional 16 guestrooms. But the work is still far from finished. We are planning to help with $36 500.