Czech Republic Mourns Former Clandestine Priest Miloslav Vlk

By BosNewsLife News Center with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos

PRAGUE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)-- The mortal remains of Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, a devoted believer who washed windows and ministered underground during communism, were placed in a tomb at St Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague Saturday, March 25, following a funeral service.

Archbishop Vlk died a week ago at the age of 84 after losing his battle against cancer. Saturday’s mass, attended by some 2,000 people, was conducted by Prague archbishop and Cardinal Dominik Duka.

He recalled Miloslav Vlk’s efforts to restore "the significance of the Catholic Church" after the 1989 Velvet Revolution that ended decades of Communist-rule.

Vlk became Prague archbishop in 1991, a move seen as rehabilitation for the years he suffered due to his faith and church activities.

Born May 17, 1932, in Lisnice in what was then Czechoslovakia, he studied history at Prague’s Charles University, earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Prague and was a trained archivist.

ORDAINED PRIEST

After he was ordained as a priest in 1968, the communist regime revoked his license to preach and work as a church leader.  The regime persecuted clerics, imprisoning them and forcing them into menial jobs. Vlk spent the next 10 years washing windows of government buildings and was also a factory worker.

Yet, he continued his church activities in secret, like other barred priests, and maintained contacts with students and dissident groups.

“The will of God can be different in different moments of our life,” he reportedly said in 1991. “Sometimes it is His will that I wash the windows and other times to be archbishop.”

Pope John Paul II appointed the then-57-year-old priest to be bishop of Ceske Budejovice in February 1990, two months after Czechoslovakia’s 40-year communist regime was overthrown by a popular and largely nonviolent uprising.

The late pope then named him archbishop of Prague in 1991 and, in 1993, when Czechoslovakia became two countries – the Czech Republic and Slovakia –he became primate of the Czech church. John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1994.

EAST EUROPEAN PRESIDENT

Later, as a retired archbishop of Prague, he was elected the first East European president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences. Church observers say he dedicated his term to rebuilding the church and society after communism in the East and defending Christian values amid concerns over secularism and materialism in the West. Vlk also faced an uphill battle for the return of church properties seized under communism.

He was respected by dissident-turned-President Vaclav Havel who in 2002 awarded Cardinal Vlk the Czech Republic’s senior Masaryk Prize in recognition of his work for democracy and human rights.

In a telegram to Cardinal Dominik Duka of Prague, Pope Francis recalled “with admiration” the late cardinal’s “tenacious fidelity to Christ despite the privation and persecution against the church.”

The pope also praised his fruitful ministry, which he said was driven by a desire to share the joy of the Gospel with everyone and promote “an authentic ecclesial renewal” that was always faithful to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Cardinal Vlk was reportedly a strong supporter of Catholic lay movements. He said that, like religious orders in past centuries, lay movements today express the “needs of our time.” He recognized a shortage of priests in the Czech Republic, one of Europe's most atheistic nations, but said that the most important thing is to genuinely “live the life of the Gospel.”

The Catholic Chuch says that with Cardinal Vlk’s death, the College of Cardinals has 224 members, 117 of whom are under age 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave for a pope.

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