Celebrating an open-air mass attended by a crowd of 120,000 in Brno, Pope Benedict XVI warned that scientific and economic progress were not enough to guarantee the moral welfare of society. Preaching in the largely secular Czech Republic, the pontiff said people needed to be liberated from material oppressions, but more profoundly, they needed to be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit. During Sunday’s mass the pope consecrated crosses and statues while hundreds of priests distributed hosts among believers.
On Monday Pope Benedict will celebrate mass in the town of Stará Boleslav, north of Prague, the centre of annual celebrations held in honour of St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech nation, who was murdered in the town on September 28, 935.
The Pope’s three-day visit to the Czech Republic is a pastoral one intended to bring a message of faith and hope to Czechs 20 years after the fall of communism. The controversial issue of property restitution was discussed only marginally. Following a meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on Saturday, the Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said the Vatican was ready to defer property disputes with the Czech state for the time being in view of the economic crisis.
The huge anchor and cross which were erected in Brno on the site where the pope celebrated mass will be preserved as reminders of the papal visit. A spokeswoman for the Brno Bishopric said the original plan was for the 12-metre-tall anchor to have been recycled, but the Bishopric had decided to preserve it as a symbol of hope – the main message of Pope Benedict’s visit to Brno. The anchor will be placed on the banks of the Brno dam, the cross can be viewed in the Capuchin gardens.
Prague Archbishop Miloslav Vlk has assessed his twenty years in office with a critical eye, saying there was little to show for his efforts. In an interview for Czech public television on Sunday, the cardinal pointed out that the restitution of church assets remained unresolved, as did the ownership of Prague’s famous St. Vitus Cathedral, he said he had failed to push though an amendment to the church law and the Czech Republic was one of the few remaining countries which do not have a treaty with the Vatican. Cardinal Vlk said there had been no lack of effort on his part but that political circumstances had not been in his favour. The head of the Czech Catholic Church is planning to retire from his post before the end of the year.
Caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fischer on Sunday warned Czechs the coming year would not be an easy one. He said people would feel the burden of both rising unemployment –expected to reach 10 percent – and the austerity package introduced by the government. The prime minister said the planned tax-hikes and cost-cuts were inevitable if the Czech Republic wanted to avoid serious long-term problems. According to the Prime Minister’s estimates the austerity package should not increase household costs by more than a thousand crowns.
The package of tax-hikes and spending cuts will reduce next year’s budget deficit to 162.8 billion crowns that is 5.2 percent of GDP. A tight rein on spending was the prime minister’s condition for staying in office and after two days of heated debate in Parliament this week the package was approved by all parties with the exception of the Communists.
Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek has called for a meeting of party leaders which would help outline a mandate for the caretaker cabinet of prime Minister Jan Fischer over the next six months. Mr. Topolánek said in a letter to his party colleagues that the matter should be decided ahead of a meeting with Mr. Fischer himself. Prime Minster Fischer is expected to present the lower house with a draft budget proposal for 2010 and an outline of his cabinet’s policy programme next week. His cabinet, which was originally to have led the country to early elections in October, now looks set to remain in government until regular elections in June 2010.
Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip is demanding the resignation of two deputy chairmen after an investigative report indicated they were susceptible to corruption. Čenek Milota and Jiří Dolejš were asked by a Mladá fronta Dnes reporter, posing as a casino owner, to attempt to modify an upcoming amendment to the lotteries act in exchange for party donations of one million crowns. Both indicated they were willing to cooperate. Party leader Vojtěch Filip said both officials should immediately account for their behavior and leave their posts. An extraordinary meeting of the party leadership has been called for Tuesday. MP Ladislav Šustr, a leading candidate for the new centre-right party TOP 09, resigned his seat in parliament on Saturday for the same reason.
It has been a tragic weekend on Czech roads with traffic police reporting nine road deaths over the past 48 hours. According to a police spokeswoman the fatalities were not related to the heavy traffic in and around Brno resulting from the Pope’s visit to the city. For the most part they were caused by speeding and inattentive driving as people headed out for a three-day weekend in the country.
A thirty nine-year old Czech mountain climber who fell from the Lomnicky stit mountain ridge in the High Tatra mountains is reported to have died of his injuries. Slovak and Polish rescue teams struggled to reach him in bad weather but a spokesman said later the man’s injuries were so serious he most likely died on impact. The High Tatra mountains can be particularly treacherous in bad weather. The mountain has claimed 21 lives this year, among them a number of Czechs and Poles.
Czech Lucie Šafářová, the world's 44th ranked player, defeated 11th-ranked Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 6-4, 7-6 in one hour and 26 minutes in the first round of the Pan Pacific Open on Sunday, underlining the latter’s mystifying loss of form. Šafářová had lost two of her previous three meetings with Ivanovic, one of them at last year's French Open when the Serb went on to win the title before reaching number one. Commentators say Šafářová's win was arguably the highlight of a low-key opening day at the lucrative Pan Pacific Open, featuring nine of the world's top 10 women.
Monday is expected to be another bright and sunny day to be followed by a sharp drop in temperatures to around 16 degrees Celsius, overcast skies and rain