Pope Benedict XVI left the Czech Republic Monday evening after a final ceremony with President Václav Klaus marking the end of the pontiff’s first visit to the country. Speaking in Italian, President Klaus said the nation had listened to and understood the pope’s message of mutual understanding and tolerance, his faith and his ethics, and that the pope had brought hope to the nation. Pope Benedict wrapped up a weekend of many speeches with name’s day tidings for President Klaus, who had accompanied him for much of his three-day tour of the Czech Republic, and thanks to the country’s Catholic leaders before blessing the audience in Czech. Pope Benedict was said to be have been very pleased about his stay in the Czech Republic, which has one of the lowest populations of religious followers in Europe. Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi said that the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics had been impressed by the friendly reception he was given at his public masses, which were attended by larger audiences than originally expected.
On the last day of his three-day pastoral visit to the Czech Republic, the pope celebrated mass in the town of Stará Boleslav, north of Prague, for a crowd of some 50,000 people. After venerating the remains of St. Václav (Wenceslas) on the occasion of his feast day, the pope gave a sermon in praise of the good deeds of the Czech patron saint, who he said could serve as an example even today, particularly for those who control the fate of society and the nation. Pope Benedict’s visit to the pilgrimage town of Stará Boleslav was primarily directed towards young people, who he called upon to avoid selfish interests and material satisfaction. The pontiff then returned to Prague to meet some final dignitaries before departing for Rome.
Pope Benedict is the third pope to visit Stará Boleslav, where Saint Václav, the Duke of Bohemia, was murdered by order of his brother in 935. Pope Clement VIII was the first to venerate the saint in 1588, and Pope John XXIII marked the millennium anniversary of his death there in 1929.
In other news, a politician for the Christian Democrats has offered his resignation following a recent bribery scandal in which politicians from various parties were offered money for political favours. Jíri Stodůlka, the general secretary for the Christian Democratic Party, was apparently inclined to accept a party donation of one million crowns from an undercover reporter for the daily Mladá fronta Dnes if he would pressure his party to withdraw from a proposal to tax casino owners. The party’s chairman, Cyril Svoboda, said he had received an offer of resignation from Mr Stodůlka and that it would be discussed by the party’s heads on Tuesday. Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip said over the weekend that he would quit the party himself if two members of his party who accepted the fictitious deal did not resign. One current member of parliament standing as a candidate for the new centre-right party TOP 09 resigned hours after the newspaper published its report on Saturday.
The Euro Health Consumer Index has ranked the Czech health care system 13th out of 32 European states compared, giving the country a rating of “solid average”. The consumer index, now in its fifth year, rates six areas of health care, from the information available to patients and the scope of services to the length of waiting lists for certain operations. The report suggested that the Czech Republic review the funding ratio for health care workers versus technology and medicines. The Czech Republic held the 16th rung on the list in 2008, and now ranks between Estonia and Ireland. The Netherlands and Austria received the best ratings in Europe, while Macedonia and Latvia were the lowest.
Caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fischer has said that the government will continue to meet with teachers and public administrators to discuss budget cuts approved by parliament on Friday that will decrease their salaries by 4%. Speaking on TV Prima on Sunday, Mr Fischer said that he had already discussed the matter at length with the head of the relevant labour union and that parliamentary approval of the package was not necessarily the last word on the issue. The wage reductions for state employees entail cuts of around 1,000 crowns for teachers for example, and were projected to save the budget roughly seven billion crowns. Unions have strongly protested the cuts.
The Ministry of the Environment has proposed an act by which it could prohibit the building of roads of more than 10 kilometres in length if it finds that automobile exhaust would overly pollute surrounding areas. Regional authorities would have the same power for other roads, and would be able to stipulate conditions for their construction. If passed, the new act could take effect from the middle of 2010.
Around 9,000 people took to the town square in Hradec Králové on Monday for the seventh annual St. Václav’s Day celebration. The celebration’s organisers said this year’s turnout had set the record for the event, which has a special focus on horses and equestrian spectacles. The highlight of the event was a traditional blessing of horses carried out by the town’s bishop; there was also an exhibition of horses, a display of western-style riding, and the arrival of the horse-drawn retinue of St. Václav himself.
Prague hotels recorded a sharp, year-on-year decline in occupancy of 45% for September, leaving some hoteliers talking about the worst season on record. The statistic comes from the market forecasting company STR Global, which surveyed the occupancy rates of roughly 9,000 rooms. In the first half of the year the Czech Republic was visited by 2.7 million tourists, a year-on-year decrease of 12% nationwide and 11% in Prague. Similar trends are expected for the first half of 2010.
A small aircraft crashed near the South Bohemian town of České Bujdějovice on Monday morning, shortly after taking off from the airstrip. The pilot, an experienced, 72-year-old plane mechanic, succumbed to serious injuries soon after the accident. The aircraft, an ultra-light Kolibřík, fell from a height of several dozen metres. A spokeswoman for the South Bohemian police said their specialists are investigating the cause of the accident.
Currently warm and sunny conditions are expected to give way to showers and colder temperatures over the coming days with highs of 15° on Tuesday and 17° Celsius on Wednesday.