Although the Czech Republic is one of the most atheist and secular societies in Europe, it is quite well represented in the higher echelons of the Catholic Church. Besides Czech prelate Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the Jesuit scholar Tomas Spidlik has also been ordained a cardinal, which means that two current members of the sacred college of Rome hail from the Czech Republic. This week, Cardinal Spidlik paid a visit to his homeland for the first time since being ordained in October last year.
The Czech Republic has had two Catholic cardinals since the ordination of Tomas Spidlik in 2003. This week, Cardinal Spidlik was in the Czech Republic for the first time since then. Ironically, his visit coincided with a spat between the Czech state and the Vatican after President Vaclav Klaus had rejected a draft treaty between Prague and the Holy See. Despite this, Cardinal Spidlik is philosophical about his homeland's relations with the Catholic Church:
"I explained it to our president with a very simple comparison - when two young people get married, I tell them they love one another but that this will pass. I then tell them that they will have difficulties, which will pass also, but that they should never stop speaking to one another. When people keep talking to one another then the issue will be resolved."
Cardinal Spidlik is well known in the Czech Republic from his days as a broadcaster for Vatican Radio during the communist era. He is also a renowned scholar of Eastern spirituality. One of the reasons for his visit was to give a lecture on spirituality in the European Union. This is something Cardinal Spidlik feels is lacking despite closer economic integration:
"Europe is unifying economically and politically, but we have not achieved the spiritual unity of Europe. And that is something that we can anticipate, because in 2000 years we have amassed many beautiful things."
Cardinal Spidlik believes that Europe should focus on the ethical ideals that contributed to the continent's development so that it can establish common spiritual values. It could then present these to the rest of the world and use them as a bridge between the East and West.
Despite his own deep religious convictions, Cardinal Spidlik comes from one of the most secular countries in Europe. Although statistics show that a majority of Czechs claim to be atheist, Cardinal Spidlik doubts whether this actually proves that Czechs have really turned their backs on their Christian heritage and embraced modern rationalist values:
"Statistically, it is very relative. For instance, Czechs don't like to say that they are religious, but what they feel in their hearts is another issue. The Czechs are in the centre of Europe. They have always had western German civilization, but their origins are in the east. I always say that they have the German head and the Slavic heart. And when these are not sufficiently in harmony with each other, the consequences are catastrophic. We must find harmony and not be in conflict."