Published August 17, 2010
The wooden kneeler bit into my knees.
Here I was worshiping during a recent vacation to the Czech Republic. My Czech started and ended with ‘dobry den’ (good day) and ‘prosim’ (a catchall phrase for thank you and please.) So at Mass, I knew only when to say amen and to give the sign of peace.
The experience left me with unanswered questions mixed with an admiration for these people of faith.
Outside the Church of Our Lady Victorious in Malá Strana, Prague, home to the famous Infant Jesus of Prague, the 18-year-old tour guide standing on his Segway said the church is a draw for Spanish and Mexican tourists but rarely visited by locals. He said 80 percent of Czechs identify as atheists, a leftover of the 40 plus years of authoritarian rule. (Wikipedia puts the number between 30 percent and 60 percent, but still one of the highest in Europe.)
Earlier on my visit, I shared a lunch with three Czechs, two men, one woman, whose ages ranged from 20-something to nearing retirement. They talked a little about life under the Communist regime and life since the 1989 Velvet Revolution: police screenings before job opportunities; how parents wrestled with whether to join the Communist Party because that ensured a coveted university seat for their children; and how this 20-something uses Facebook as part of her job.
I walked into the 15th century Gothic church as ladies sitting around the pews prayed the rosary. I didn’t know the words but I recognized the rhythm of the prayer as they fingered their beads.
Seats filled as Mass time approached to my surprise. I had expected a small crowd, keeping in mind what the tour guide had said. But slowly the space filled with a few tourists, families, the occasional teen and children resting in strollers cooed over by adults.
The lunch conversation came back to me as I looked around. What was it like back in the 1970 and 1980s? How did people claim their faith during those times? Did they put their livelihoods at risk by entering a church?
I left Mass with these unanswered questions and sorry I couldn’t speak with the priest. Something tells me the church and the faith of the Catholic community, which was targeted for repression by government agents, was held together by grandmothers like these during those dreary decades. They held on to a fragment of faith, despite the oppression.
–Andrew, Staff Reporter
The photo was not taken by me. It is copied from the photo-sharing site, Flickr.
Photo credit: Magro_kr