Deacons from more than 30 countries met in the Czech Republic
The deacons addressed Diakonia in an Intercultural Context
Deacons from all over the world see some good opportunities for the Christian faith in the countries of Eastern Europe. In their Study Conference which took place in Velehrad near Brno, Czech Republic, a place of pilgrimage, they came to the conclusion that the Church can credibly transmit the Christian values of unconditional love and mercy by means of an open attitude towards other cultural traditions.
Velehrad, one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Moravia/Czech Republic is closely linked to the tradition of the two Apostles of the Slavs Cyril and Methodius. They dedicated themselves to creating an alphabet for the Slavonic language, translated biblical texts and other religious writings from Greek to Slavonic. As Patrons of Europe, they represent a bridge between East and West and also a process of ecumenical rapprochement and intercultural dialogue.
Since the early middle ages, Velehrad has been the See of the first Archbishop of Greater Moravia, St. Methodius, as well as the see of the political and administrative centre of the Empire of Greater Moravia. The beginnings of today’s Velehrad go back to the 13th century. It was then that the first Cistercian abbey in Moravia was founded. Eventually, Jesuits were to settle here. Pope John Paul II visited Velehrad and its renowned Basilica in 1990. Pius XI had already bestowed on it the title of a Pontifical Basilica in 1927. In 2013, the shrine celebrated the jubilee of the 1150th anniversary of the missionary of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs.
The four-day conference held in this programmatic place addressed the evangelisation of Eastern Europe and the significance of Diakonia within an intercultural context. After some words of greeting from the Archbishop of Olomouc, Jan Graubner, and the introductory words of the IDC Protector, Bishop Gebhard Fürst, Jaroslav Lorman, lecturer at the Department of Catholic Theology of the University of Prague, urged the Czech Catholic Church to consistently put into practice in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council after the years of Communist rule and to counter the danger of ending up living in a ghetto. The prejudices existing in Czech society against the Catholic Church, to which about 10% of the 10 million Czechs belong, are great due to the experience during the Reformation, Counter-reformation as well as in the Austro-Hungarian Empire times. The Church suffers from the reproach that its clergy constantly allied itself with the rich and powerful, to its own advantage and to the disadvantage of the poor population. With a consistent diaconal attitude however, some trust could be gained today and one could show which advantages could be had by society at large from the Christian faith and its human-friendly values.
Lorman urged his Church to seek dialogue with all people not just with those “who think and believe the same thing as we do”. He quoted the Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Dominik Duka, who admitted that his compatriots have a religious and spiritual longing, but that this results quite often in an indeterminate sort of “something-ism”. Were the Church to succeed in convincing the Czech people that she doesn’t act for her own benefit, but serves the people, then it could find an increasing acceptance. This entails, however, the assumption that, in a country generally considered as atheistic, the Church would not give answers to questions never asked, but instead walk together with people, and primarily with the poor people, as a pilgrim Church with an open-minded attitude. “Christian life is living constantly in a provisional state”, the Prague theologian stated. Citing the ancient practice of the Church, he resolutely spoke in favour of the diaconate for women and called for a stronger cooperation between clergy and lay people.