Pope urges Europe to embrace religion

Mass celebrates Christian heritage

By Victor L. Simpson
Associated Press / September 28, 2009

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BRNO, Czech Republic - Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday that all of Europe - and not only this former communist country - must acknowledge its Christian heritage as it copes with rising immigration from other cultures and religions.

The second day of Benedict’s pilgrimage to this highly secular country was marked by a joyous open-air Mass that drew tens of thousands of pilgrims and a sober message for the entire continent.

“History has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions,’’ Benedict said.

Church organizers estimated that 120,000 people packed a field beside an airport in the southern city of Brno for what was expected to be the biggest turnout of his trip. The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the Vatican, said that it was the largest turnout for a Mass in the history of the Czech Republic.

Cheering crowd members from the Czech Republic and neighboring countries, including Austria, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia, sang and waved Czech and Vatican flags.

The 82-year-old pontiff was making the three-day visit as Czechs prepare to mark 20 years since their 1989 Velvet Revolution shook off an atheistic communist regime that ruthlessly persecuted the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope warned that technical progress was not enough to “guarantee the moral welfare of society.’’

“Man needs to be liberated from material oppressions, but more profoundly, he must be saved from the evils that afflict the spirit,’’ Benedict told the crowd.

Later yesterday, in talks with leaders of other faiths and branches of Christianity, Benedict broadened his message to all of Europe. Lombardi said the pope shook hands with Jewish leaders at that meeting, but did not mention the atrocities of World War II. An estimated 80,000 Czech Jews perished in the Holocaust, which decimated the nation’s Jewish community.

Benedict is using the trip to recall communist-era religious repression and to urge Czechs to reconsider a faith many have abandoned.