Tomas Halik was ordained secretly when the Church was being persecuted in Czechoslovakia, and is still in active ministry as a university teacher. He was asked to give the opening address to the European Continental Assembly in Prague, his home city. This is an extract, the whole speech can be found here.
At the beginning of their history, when Christians were asked what was new about their practice, whether it was a new religion or a new philosophy, they answered: it is the way. It is the way of following the one who said: I am the Way. Christians have constantly returned to this vision throughout history, especially in times of crisis…
[The Synod] is a short portion of a long journey. This small but important fragment of the historical experience of European Christianity must be placed in a wider context, in the colourful mosaic of the global Christianity of the future. We have to say clearly and comprehensibly what European Christianity today wants and can do to respond to the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of our whole planet – this planet which is interconnected today in many ways and at the same time is divided and globally threatened in many ways. We are meeting in a country with a dramatic religious history.
This includes the beginnings of the Reformation in the 14th century, the religious wars in the 15th and 17th centuries and the severe persecution of the Church in the 20th century. In the jails and concentration camps of Hitlerism and Stalinism, Christians learned practical ecumenism and dialogue with nonbelievers, solidarity, sharing, poverty, the “science of the cross.” This country has undergone three waves of secularisation as a result of socio-cultural changes: a “soft secularisation” in the rapid transition from an agrarian to an industrial society; a hard violent secularization under the communist regime; and another “soft secularisation” in the transition from a totalitarian society to a fragile pluralistic democracy in the post-modern era. It is precisely the transformations, crises and trials that challenge us to find new paths and opportunities for a deeper understanding of what is essential. Pope Benedict, on a visit to this country, first expressed the idea that the Church should, like the Temple of Jerusalem, form a “courtyard of the Gentiles”.
We believe and confess that the Church is a mystery, a sacrament, a sign (signum) – a sign of the unity of all humanity in Christ. The Church is a dynamic sacrament, it is a way to that goal. Total unification is an eschatological goal that can only be fully realized at the end of history. Only then will the Church be completely and perfectly one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Only then will we see and mirror God fully, just as He is.
Christianity was the way in the beginning, and it is to be the way now and forever. So it was in the beginning, so it must be now and forever. The Church as a communion of pilgrims is a living organism, which means always to be open, transforming and evolving. Synodality, a common journey (syn hodos), means a constant openness to the Spirit of God, through whom the risen, living Christ lives and works in the Church. The synod is an opportunity to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the churches today.
The photograph shows one of the demonstrations in Wenceslas Square in Prague that led to the overturning of Communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia.