“The truth and love make us free”

On the occasion of the exchange of letters between the Czechoslovak and German Bishops’ Conferences 20 years ago, the chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Zollitsch, visits Prague. The highlight of the trip is today’s ceremony in the Archbishop’s Palace.

The ceremony at the invitation of the president of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Dominik Duka OP, and the president of the German Bishops’ Conference will be held in cooperation with the Ackermann parish and will be held under the motto "The truth and love make us free". Earlier, the two archbishops celebrated the Eucharist in the Chapel of St. Wenceslas in St. Vitus Cathedral and then prayed at the tomb of Cardinal Tomašek.

The bishops had already formulated reconciliation between Germany and Poland in 1965, 25 years earlier. However, the Catholic Church in aggressively anti-clerical Czechoslovakia was under far greater prere; for many years, most dioceses no longer had bishops. After Vaclav Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia at the end of 1989 in the course of the Velvet Revolution, he formulated – until then unthinkable – an apology to the mostly expelled to Germany until 1947. This impulse was taken up by the aged Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek – his words "Truth and love make us free" shaped the further steps.

Propaganda and prejudice
Tomasek spoke of propaganda and prejudice that had prevailed on both sides for 40 years, recalling the "cruel oppression" of the Nazi era, but also the continuing pain of the expellees, of "disregard and bullying". And like the following two official letters of the Bishops’ Conferences, it exhorted Christians to the responsibility of contributing to friendship across borders after a history of hatred in a Europe that is growing together.

The impulse of Tomasek worked. The Catholic bishops of the Federal Republic responded with their confreres from the then still existing GDR, who were present for the first time at the Spring Plenary Assembly of the Episcopate in Augsburg, on 8. March to the "venerable" Cardinal Tomasek and at the same time addressed to all bishops in the neighboring country. And they paid tribute to the efforts of many people involved, especially Sudeten German Catholics, for reconciliation, which had been going on for decades. This was followed on 5. September 1990 the reply of the bishops from the, as it was called in the meantime, "Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.

Marginal aspects of the great politics
In the turbulent year 1990, when so many things were changing in Germany and other countries of Central Europe, the stages of the bishops were often only marginal aspects of the big politics. And yet this led to a clarification, which in many cases made new contacts possible. At the same time, on the part of the exiles, many are still hurting from an open wound: The so-called Benes Decrees, named after the then President of the Republic Edvard Benes, are still in force and were the basis for the expropriation and expulsion of around three million Sudeten Germans.

The exchange of letters led to an awakening, a willingness to donate, partnerships and reconstruction projects. And the Ackermann community today registers with gratitude that municipalities or citizens erect commemorative plaques at the "scenes of former crimes" of the expulsion era.

Zollitsch and Duka will speak Thursday, and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg will speak, among others.

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