The history of activity of the Center
The statutes of the Czech Religious Center were officially approved by the Holy See on Saint Wenceslas Day 28th September 1968.
The Center was built with contribution of Cardinal Beran, archbishop of Prague, whose life story was evidently led by Providence. After very difficult years during the communist oppression, when he was in internment almost all the time, he was surprised of the appointment to Cardinal. The state authorities decided to allow him journey to Rome to the ceremony providing that he would return to Czechoslovakia never more. They thought that almost eighty-year old archbishop would stop doing problems at last. However, the Cardinal is beginning to be very active in favour of Czech exiles and emigrants who were dispersed over the world, and in favour of oppressed Church in home country. He gathers various initiatives already existing.
In this way the Czech Religious Center Velehrad is taking form. In statutes that wrote Cardinal Beran himself it is possible to see his intention: „To give spiritual assistance to Czech Catholics living outside the home country to not lose the national identity and precious treasure of catholic faith, and to support the Catholics living in home country.“ According to him these values are very closely associated with one another. For this purpose the Cardinal is thinking of a place that would be „the home“ and „the atelier“ at the same time.
With expression „to be the home“ the Cardinal thought to create a place for welcome the priests who would have an opportunity to meet and to carry on the own formation and where could be co-ordinated their pastoral effort and also to have a house for pilgrims in Rome. And, in the same time, „to be the atelier“ for apostolate and cultural activities. Place, where it works and lives, where looks for and realizes initiatives that better meet the requirements of nowadays and the needs of people.
One of the great field of activities was „the Christian Academy“ which primarily devoted to the publishing activity but also organized various symposiums, lectures, spiritual exercises and the like. It published books, mainly liturgical and catechetical books, pontifical documents, science books, books about art as well as various magazines, such as New Life, Study, Veritas, Vinculum, Radar.
Besides publishing and propagation of Christian literature Czech Religious Center Velehrad gathered also material aid (such as medicine, fabrics for religious habit, pictures, aid for formation of students of theology, films and other audio-visual aids, typewriters) that was sent to home country to those who needed it most. The Center supported also the priests whom was taken the pension right after the forced work camps. Other financial aid was given for reconstructions of churches. Various aid was also given to Czech people living in exile: from the financial aid to contacts with authorities of the guest country; from search of housing to the spiritual solicitude in the refugee camps; from the Czech language teaching to the missions organization – the parochial community in the most numerous communities of Czechs in the world.
To have an idea of work range that „the Centro Religioso Boemo Velehrad“ was done till the fall of communist dictatorship in Czechoslovakia, it is enough to remember that it got about 350 letters with the requests for help in 1968 and it was sent 43 095 books to Czechoslovakia in the same year!
The great attention was paid to the young people for whom the school camps were organized in various countries of the free Europe every year. There the Czech language and the national customs were taught and the spiritual exercises and pilgrim’s journeys were held. It began looking for a suitable place for development and coordination all of these various activities. In 1968 the Czech people living in foreign countries collected the sum needed for buying of a permanent house, in honour of Cardinal Beran on the occasion of his 80th birthday (29.12.1968). These events were taking place during the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia. So, the Pope Paul VI. decided personally to give the house to Cardinal Beran for the activities of Velehrad. Until the house had belonged to „the Catholic Action“.
Less than a month after the Cardinal’s death in June 1969, after the urgent partial reconstruction, the pilgrim house opened the door for the first group of pilgrims who began coming more and more to Rome. In the same year, during 4 month, the house gave the shelter to almost two thousands of pilgrims.
The reconstruction of the main building was finished and began the reconstruction of the other buildings in 1971. The works were prolonged due to financial and administrative problems until 1980. Despite it the pilgrim house was going on with its host activity.
After that came the fall of the Iron Curtain and everything related to it. The political situation changed also in Czechoslovakia and the country began opening to the world. Many requests of exiles and emigrants ceased. The Christian Academy with its publishing moved to Czechoslovakia. Many priests and exiles returned to the home country. Activities of the Czech Religious Center Velehrad have inevitably changed: mainly the pilgrim house thrives with the opening of the borders.