As Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the Czech Republic on Saturday on a three-day pilgrimage aimed at battling against the forces of secularism, religious leaders warned that he faced a daunting challenge in a nation of mostly natural-born skeptics.
When the pope comes to town, a city usually pulls out all the stops. Not so here in the Czech capital, where banners heralding the popeâ€™s visit and large crowds were conspicuously absent. The local newspapers that highlighted the trip seemed more preoccupied with the popeâ€™s penchant for bright red loafers than with the substance of his religious mission.
â€œIf the pope wants to create a religious revival in Europe, there is no worse place he could come to than the Czech Republic, where no one believes in anything,â€ said Jaroslav Plesl, a self-confessed lapsed Catholic who is deputy editor of Lidove Noviny, a leading daily newspaper here. â€œAdd to that the fact that the pope is German and socially conservative and he might as well be an alien here.â€
That eerie sound you hear in the distance is the ghost of Jan Hus, laughing.