As a child, he dreamt of being a pilot, but an attraction to the priesthood stuck with him from the time he was eleven. He was born on May 17, 1932 in Lisnice, the Province of Pisek in Southern Bohemia. From 1952 to 1953 he was a worker. In 1960, following his graduation, he worked as an archivist but soon abandoned that occupation to study theology. In 1968 he was ordained to the priesthood.
During a visit to East Germany in the 1960s, he met a layman and some priests who were living the spirituality of the Focolare Movement. He was taken by the presence of Jesus among this group of Christians, a presence that He promises when two or more are united in His name (see Mt 18:20). That experience of communion would accompany him for the rest of his life. His pastoral work in Ceské Budejovice annoyed the Communist State system, and in 1971 he was transferred to a parish in Selva Boema. Seven years later, because of his popularity especially among young people, his permission to carry out his priestly ministry was revoked. “I lost my license. I can’t say mass anymore,” he explained to his parishioners. “I preached and talked about the cross and recommended that we carry it; now is the moment for me to carry it.”
Officially returned to the lay state, Chiara Lubich accepted his request to enter the focolare in Prague that was opened in 1981. He found a job as a window-washer that lasted for 10 years. He would often say: “I can’t preach or share the sacraments in public, but when I look at the cross I realize that Jesus who is the one and only High Priest could hardly even talk when he was on the cross, and his hands were nailed in. I became convinced: ‘Now, you’re close to the High Priest’ and I embraced Jesus Forsaken. It was the spirituality of the Focolare that guided me in this direction. I felt the power of which Isaiah 53 speaks: ‘The man of suffering’ (…) I lived for a long time of this light: everything that was ugly could serve for my edification. I realized, without exaggerating, that those ten years of washing windows had been the most blessed years of my life.” He would often repeat: “I hold it to be a miracle that God spread the spirituality of unity in the Socialist world where everything was under surveillance. He always knows the ways in.”
With the Velvet Revolution in 1989 he became pastor again. In 1990 he was named bishop of Ceské Budejovice and, in the following years, Archbishop of Prague. From 1992 to 2000 he guided the Czech Bishops Conference and from 1993-2001 becamse President of the Council of the Bishops Conferences of Europe. On November 26, 1994, he was created cardinal.
Following the death of Bishop Klaus Hemmerle in January 1994, who began the branch of the Bishop Friends of the Focolare Movement, the foundress invited Archbishop of Prague to assume the role as moderator of that branch of the Movement. He succeded Bishop Hemmerle who had been a great theologian and charismatic figure. It seemed too demanding to him, but Chiara Lubich assured him: “Don’t be afraid, Your Emminance, you won’t be alone. You’ll go ahead as a body.”
The cardinal carried out this task for 18 years, convoking and supporting numerous international meetings of bishops from both the Catholic and other Churches, which were held in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Beirut, Augsburg, Wittenburg, London, Geneva, El Cairo, just to name a few.
The membership of the Bishops in the Work of Mary is entirely spiritual and does not interfere in any way with their duties as bishops, as established by the Church. They find that the spirituality of unity is “in profound harmony with the episcopal charism. It reinforces the effective and affective collegiality and unity with the Holy Father, among the bishops, and helps them to actualize the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on the Church-Communion.” This is written in their rule of life for the “Bishop Friends of the Movement” which was recognized by John Paul II and approved by the Pontifical Council of the Laity in a letter dated February 14, 1998. Also the heads of several other Christian Church’s have expressed their appreciation for this initiative.
See also: News.va – Telegram of condolences for the death of Cardinal Miloslav Vlk