BY ANNA ARCO
THE POPE has chosen a bishop who was imprisoned under Communism to succeed Cardinal Miroslav Vlk as Archbishop of Prague after three years of searching.
Archbishop-elect Dominik Duka, the former bishop of Hradec Kràlovè, will take up leadership of the Czech Republic’s most important diocese on April 10. Born Jaroslav Duka in 1943, he took the name of Dominik when he secretly joined the Dominican order, which was banned in Czechoslovakia, in 1968. Trained as a mechanic, he was ordained priest in 1970 and made his final vows in 1972.
Two years later, Communists revoked his “state authority for sacred ministry” and he was forced to work as a designer in a Skoda factory in the city of Plzeň for 15 years.
Despite the setback he continued studyingsecretly . He served as clandestine novice master for the Dominican students as well as vicar provincial up until 1986 for the order and helped to set up a secret study centre for the students. During this period he obtained a licentiate of theology at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of St John the Baptist in Warsaw.
In 1981 he was denounced and arrested for his activity in the order, underground publishing and “cooperation with foreign countries”. He spent 15 months in PlzeňBory prison. From 1986 until after the Velvet Revolution, Archbishop-elect Duka was provincial of the Dominican order. He was also president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men religious from 1992 to 1996 and a lecturer of biblical sciences at the theological faculty of the Palacky University in Olomouc.
John Paul II appointed Archbishop-elect Duka as bishop in 1998. As bishop he rebuilt the Episcopal Library in Hradec Kràlovèe, set up the Diocesan Theological Institute and called for a diocesan Eucharistic Congress.
He has also been engaged in interreligious dialogue on a diocesan level. During his tenure as bishop in Hradec Kràlovèe he implemented a controversial seven-year pastoral programme to prepare the Church for the future, which included closing and selling churches.
His appointment marks a change from a Focolaredominated Czech hierarchy. Cardinal Vlk was a prominent member of the Focolare movement pioneered by the Italian Chiara Lubich as were other Czech bishops.
The Holy See has taken its time to find a replacement for Cardinal Vlk, who handed in his resignation on his 75th birthday in 2007, but agreed to stay on until a suitable replacement could be found. Last autumn Benedict XVI visited the Czech Republic.
The new Archbishop-elect of Prague is as one of the more politically conservative members of the Czech hierarchy. He is a friend of Vaclav Klaus, the Czech Republic’s centre-Right president. But he is considered a liberal in theological and liturgical terms by some of his critics.
David Petrla, a Czech Church observer, sounded a hopeful note in an article for the Czech online-version of Vatican Radio.
“The choice of Vlk’s successor was supported by a great deal of prayer throughout the archdiocese and also the visit of the Holy Father. God and the Holy Father have brought the capital an experienced personality, characterised by wide-ranging and restless creative energy, engaged in Church activities, in the person of Dominik Duka,” he wrote. “Mgr Duka is a guarantee of continuity, while he will also surely bring new insights and emphases.” Archbishop-elect Duka faces a number of challenges. The Czech Church is ridden with a surplus of buildings, but church closures are unpopular and the Czech Church is dwindling.