THE church in Czechoslovakia will be unable to carry out its educational and charitable work in society unless property confiscated under communist rule is returned, the Pope warned the country's first ambassador to the Holy see for more than 40 years, as he presented his credentials at the Vatican last week.
Pope John Paul II praised recent changes in Czechoslovakia which have allowed religious organisations to operate freely in the new democracy, but told the ambassador, Frantisek Halas, that the church still found it necessary to demand the "vital space it needs" to perform its ministry.
Handing back church buildings would provide proof that the government in Prague "is ready to present the church with the concrete conditions for the free exercise of its mission," the Pope said.
"Only a trusting dialogue between the state authorities and the church communities will allow the remaining problems which have marked the last few decades to be resolved," he believed.
Church officials in Czechoslovakia, which resumed diplomatic relations with the Vatican last spring said that they would need to take control of at least 10 per cent of the confiscated properties to reestablish monasteries and seminaries. However, the country's parliament rejected such a proposal last year. Since then church leaders and government representatives have met to negotiate on the issue.
In his speech to the Pope, Mr Halas emphasised that progress towards restoring the church's position had been swift since the so-called "velvet revolution" of November 1989. Czechoslovakia's dioceses all have bishops, religious orders are up and running again, the religious press has been revived and Catholic schools and theology faculties are thriving, he said.
The Pope visited Czechoslovakia last April, the first journey made to the country by a pontiff for almost 1,000 years. "You have experienced the heaviness of a world without God," he told pilgrims during his 33 hour stay in Czechoslovakia. "But you have experienced also the liberating power of faith," he said.