Pope Wraps Up Czech Trip With Mass Near Prague

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Stara Boleslav, Czech Republic (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI issued a call to holiness Monday as he wrapped up a three-day visit to the Czech Republic -- one of Europe's most secular nations -- with an open-air Mass for at least 40,000 faithful.

The 82-year-old pope told believers who packed a meadow in Stara Boleslav, 25 kilometers (15 miles) northeast of Prague, that they could learn from the country's patron saint, Wenceslas, who was murdered here by his pagan brother in 935 A.D.

"We ask ourselves: In our day, is holiness still relevant? Or is it now considered unattractive and unimportant? Do we not place more value today on worldly success and glory? Yet how long does earthly success last, and what value does it have?" the pope said.

His visit, which began Saturday, came as the country prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the overthrow of a communist regime that ruthlessly persecuted believers and confiscated church property...

... In 1991, 4.5 million of the country's 10 million people said they belonged to a church, but a 2001 census showed that number had plunged to 3.3 million. Recent surveys suggest the number of believers remains low; about one in two respondents to a poll conducted by the agency STEM said they don't believe in God...

... In November, Czechs will mark two decades since their 1989 Velvet Revolution peacefully shook off decades of communist rule.

Anna Bozkova, 76, said the pope's visit comes "at a hard time."

"Everybody can feel it," she said. "(The pope) is welcomed in all other states. Faith was common for my generation. It survived the communist era. We were marginalized, but we maintained our faith because it's strong."...

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