Religious Revival in Czechoslovakia Reveals Old Conflicts

Article excerpt

THE Rev. Michal Krchnak pauses from some repair work on the heating system of his Protestant church in this small central Czechoslovak town, wipes his hands on his blue coveralls, and takes a seat outside to talk.

"Sorry, but I have to sit down," he smiles. "We had an evangelist crusade here in town yesterday and I was on my feet for six hours."

Mr. Krchnak, a tall, lanky man in his late 20s, with shaggy hair and a beard, has seen the resurgence of religious activity - and public faith - evident in Czechoslovakia since the "Velvet Revolution" one year ago removed overnight the Communist regime's oppression of religious practice.

The son of parents who also are pastors in the Czechoslovak Hussite Church (a local Protestant denomination), Krchnak lists a long series of evangelist crusades and meetings on the street or in sports halls in many cities over the past 10 months.

Many of the evangelists were foreigners. Briton David Hathaway returned to Czechoslovakia for crusades 18 years after he was jailed here for smuggling Bibles. "He preached here in Trebic for two days in September and drew 3,000 people," Krchnak recalls.

All over the country, for the two dozen or so active denominations, religious life has blossomed. The historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Czechoslovakia in April symbolized the changes in a country where until last year many Roman Catholics and other believers had to worship in secret.

Today, crucifixes are sold by street vendors along with T-shirts. Wall posters advertise religious meetings, and religious programs are featured on radio and television. Czechoslovakia has diplomatic relations with both Israel and the Vatican. Seminaries and theological schools are being reorganized, and all 13 Catholic bishoprics - some of which were empty for 30 years - have been filled.

Several religious faiths, including Islam, have organized here for the first time. …