Holy Father bids farewell to Czech Republic

At 5 pm on Monday, the Pope travelled by car from the apostolic nunciature in Prague, Czech Republic, to the city's Stara Ruzyne airport. There he bid farewell to the president of the Republic, and to the civil, military and religious authorities, before boarding his return flight to Rome.

The Holy Father thanked the Czech people for their hospitality and for the success of his visit: "I shall treasure the memory of the moments of prayer that I was able to spend together with the bishops, priests and faithful of this country", he said.

He said: "The Church has been truly blessed with a remarkable array of missionaries and martyrs, as well as contemplative saints, among whom I would single out St Agnes of Bohemia, whose canonisation just twenty years ago providentially heralded the liberation of this country from atheist oppression".

Benedict XVI highlighted then how his meeting with representatives from other Christian communities "brought home to me the importance of ecumenical dialogue in this land which suffered so much from the consequences of religious division at the time of the Thirty Years' War. Much has already been achieved in healing the wounds of the past, and decisive steps have been taken along the path towards reconciliation and true unity in Christ. In building further on these solid foundations, there is an important role for the academic community to play, through its uncompromising search for truth".

"I was especially delighted to meet the young people, and to encourage them to build on the best traditions of this nation's past, particularly its Christian heritage. According to a saying attributed to Franz Kafka, 'anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old'. If our eyes remain open to the beauty of God's creation and our minds to the beauty of His truth, then we may indeed hope to remain young and to build a world that reflects something of that divine beauty, so as to inspire future generations to do likewise".

The departure ceremony over, Benedict XVI boarded his plane bound for Rome where he arrived at 7.40pm. From Ciampino airport he then travelled by car to the Apostolic Palace of Castelgandolfo.