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Pope Ends Czech Visit With Appeal to Youth

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Pope Benedict has wrapped up a three-day visit to the Czech Republic where he used an outdoor mass to urge young people to remain faithful to Christianity, despite the hardship that can bring.

The 82-year-old pontiff was often interrupted as he addressed a cheering crowd of tens of thousands of mainly young people who packed a meadow in Stara Boleslav, a pilgrimage destination northeast of the Czech capital Prague.

The leader of the world's one billion Catholics urged young people not to walk away from Christianity.

He reminded youngsters of the suffering of Saint Wanceslas, who was commemorated Monday during the Czech Republic's annual national holiday.

Catholics believe the 10th century Czech ruler was killed by his pagan brother because of his Christian faith in 935 at the gate of his church in Stara Boleslav.

The pope, who visited the site Monday, told pilgrims that although Christians can face persecution, those who deny God and appear to lead a comfortable life are in reality "sad and unfulfilled" people.

Speaking in Czech, the pontiff urges youngsters to view Saint Wanceslas as an example and "to make more sense"of their young life by "following the teachings of Jesus Christ."
He asks them "to make a plan for their life," which he believes can include establishing families based on Christian values or otherwise serving the Catholic Church.

His three-day visit to the Czech Republic, which ends Monday, comes as the country prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the overthrow of a communist regime that persecuted the Roman Catholic Church.

The pontiff earlier spoke to academics, including former Czech dissident Jan Sokol. He told Vatican Radio that the Catholic Church played a key role in the collapse of Communism.

"First there was the pilgrimage in [the Czech region] of Moravia in 1985 where more than 100,000 people gathered and [forced] out a communist vice minister," said Sokol. "This was a big scandal and a sign of a popular resistance against the regime. And then there was a petition for religious liberty which was signed by half a million, which in a small country is a big number. So this were particular contributions of the Catholic Church to the fall of communism."

Yet as the pontiff prepared to leave the Czech Republic, unresolved disputes with the government remained, including the issue of the return of church properties that were confiscated by the communist regime.

The pontiff said during his pilgrimage that he hopes the country will overcome its widespread mistrust towards organized religion, which he described as a "wound" of decades of totalitarian rule.

"The presidential flag flying over the castle of Prague proclaims: "The truth wins." It is my earnest hope that the light of truth will continue to guide this nation," he said.

The pontiff made clear that in his view Christianity is "irreplaceable" in the Czech Republic, where spectacular church buildings are vivid reminders of the country's Christian heritage.