UK: Czech priest, awarded Templeton Prize, says chauvinism is a danger to Europe
The Czech Catholic priest Tomáš Halík has been awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize in London for extraordinary service to enhancing the spiritual aspect of life. The foundation established to honor the late British banker and philanthropist John Templeton emphasized that it is honoring Halík for his advocacy for cultural and religious freedom after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops in 1968.
Halík, whose "spiritual Nobel Prize" includes a financial award of GBP 1.1 million, received the award during a ceremony in the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square in London. He intends to dedicate the prize money to initiatives for dialogue between atheists and believers.
The prizewinner will invest the money into a foundation he has just established. In his speech at the ceremony, Halík reflected on more general questions of faith, the need for religious dialogue, and current political and social problems.
"The historical experience of our part of the world shows that atheism is no less and no more immune to the temptations of power and violence than religion. I only hope the 'new atheism', once it is older and more mature, will be at least as tolerant as our old European Christianity is today," the first Czech winner of the Templeton Prize said.
The priest from Prague's Church of the Blessed Salvatore (kostel Nejsvětějšího Salvátora) also warned against the current danger of Russian nationalism and its "imperial dreams". "Now that we are face to face with the dangerous developments in Eastern Europe, we must become even more aware of our responsibility to sustain and enhance the great project of a united Europe," he said.
Halík went on to warn against chauvinism, nationalism and xenophobia, which he said are "once again rearing their heads in the nations of Europe". "If, in Europe, the dangerous temptation of national isolationism and selfishness were to win, and if the tragedy of the disintegration of the EU were to occur, the nation-states of Europe would not have attained more sovereignty, but would be far more exposed to the forces of chaos and destruction from within," he said.
Halík is the 44th recipient of the Templeton Prize. It has been awarded in the past to the Catholic nun Mother Teresa, Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
From 1972 - 1989, Halík worked as a civilian psychologist and psychotherapist for persons living with drug addiction and was active in cultural and religious dissent and samizdat. He was secretly ordained as a priest in Erfurt in 1978.
After the fall of communism, Halík began to get involved in pedagogical activity. He has studied abroad on all six continents and dedicated himself to interfaith dialogue.
David Steinke, press secretary for the Czech Embassy in London, said the ceremony was attended by 600 people, including Czech Culture Minister Daniel Herman and Cardinals Dominik Duka and Miloslav Vlk. Steinke said the ceremony was dignified and spectacular, featuring musical performers such as Eric Whitacre and his choir, the singer Laura Mvula, and Czech pianist Martin Kasík.
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