Viruses of the spirit are far more dangerous than those of the body: by commemorating the 70th anniversary of the assassination of Fr. Josef Toufar, the Czech Church intends to remember the violence of the communist persecutions against Catholics, in a country where Marxism is far from having disappeared.
Almost two years had passed since the “Prague coup” of February 25, 1948, which saw the Communist Party seize power in Czechoslovakia. While the whole country fell into the hands of Joseph Stalin’s agents, another Joseph, a Catholic priest, celebrated Mass on December 11, 1949 in his church in Cihost, a village located 100 kilometers southeast of Prague.
During Fr. Joseph Toufar’s sermon, the 20 or so faithful present saw the crucifix on the main altar move several times. The priest, who was not aware of this unusual event high above the pulpit, was informed of it by the parishioners at the end of the Mass. He recommended that they remain silent. Despite everything, the news spread and reached the ears of the sinister Statni Bezpecnost (StB), the political police charged with carrying out the base works of the Communist party.
For the StB, it could only be a false miracle, fabricated by the priest in order to encourage the gullible to oppose the regime in place. Fr. Toufar was imprisoned at the end of January 1950. He was tortured many times and died of his wounds on February 25, 1950.
70 years later, the Czech Church is rendering homage to Joseph Toufar, who is associated with the memory of all the victims of communism. A symposium was organized on February 24 and 25, 2020, with its climax being Mass celebrated at the monastery of Zeliv, by Bishop Jan Vokál, Bishop of Hradec Kralové.
Zeliv has taken on a symbolic dimension for the Czech Church: this Premonstratensian monastery had been transformed into a concentration camp for Catholics by Klement Gottwald, the author of the coup in 1948. Pawn of Stalin, Gottwald was the first president of the Czech People’s Republic. He collectivized the land, nationalized industry, organized the repression which he installed during the sinister Prague trials of 1952. He died shortly after his mentor on March 14, 1953.
Even if communism is not dead in the Czech Republic, Fr. Toufar’s executioner, Ladislav Macha, was nonetheless sentenced in 1998 to eight years in prison, which was soon reduced to two years on appeal as an indulgence by the judges. But he only served one year, citing health reasons. He died in peace in the eyes of the world, without ever being sorry for the torture inflicted on his prisoners.