By Devin Watkins
Several ambassadors to the Holy See joined members of the press on Thursday evening at the headquarters of Vatican Radio for an event promoted by the Czech Ambassador to the Holy See, Václav Kolaja.
“Miracle versus Dictatorship” was the theme for the evening, which saw panelists explore the events surrounding the death of Father Josef Toufar.
The Czech priest caught the eye of the newly-installed communist regime following an event described as a miracle by his parishioners.
On 11 December 1949, as Fr Toufar was celebrating Mass in the village of Číhošť, the wooden crucifix placed above the tabernacle began to sway from side to side before coming to a rest in an inclined position.
Fr Toufar was preaching with his back to the altar when it happened so he did not personally see the miracle. But 19 people attending the Mass witnessed the crucifix swaying, and told him about it afterward.
News of the “Číhošť miracle” spread quickly, and the communist regime took action to manipulate it to their own ends.
Patrick Diviš, the Creative Director of Czech Television and producer of “As If We Should Die Today”, a documentary about Fr Toufar based on a book of the same title by Miloš Doležal, told Vatican Radio that the regime used the Číhošť miracle to discredit the Catholic Church.
The Communist Party came to power in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 after a coup d’état.
Mr. Diviš said the communist regime considered the Catholic Church to be its “main ideological enemy”.
In 1949, the regime began a harsh repression of Catholics. It seized on the Číhošť miracle as a propaganda opportunity, according to Mr. Diviš.
Fr Josef Toufar was arrested by the state police and beaten mercilessly in an attempt to produce a false confession.
The authorities wanted him to say that the entire event had been organized under orders from the Vatican and carried out with the help of a mechanism to make the cross move.
Fr Toufar refused to sign the confession. “He defended his position that he did not make this miracle – that it was a supernatural occurrence – and he died for it, ” Mr. Diviš said.
The parish priest of Číhošť succumbed to his wounds from the beatings, and died on 25 February 1950.
The Czechoslovakian communist regime nonetheless used the event as a pretext to expel the Vatican diplomats in the country and to break ties with the Holy See.
The regime then arrested hundreds of priests, nuns, and lay Catholics, and seized the assets of the Church in Czechoslovakia.
Many were killed in the anti-Catholic repression that followed.
Victory of truth
Mr. Diviš said Fr Toufar’s example lives on for Catholics in the Czech Republic. The truth behind his death was only discovered in 1968 by a local journalist.
“His is a story about the victory of truth,” said Mr. Diviš. “When he died – beaten to death – it seemed that everything was lost. And now, after 70 years, his is the winning story, because the truth came to the surface.”
The Czech Bishops’ Conference opened Fr Josef Toufar’s cause for canonization in 2013, in hopes of making his martyrdom an inspiration for the universal Church.