Cardinal Koch speaks at an Ecumenical Concert in Košice Cardinal Koch speaks at an Ecumenical Concert in Košice 

Cardinal Koch in Slovakia for anniversary of anti-Communist protests

Cardinal Kurt Koch will lay a wreath at a service to commemorate the anti-Communist Candle Demonstration, which was organised by Catholic dissidents.

By Joseph Tulloch

Cardinal Kurt Koch is in Slovakia from the 27th to the 30th of March for the anniversary of the anti-Communist Candle Demonstration.

The protest, organised on 25 March 1988 by Catholic dissident František Mikloško, was the first mass public expression of resistance to Communism in former Czechoslovakia since the 1960s, and was widely seen as a forerunner of the following year's Velvet Revolution, which brought the forty-year-long dictatorship to an end. 

During his visit, Cardinal Koch – who is head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity – is meeting with religious leaders from Slovakia’s various Christian churches, as well as with political figures, including Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger. 

Programme of the visit

The Cardinal’s first stop in the country was the eastern city of Košice, where he stayed for a day and a half. While there, he visited Orthodox, Latin Catholic, and Greek Catholic cathedrals, meeting with representatives from each of those Churches. Also on the agenda was a meeting with the mayor of Košice, as well as a visit to the Sanctuary of Klokočov and to the Museum of the Victims of Communism.

Earlier today, 29 March, Cardinal Koch travelled to the city of Prešov, and visited its university. While there, he will also meet with Metropolitan Ratislav, the Primate of the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church, and with Prime Minister Eduard Heger. Following these meetings, he will travel to Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital. 

Tomorrow, Thursday, 30 March, the Cardinal will participate in a ceremony for the 35th anniversary of the Candle Demonstration. The ceremony will be introduced by Anna Záborská, a Slovak Member of Parliament and the government's religious freedom representative. 

Cardinal Koch will then attend a meeting of the Slovak Ecumenical Council and a symposium on Jewish-Christian relations before travelling back to Rome in the evening. 

The Candle Demonstration

On 25 March 1988, around five thousand protestors gathered in Hviezdoslav Square in Bratislava with candles in their hands, protesting against the Czechoslovakian government’s repression of the Church. 

The demonstration, which was peaceful, was violently suppressed by the police, who first used water cannons before attacking those gathered with batons and sticks. 

The protest - which Vatican Radio played a role in organising - was a significant moment in Slovak history, often credited with influencing the following year's Velvet Revolution.

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29 March 2023, 13:41