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News

Czech ‘underground’ priest wins Templeton prize
13 March 2014 13:03 by Abigail Frymann Rouch

A Czech priest and philosopher who was secretly ordained in Soviet-occupied East Germany has won the prestigious Templeton Prize, worth £1.1m, which acknowledges people who have “made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension”.

Mgr Professor Tomas Halik, 65, “advanced religious and cultural freedoms after the Soviet invasion of his country, becoming a leading international advocate for dialogue among different faiths and non-believers,” a communiqué said.

Mgr Halík was condemned by Czechoslovakia’s communist Government in 1972 as an “enemy of the regime”. He spent nearly two decades building a secret network of academics, theologians, philosophers and students dedicated to preserving the intellectual and spiritual life of the democratic state he envisioned.

For years he worked with pro-democracy figures such as Polish Pope John Paul II, Cardinal František Tomášek (1899-1992) and the future President Václav Havel, who helped Czechoslovakia make a violence-free transition from dictatorship to democracy after 1989 in the so-called “Velvet Revolution”.

He has since cultivated religious tolerance and understanding by sharing ideas and beliefs among followers of widely varying spiritual traditions, notably non-believers.

"The chief task of faith and theology is to teach the art of living amid life's paradoxes and the courage to enter the cloud of unknowing," he said in a speech this morning in London where the Foundation announced the prizewinner.

Previous Templeton winners include Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, Taizé founder Br Roger, Focolare founder Chiara Lubich, the Dalai Lama, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and British physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne.