On the morning of 21 April 2018 a hearse drawn by black stallions came to a halt on the square in front of the Prague Castle, and six seminarians lifted the coffin of Cardinal Joseph Beran onto their shoulders and carried it into St Vitus Cathedral. The band struck up with the Czech national anthem, and thousands of people joined in, singing „Where is my Homeland?“ And so, 50 years after his death, the great Cardinal and Confessor, whose cause for beatification is now proceeding, had at last returned to his homeland and final resting place in the city of Prague.
The day before, his mortal remains had rested temporarily in the archdiocesan seminary in the Dejvice quarter of Prague, where Joseph Beran had been rector when he was arrested by the Gestapo. For three years afterwards he suffered in the concentration camps of Theresienstadt (Terezín) and Dachau.
His liberation from Dachau was something of a miracle, in fact. On 29 April 1945, the commandant of the camp, aware of the rapid advance of the American troops, had decided to execute all the prisoners. However, the Americans arrived just in time, before the SS were able to carry out this command. So it was that Joseph Beran and his fellow prisoners were liberated. The Cardinal attributed this miracle to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the Infant Jesus of Prague, to whom he and all his relatives and friends in Prague had fervently prayed, asking their help and protection. After his liberation from the concentration camp, his first action was to go to the altar of the world-famous image of the Infant Jesus of Prague and celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving there.
His freedom did not last long, however. In 1946, when he was appointed as Archbishop of Prague by Pope Pius XII, he resolutely opposed the communist regime. In 1949 he was arrested by the regime, just a few hours after uttering these ringing words in his homily: „We will never bow to any regime that does not bow before God!“. For 16 years he remained in internment and isolation in various different places, sharing the fate of thousands of priests and religious similarly suffered prison for their faith.
In 1965 he was created a cardinal by Pope Paul VI and summoned, or exiled, to Rome on the condition that he never returned again. He lived in Rome in exile until his death in 1969 – which was yet another heavy cross for him to bear. Not even after his death would the communists allow him to return, and so he was buried in 1969 in Saint Peter‘s in Rome. This was an exceptional honour, in fact, and the Cardinal was the only Czech ever to have been buried alongside the Popes in this way. But now, 50 years after his death, his most heartfelt wish was at last granted, and the Cardinal returned home in a triumphal procession like none before it.
The 19 young seminarians who are training for the priesthood today at the archdiocesan seminary in Prague, where Joseph Beran once taught, never experienced the times of persecution themselves. Instead, they face other challenges today. The Church in the Czech Republic is now free, it is true, but a majority of the population have grown up in atheism and are far from the faith. And yet at the same time there are more and more young families who are discovering the faith, and more and more young adults seeking baptism. Good priests are urgently needed to help the people find their way to God, who for many generations under communism was denied to them or torn from their hearts. We have promised 9,500 Euros towards the formation of these future priests.