Czech pastor looks ahead but can't forget the past

March 31, 1992|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Staff Writer

Under communism, the Rev. Lubomir Mirejovsky and other church leaders in Czechoslovakia had to choose between cooperating with the state and risking the annihilation of the church by resistance.

Under the new democratic government, Dr. Mirejovsky said this week in Baltimore, he is looking for a new balance between freedom and responsibility, particularly as the old socialist welfare systems collapse.

Dr. Mirejovsky was the speaker on Sunday at an ecumenical service of thanksgiving for the end of the Cold War.

He was joined in the celebration by about 200 Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians, clergy and lay people at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Incarnation.

Dr. Mirejovsky, retired leader of the Evangelical Church of the Brethren, was director of the Christian Peace Conference, a Prague-based group that kept Eastern European churches in touch with those in the West.

The Czech clergyman, who describes himself politically as a democratic socialist, explained in interviews before the service how his beliefs got him into trouble under communism and now put him at odds with the new government turning toward a free market economy.

After communism came in 1948, Dr. Mirejovsky had hoped the church could work with the government toward a socialist society.

But he was imprisoned in the 1950s because the government suspected -- apparently because of his seminary studies in the United States in the late 1940s -- that he was a spy.

Freed in 1954, Dr. Mirejovsky became pastor of a church and began "the struggle to keep the congregation together in a strong, anti-religious atmosphere" under the watch of government officials supervising religion.

Some of his colleagues in the clergy refused all cooperation with the authorities but, at times, Dr. Mirejovsky and others believed it was prudent to cooperate.

He would let the authorities know, for instance, who the foreign visitors were to his church, as required by law.

Pastors were not agents of the secret services, but some, "when askedquestions, responded to them," he said. "The church was destined for destruction. It was a defense of the church, a defense of believing persons."

Other times, Dr. Mirejovsky resisted. Five years ago, officials with the secret service warned him about a Norwegian woman he had invited as a delegate to an international church conference in Prague. The secret police asked him to prevent the delegate from seeing a Czech dissident for whom she was an advocate and supporter.

But when the delegate arrived for the conference, she told Dr. Mirejovsky she had a message for the dissident from his son in Norway. Dr. Mirejovsky suggested she give it to him in a public place, but she had the meeting in private anyway.

Government officials next told Dr. Mirejovsky that if he allowed the Norwegian woman to stay for the conference, they would never honor his vouchers for delegates to future conferences. But at the risk of jeopardizing those future conferences, he let her stay.

"This is a contact with the secret police, is it not? You cannot deny it," Dr. Mirejovsky said, describing the moral ambivalence in which he had to work for his church and for his goal of promoting understanding between East and West.

"What I did was defend people as much as I could," he said.

Dr. Mirejovsky's career has been one of attempting conciliation between disparate ideologies and factions. He took part in a Christian-Marxist dialogue that prepared the way for the "Prague Spring" of 1968, an opening toward political democracy that was crushed by Soviet tanks.

Now that democracy is at hand in Czechoslovakia, Dr. Mirejovsky said, he looks beyond the present "euphoria welcoming unlimited market economy" to wonder how the country will provide for people who fall behind in that new system.

Now, he said, "the challenge is how we will handle the freedom of the church."

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