People in Prague pay their respects to the victims at the scene of the massacre (Photo Ansa/Epa/Martin Divisek)

Prague: "A point of hope for all"

Bewildered faces on the trams, newspaper articles, masses for the victims and people's donations. A few days after the massacre at the university, a letter from Fr. Stefano, priest of the Fraternity of St Charles in the capital of the Czech Republic.

Dearest Davide, I am writing these few lines to collect and share with you my thoughts and some facts that happened a few days after the terrible attack at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Charles University in Prague. The following morning I was on the tram heading to the hospital where I am a chaplain and I could not help but see the bewilderment on people's faces. The pre-Christmas atmosphere, which every year distracts us with its decorations and lights, this year was suddenly erased by the insane act of a very young man who started shooting at random, first at his classmates and then in the street, with the sole purpose – so he wrote – of killing as many people as possible.

The Czech newspapers wrote that he was a model student with an excellent school record, but was considered by all to be introverted, reserved, and not very sociable. Instead, I have to say: who knows what emptiness this student must have had inside him, what questions and what suffering? It makes me wonder if an event of this kind is not just the crazy and tragic exasperation of so much hardship, suffering and disillusionment that so many young people experience.

I read on an Italian news site that Prague is considered a romantic and serene place, a quiet and safe city. I do not believe, however, that one can reduce this city to its golden roofs and romantic views, as if something like what happened were a dark spot to be forgotten so as not to disfigure a 'happy island', as the same article defined it. Prague is a city like any other, a city where men and women live, who day after day tentatively search for the meaning of life in the relationships they live and the work they do. Prague is not a beautiful, suddenly crumpled postcard: I see it every day at school, at the hospital, in the parish or among our friends in the movement community. Here, as in every corner of the world, people, even those who do not know it, do not have the ideal of living in the comfort of a muffled world. They instead need to meet someone to keep them company, that true and eternal friendship that only Christ can give. They need to encounter the truth.

The Mass for the victims was indicative of this, which the Archbishop of Prague celebrated in the Cathedral two days after the attack, which received great media attention. On the same day at noon all the city bells rang in mourning and everyone observed a minute's silence.

We also celebrated a mass with the community, which was also attended by other people, and some of them thanked us afterwards for this gesture. What were they thanking us for? A woman who had just attended the celebration made me reflect a lot. She told me that she was thankful because alone she would not know how to deal with the confusion created within her by the incident. These few words made me realise that all psychological and sociological analyses, however just, cannot suffice to explain what happened, and even less can they keep the lost people who seek justice company.

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I was impressed that, in just a few days, Czech citizens donated millions of crowns to the University of Prague's charity foundation account for the families of the victims. Does this touching gratuitousness not indicate the religiosity of the person, which the worldly mentality would often like to silence?

The pain of what has happened is enormous and cannot be humanly tolerated. But what a friend told us at the beginning of our mission here, more than 20 years ago, is certain: “For the encounter you have had, have the consciousness to take there, in that society, a point of hope for all people.”

Fr. Stefano Pasquero, Prague, Czech Republic