Cardinal Priest of S Croce in Gerusalemme
Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Archbishop of Prague (Czech Republic), was born on 17 May 1932 in Líšnice, Sepekov parish, in the Písek district of Southern Bohemia. He spent his childhood in Záluzí near Chyšky, where he attended elementary school and experienced the hard labour of farm work.
At the age of 11, he first started thinking about the priesthood. This initial idea of a priestly vocation came to him because he felt particularly challenged by a poster hanging in his parish church that continued to attract his attention. The poster said: 'Wouldn't you like to become a priest?'. That goal seemed unattainable at the time, so he dreamed of becoming an aircraft pilot.
On 20 June 1952 he passed his final examination at Jirsfk Secondary School in Ceské Budejovice, Southern Bohemia. In those years of communist persecution theological studies were impossible, so from 1952 to 1953 he worked at the Motor Union automobile factory in Ceské Budejovice and from 1953 to 1955 did military service in Karlovy Vary.
Despite the political situation, after being discharged, he was able to study archival science at the Arts Faculty of the Charles University in Prague and received his degree in 1960. He worked in various archives in Southern Bohemia: at the Regional Archives of Trebon in Jindrichüv Hradec, and from December 1960 to 1964 at the Civic and District Archives of Ceské Budejovice , where he served as director.
In this same period he published a series of articles in various scientific reviews. In 1964 he left this work in order to study at the Theology Faculty of Sts Cyril and Methodius in Litomerice (1964- 1968).
On 23 June 1968, during the 'Prague Spring', he was ordained a priest at the age of 36 and was immediately appointed secretary to Bishop Josef Hlouch of Ceské Budejovice (1968-1971).
The State authorities, worried about his influence and pastoral activity, forced him in 1971 to leave Ceské Budejovice and sent him to the parishes of Lažište and Záblatí, isolated on the mountains of the Bohemian Forest in the Prachatitz district. From 1 November 1972 he was parish priest in Rožmitál pod Tremšínem and at the same time in Bohutín and Drahenice, in the Príbram disrict. There, in 1978 the State authorities, in collaboration with the local communists, revoked his state authorization to exercise his priestly ministry.
'Citizen Miloslav Vlk' was thus forced to live underground in Prague from October 1978 to 31 December 1988.
From 1978 to 1986 he worked as a window-cleaner in downtown Prague. In this period he secretly carried out his pastoral activity with small groups of lay people. From 1986 to 1988 he was able to work in the district archives of the Czechoslovak State Bank in Prague.
On 1 January 1989, at the start of the 'turning point', he was permitted to exercise the priestly ministry for a 'trial' year. He became parish priest at Žihobce and Bukovník in the Klatovy region of Western Bohemia. Subsequently, on 1 September 1989, he began to work as a curate on the Bavarian border: at Cachrov, Javorná, Železná Ruda, Bešiny and Stráž na Šumave.
With the so-called 'velvet revolution', the history of worker Miloslav Vlk suddenly changed. On 14 February 1990 the Holy Father appointed him Bishop of Ceské Budejovice and he received episcopal ordination on 31 March 1990 from Bishop Antonín Liška.
After a year at this post, on 27 March 1991 Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Vlk as the Archbishop of Prague, successor to the late Cardinal František Tomášek. The official installation took place on 1 June 1991. In 1992 he was elected President of the Czech Episcopal Conference; a role that he held until 2001. From 16 April 1993 until 31 May 2001 Archbishop Vlk was President of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), as the successor to Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, Archbishop of Milan, Italy.
Between 1992 and 1993 he received three honorary degrees: one each from Illinois Benedictine College and the University of St Thomas in the USA, and a doctorate in theology from the Faculty of Passau. In addition to these academic awards he has also received various honorary citizenships.
Special Secretary of the 1st Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops (1991); and has taken part in the 9th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (1994) and in the 2nd Special Assembly for Europe (1999).