Father Josef Toufar was a priest who died as a martyr in 1950, following his torture at the hands of an investigator of the secret police of the Czechoslovakian communist regime.
The torture was intended to get Father Toufar to confess that he had staged a miracle that occurred during the celebration of Mass in his parish church, as a way to create propaganda against the regime.
The priest did not give in to the violence: he wanted to remain faithful to the truth. He chose to be consistent with the words that he had said to his parishioners in a homily a few days before being arrested: “We live as if we were to die today.”
In 2015, Father Toufar’s remains were placed in the church where, 65 years earlier, he had been captured by regime agents.
Ever since then, we have made a pilgrimage to his tomb every September, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. We walk 30 kilometers on foot, through the most significant places where Father Toufar had carried out his priestly ministry, especially among young people.
This year about 100 people participated, including many children. As we walked through the fields, we prayed together, recited the rosary according to the intentions suggested by the pilgrims along the way, and sang the traditional songs of the movement and the beautiful Marian songs of the Czech and Moravian cultures.
We also read passages from Father Toufar’s life. What stands out most is the total gift of self that the priest made to Christ and his passion for the people entrusted to him.
This year, I was particularly struck by a little girl’s prayer intention: “Let us pray to learn to love Jesus…”. Her simple and sincere words reminded me of the purpose of the journey: to pray in the truest sense, that is, to learn to say to the Father the words that the Virgin said: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
During the two days of pilgrimage, there were many reminders of the need to learn humility, because, after a while, tiredness weighs on the legs, you can no longer go at the same pace, there are those who would like to stop more often to rest, eat and drink, and there are those who would like to go faster to get to the destination first. There are also many sacrifices: no smoking, no drinking alcohol and no use of cell phones except for very serious reasons; trying to be sober in speaking and spending a lot of time in silence.
It is impressive to see how many of the children experience the journey with great wonder. In their simplicity, they sometimes have the awareness, more than we adults, that every gesture of the pilgrimage is made in the presence of God.
It was precisely this that was evident among the pilgrims. None of us would have walked 30 km alone, under the sun, to get to a small country church. A hundred of us, praying and singing, all arrived together, from the two year old child to the 70 year old, aware that what constitutes us and makes us true men is our belonging to the Church of Christ.
Stefano Pasquero is pastor of Sant’Apollinare and chaplain of the Na Homolce Hospital in Prague (Czech Republic). Above, a moment of the pilgrimage to Father Toufar’s tomb.