Travel to Czech Republic to Restore the Faith
remains of a Catholic church stand alone in a quiet valley in the
eastern part of Czech Republic, decaying from years of neglect. For 10
Canadian Rover Scouts, this was the focus of a service project they
undertook in May.
Emond of Brooklin, Ontario was one of them, paying his own way to the
central European country to lend a hand. As a philosophy student at
University of Toronto, Keith reflected on how such a project can impact
your perception of life and the world. For him, things will never be
the same, now that he has seen first hand the atrocities in other parts
of the world.
The mission was
organized by Leader Brian Wick and included a delegation of Rovers
(aged 19 – 25) from Whitby and Windsor. Mr. Wick learned about the
derelict church on a visit to Prague in 2004. The church is located 250
km east of Prague near the city of Olomouc.
surrounding the church was converted into a military training zone by
the Russian occupants following World War II. Of 22 villages that
were evacuated, the church is the only remaining structure. All other
structures had decayed as a result of military exercises and have
become overgrown by the forests.
Over the years,
solders training in the area had bombed and pelted the buildings with
bullets, accelerating the destruction of the old brick buildings.
Evidence of this is clear when visiting the church and analysing it’s
interior walls. Just over the next ridge, flares signal military
exercises being conducted around the church. Pop, pop, pop go the guns
as soldiers conduct skirmishes.
Stare Voda (or
Old Water) was established in 1703 and through the decades was expanded
to the impressive cathedral that stands today. The structure was
surrounded by 160 homes and businesses catering to about 700 residents
prior to 1945. A short walk downstream from the church is spring-fed
monument to Saint Mary. The water is still clean and provided drinking
water for the project days.
The outside of
the church has had major repairs completed including installation of
windows, re-hanging of doors and re-plastering and painting of the
walls and bell towers. Inside, the 60 m vaulted ceilings of the
church still display faded frescos. There is a constant rain of plaster
dust as the building continues to deteriorate. The alter and vestibules
are void of artefacts, long replaced by graffiti painted on the walls.
Following decommissioning of the church in 1945, icons and artefacts
were redistributed to churches outside the military training zone.
It is a sad
story with hope for the future. The Scout Association of Czech Republic
secured and $3 million dollar grant to restore the church as a memorial
to the 22 villages it represented. During this spring’s work project
Scout volunteers came from Canada, Poland and Holland to pitch in.
by the Canadian Rovers included a stone staircase to the remains of a
cemetery, clearing brush to expose a reflecting pond adjacent to the
church, clearing of surface silt from the remains of a school building
exposing some impressive columns, and reconstruction of a floor to the
bell tower of the church.
The work needed to save the church is extensive
and will require thousands of hour work over the next few years.
Hopefully the Rovers who went will return to lend a hand again.
While working on
the project, a German man approached to ask about the work. He was
travelling with his wife and her mother who lived in the village over
60 years ago. She was overcome with joy to see that someone was
doing something to erase a dark
history. It is a humbling moment to hear that something you are
doing has that affect on people.
provided food for the workers. In traditional Czech style, meals
included goulash with dumplings, sausage, pate on bread and a variety
When you go to a
foreign place on holiday, you are usually protected from the reality of
what is there. This was a chance for the Canadians to really appreciate
the Czech people and culture and to lend a hand in the reconstruction
project. The church is no longer a passing site, but becomes part of
you as you have made an impact on it. The reality of what war does to a
place cannot be felt in Canada as it can in place like this. To stand
near the church and realize the silence that was once a quaint village
can be very humbling. Remembrance Day for these Rover Scouts will have
a different meaning next Novermber.
For each of the
participants, the $1423 it cost out of their own pocket was well worth
it. The interaction with different cultures, language, landscape and
people help put a new context on to the history that surrounded them.
Each went with a different purpose in mind, but all returned with the
same experience, one they will remember for many years.
program is the senior section for youth in Scouting. Their motto is
“Service” so it is normal for them to get involved in such a project.
For more information contact:
Scouts Canada - 57th Windsor Rover Crew: Iain Tait
Scouts Canada - 1st Whitby Crusaders Rover Crew: Brian Wick
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Whitby Crusaders web site