BY DANIEL T. GOMES
It was on November 22nd that Czech author and Catholic theologian Tomáš Halík held an autograph session for his latest book, Diante de Ti, Os Meus Caminhos, (“Before You, My Ways”) in a small, discrete bookshop in Lisbon. At the time, my knowledge of this renowned author was next to none: I knew he was a Catholic author popular among Portuguese Protestant circles, which is not all too common, and that our magazine had previously covered three of his works that had been translated to Portuguese by Paulinas; namely, A Noite do Confessor (Night of the Confessor), O Meu Deus é Um Deus Ferido, and Quero Que Tu Sejas (I Want You to Be). He had also done us the courtesy of signing a portrait of him made by one of our collaborators, the talented artist Vitor Marini.
But besides that, I did not really know what to expect. I walked in the bookshop on that Thursday afternoon and saw him in person for the first time: he was sitting at a desk set up for him that afternoon, right at the bookshop’s entrance, casually talking with some ladies who probably had come to see him as well. Nothing about him stood out, really – and yet, that was precisely what stood out about him. He was dressed normally, without any blaring signs of ecclesiastical pomp. His “entourage,” as far I could tell, consisted only of a very understanding lady who acted as his translator. It was refreshing to see a foreign author so widely regarded by our audience in this way: up close and personally.
“I hit rock bottom, and that was precisely where God was.”
– Tomáš Halík
In our brief exchange, Halík was always polite and understanding, despite him being seemingly tired and weary. He signed my copy of the book with a smile on his face, and the impression he left on me was better than I could have anticipated – and yet, I walked out of the bookshop still knowing nothing about him, about his past, about his struggles and his accomplishments. To me, he was still just “a really cool author to meet.”
Upon reading his biography, however, I have a much better understanding of the man I met that day. Now I realize that on that Thursday, in that Paulinas bookshop, and for but a couple of minutes, I spoke with a paragon of modern Christianity. The story of Tomáš Halík, as he so accurately puts it in his latest book, is deeply intertwined with the history of modernday Bohemia, a history of oppression that he helped transform into a present of freedom and openness.
In this book, Halík presents us his life, from his early childhood in Czechoslovakia to his current activity, including his first visit to Lisbon. Halík describes in stunning detail the oppression of the Soviet Communist regime in which he was raised, and how he came to know Christ and to become a member of the “underground” Catholic Church in his country. With a boldness akin to that of the first Christians, Halík became one of Bohemia’s foremost dissidents, working closely with some of the greatest names in the opposition to the regime, such as Václav Havel and Oto Madr. Throughout the years, his courage and intellect helped him endure persecution by the secret police and help thousands of people recover from life-threatening addiction.
Since the Velvet Revolution, Tomáš Halík has continued to work hard towards the Church’s growth, both in his home country and abroad. He has emphasized the vital importance of a mutual respect and acceptance among the different branches of Christianity and the necessity of fostering inter-religious dialogue. Though he remains a college professor in Prague, he still finds time to travel the world and to write. It is no wonder, therefore, that we may find him a bit weary at an autograph session, in a Lisbon bookshop; he still continues to persevere on the many paths God has set for him, and to forge a legacy that transforms lives – with this book serving as a faithful and inspiring testament of just that.