Monsignor Karel Herbst

* 1943  

  • "All of a sudden, a small paper card appeared in the letterbox, saying that on such and such a day, come in...[at State Security], maybe at nine o'clock, or at some hour. The first time I was there, I thought it was a kind of talk about life. Just like that. But then I realized that it was very dangerous ground and that I had to be extremely careful what I was saying. Especially not to say names. Karel Tylík, the parish priest of Karlín, told me: 'Insist that you want to know why you were invited there. And somehow reply when they tell you the reason, don´t talk about anything else.’ That was the advice of an old seasoned man who knew how to do it. I went to see him sometimes. He was worried about me. So that I'd be wise... They knew something here and there and it just irritated them. I counted each occasion, I was there about 16 times. Sometimes for two hours, sometimes for half a day. Sometimes I didn't care, sometimes it bothered me a little. When you're always being bothered like that. And most importantly, if my mom took it out of the letterbox, that wouldn't be good. So I was watchful so that my parents wouldn't know about it, so they wouldn't worry unnecessarily."

  • "Because on Christmas Day a pastoral letter was read, signed by Your Ordinaries. Who was that supposed to be? There was a sentence that next year we would celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Soviet tanks entering our cities. We must commemorate this anniversary properly." - "That was the anniversary of the liberation, yes? The forty-fifth year." - "Yes, it was a reference to that. It was the beginning of 1975. And that we would celebrate it that year. And I left out that one sentence. I just skipped it and went on. It's interesting that they didn't react right away. Someone must have been assessing it. And he didn't have time until four days later as he was playing the recording. And suddenly they found out I had skipped the sentence. They called me to the Regional National Committee in Prague, and Mr. Semínko, the secretary, told me that he considered me to be an enemy of working people, an enemy of the Soviet Union, and that he was taking away my state approval with immediate effect. And that if I didn't have a moving truck, he would get one for me. And that I must get out of Holy Mountain. Maybe they expected me to beg or something. I just let it go like that. I just thought, "Man, that's interesting, such a triviality. I leave one sentence out, and they take away my state approval. Oh, well, why not.'"

  • “Firstly, the way it is, is that they say: some chaps didn’t go to any cottage stays, but if they would want to go, take them with you. Secondly, you’ve got the sons, boys, they’re twenty years old, you’re fifty, and they’re twenty-five. You take them with you as well. Because otherwise the Old Hands get old, they won’t be here in thirty years’ time. And it’ll be all over. But when you take your boys into the group, suddenly the other chap’s sons go as well. People’ll say, that seems rather odd, but what’s odd about it? Younger faces and a merrier mood. It is good.”

  • “...State Security was fed up with me, and come the year 86, that was a year when things started thawing a bit, at least in the sense that, say, the State Security officers in Prague told themselves, we’ll be better off sending him away somewhere, let’s give him his approval, and send him packing somewhere - they sent me to Tachov District - let him go gallivanting off, as long as he doesn’t do his shenanigans here...”

  • “It is good because [it lasted] two weeks, and you can do a lot of things in two weeks, you can convey a lot as well, and in such a way support each other - I mean the boys now because they were young, twelve, thirteen, fourteen years perhaps, it was useful for them to be given some solid foundations, so they might do well in life, so they wouldn’t lose their faith.”

  • “... if someone told me that I made a difference or that something was all my merit, I’d wave my hand and say, ‘Forget it. Everyone who wanted to, did something. And those who got scared and decided not to, well, they didn’t of course.’ It happened to us plenty of times in the sense that we offered someone that their boy could participate in a cottage stay, and there were people who said, ‘Hooray, hooray, that’s great, that’s a heaven-sent opportunity.’ But then there were also people who said, ‘You know, we’d better not...,’ and they kept their boy at home.”

  • “... the result was that, after we limited the number of participants to a maximum of twelve for one cottage stay, the next year instead of eight stays there were fifteen, the year after there were twenty of them, and while I still worked there, we finally reached the number of seventy cottage stays over the summer holidays!”

  • “‘ you should have told the believers: I don’t want to read this sentence here, and I would’ve come there and said, ‘The chaplain doesn’t want to read the sentence, so I’ll read it instead of him...’ Because I did what I did, I received a letter, which said: ‘Come to the Regional National Committee in Prague on 6 January 1975.’The regional church secretary Semínko was there, the district church secretary Mr Pospíšil, and also the dean of Holy Mountain... I was solemnly informed: ‘Say whatever you want, I regard you as an enemy of the Soviet Union, an enemy of our working people...’”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Pražské arcibiskupství, 09.03.2015

    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
  • 2

    Praha, 16.06.2021

    duration: 01:52:53
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 3

    Praha, 30.08.2021

    duration: 02:03:20
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Forgiveness is natural

Witness during his studies in the theological seminary, around 1971
Witness during his studies in the theological seminary, around 1971
photo: witness´s archive

Mons. Karel Herbst was born on 6 November 1943 in Prague. In 1960 he trained as a mechanic of electric lokomotives and he worked in this job for eight years. At the same time he completed a grammar school in Prague. In 1968-1973 he studied at the Sts Cyril and Methodius Faculty of Theology in Litoměřice. He was ordained to priesthood on 23 June 1973. In 1973-1974 he acted as a chaplain in Mariánské Lázně, in 1974-1975 he worked at the Holy Mountain pilgrimage site near Příbram. On 6 January 1975 the state approval to perform religious services was taken away from him for omitting to read one sentence from a Christmas pastoral letter. The sentence mentioned the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Czechoslovakia. From February 1975 to August 1986 he worked at the state cleaning company (Úklid) as a shop windows cleaner. In the mid-1970s he became acquainted with the Salesian community activities, and on 11 September 1976 he took his life vows in the congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco. In 1974-1986 he actively organised Salesian “cottage stays” - holiday events for children within the framework of underground Salesian activities. From September 1986, when he was given back his state approval, to 1989, Karel Herbst served in Staré Sedliště in Tachov District. In 1990 he was the parish administrator in Všetaty. From 1990 to 1997 he was the director of the Salesian community in Prague-Kobylisy and administrator of the local parish. In 1997-2000 he held the post of spiritual director of the Archiepiscopal Priestly Seminary in Prague-Dejvice. From September 2000 to March 2002 he was the parish administrator in Fryšták near Holešov. On 6 April 2002 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Prague and titular bishop of Siccesi. He resigned his position in 2016 and became auxiliary bishop emeritus.