Catholic priest, Zbigniew Jan Czendlik, will celebrate thirty years of his work in Czechia this year, and he seems happy here. He plans to spend his summer at the parish with his loved ones and friends and to go out and enjoy nature, which – according to him – is God's temple for all.
The children will get their long-awaited holidays in two weeks. How does the church view travelling?
Travelling has always been a part of the church, of educating oneself. The church has basically been there when modern-day travel agencies were born. [laughs] Even things such as a pilgrimage to a holy place or even to a neighboring village's church to celebrate the patron saint was nothing more than travelling. A perfect opportunity to meet with extended family, friends, and get to know new people. Travelling today is no longer a religious matter but it still educates us all in one way or another. We experience and learn new things when we travel.
One such important and sought-after pilgrimage happens every August 15th, the celebration of the Assumption of Mary. Is it an important holiday?
As there is Easter in spring and Christmas in winter, then summer means the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the key feast of the summer holidays when the entire Christian world goes on Marian pilgrimages to places such as the well-known Lourdes or Fatima. Here in Czechia, we have the Holy Mountain close to Příbram, the Stará Boleslav pilgrimage site, Svatý Hostýn in Moravia, or the Mountain of the Holy Mother in Králíky. Atheists can join in with the Christians too as I am quite certain they will experience something they never have before.
What exactly do you mean?
I am a fan of sports, and this pilgrimage with the euphoria it brings out in people could be compared to the European Championship in football. People are out in the streets singing hymns, experiencing uninhibited joy. What's more, pilgrims from all over the world get together and meet. The important thing is that you are there with someone. Each and every one of us sometimes needs to feel like they are not alone. Christianity is not just churches, it is a fellowship and a feeling of belonging. It is a time when we empty our purses but fill our souls with something positive instead. We may falter a bit economically but we gain a lot spiritually. That is what pilgrimages are about.
What was your longest pilgrimage?
You might be surprised, but it is the one from Poland to Czechia that has been going on for thirty years now. I initially worked in Náchod, then here in Lanškroun. I am actually still a pilgrim, still on the road. With a bit of humor, I can say that I still live in a hotel, one that is my parish. I do not have a house of my own.
Did it take a long time to get used to Lanškroun and its people?
In my case, it is similar to a marriage that would have once been arranged by parents for the couple to be. They would first get married and love would come later. Or it would not. Nor did I fall in love with Lanškroun at first sight, or choose it as my destination for that matter. I found my way to it over time. And I was lucky because the love did come in the end. I fell in love with the town and its people.
But you spend a fifth of your nights in other hotels...
True, I feel like a bonafide wayfarer. I travel around the country with my talk show called “Bed, Pub, Church,” which bears the same name as my book. And because I have grown to like myself more and more over time and become more careful about my health, I prefer not to travel from one end of the country to the other at night. And so, I make use of hotels, which has one significant upside. When I travel for work, I no longer only get to see the inside of a community center or a school gymnasium but I have the time to walk around town and take it in. Which, incidentally, brings us back to learning new things when travelling.
You have also travelled much farther though. You have been to the USA as well as exotic Malaysia and Mauritius. What was this kind of travelling like?
I am happy to regale you with these tales because I am never going to go so far ever again. I can only do a maximum of three hours on a plane now. I have very fond memories of the island of Mauritius, to which I endured a twelve-hour flight. It is said to have no venomous animals – and I felt like the people weren’t so “venomous” either. I enjoyed the delightful atmosphere of the place and ate exquisite foods. I truly like to get to know people through their cuisine. One Sunday, I took a taxi into town to visit a church and I was rather surprised to see that the taxi driver had rosary beads hanging off his rearview mirror and a Buddha figure on the dashboard. “Are you Christian or Hindu?” I asked him. And he answered, “I am a Christian, the Buddha is for good luck.” On the way back I had a different driver, but he had the very same setup in his car – rosary beads on the rearview mirror and a Buddha on the dashboard. This time my question as to his faith was met with, “I am Hindu, the rosary beads are for good luck.” That’s when I realized that they are very well hedged, the Mauritians. We don’t really know who “the one above” is rooting for, seeing as he’s just the one. Therefore, I would be happy for Christians, Hindus, and even Muslims to get along in peace. I wish...
What was it like in their church?
It was great, nobody worried about mass being half an hour late. When the pastor came, he greeted everyone individually, the altar servers were ebony women, and I finally felt like a missionary. [laughs]
And how was Malaysia?
I had a similar experience over there. People live in “longhouses” – a kind of elongated multigenerational home – and every family has its own little chapel. It is another place where Muslims and Christians live alongside one another in peace.
You are not a fan of the word vacation (Translator’s note: The word in Czech is “dovolená”, evoking the feeling of being allowed time off work by somebody else) because its true meaning is misleading. How would you prefer to call time off work then?
It should not be about somebody else allowing us to get rest. Even the Ten Commandments say: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” It is in fact our duty to rest. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? So this “vacation” as we call the time off for rest is actually a kind of God-given holiday.
Speaking about the holidays, how did you usually spend it as a boy in Poland?
We never really went anywhere for the holidays with my parents. The summer was a time of harvest and working the fields. My parents raised me to put work first, second, and third. That’s why I hate laziness. We must not mistake laziness for rest, however, as that is something we all need. We would normally rest during the winter months as that is when nature also rests. We humans have turned things around now, and we take rest during the summer, the time of growth and harvest.
Why did you decide to become a priest?
It came out of nowhere. When the Pole Karol Józef Wojtyła, or John Paul II, became a pope, it was a big thing. Imagine, my parents bought a color TV for the first time because of his visit to Poland. We, the Polish, began to see the world in color thanks to John Paul II. And in the midst of all the euphoria, I, an eighth-grader, decided to serve God, same as he did.
What was it like when the seminary gates closed shut behind you and you started studying to become a priest?
It was not easy. We lived in a closed-off environment, we were only allowed two hours a day to walk the grounds. It was the year 1983, communism was rampant in the outside world, and we, the seminarists, were still able to speak freely within those walls. I enjoyed that. When I was ordained as a priest in Katowice on May 13, 1989, it meant a great deal to me and my family. Church officials have a high social standing in Poland and the status also transfers to their families.
Everyone is interested but afraid to ask. Why would a good-looking young man devote his life to celibacy? Did you not like women?
I did like women and I still do! But as a young village boy from a traditional Catholic family, I had very little idea about how relationships between men and women work. I was a bit “behind” in this sense. What's more, I was rather unlucky when it came to girls. Whenever I liked one she did not like me back or a friend would steal her away from me.
Have you ever fallen in love?
When I was twenty-five, I found out that women bring a lot of emotions out of me. I fell for someone and experienced a period of wonderful platonic love. Love comes as you live life, it is only natural. I would find it strange if I did not like women. I am just a regular man in this regard. And celibacy? My bedroom door says: “Wake me up when celibacy ends.” So that's that. [laughs]
How will you spend this summer? Are you going somewhere?
I will stay put this year, there are so many natural wonders and great people around me. I will also stay home in Lanškroun out of a sense of solidarity with those who simply cannot afford a vacation. The summer is out in bloom, all you need is a walk in nature a few miles from your home. Nature is God's temple.
Zbigniew Jan Czendlik (born September 6, 1964, in Brenna, Poland) is a Roman Catholic priest of Polish descent working in Czechia, and the dean of Lanškroun. He is incardinated in the Katowice archdiocese.
He studied the faculty of theology in Katowice and Warsaw, and he was ordained as a priest in 1989. Three years later he was sent to Czechia to serve as the vicar in Náchod and as a remote administrator of the parish of Studnice.
Since 1993 he’s been the vicar, and later church administrator in Lanškroun as well as remote administrator to the Luková and Žichlínek parishes
In 2005 he launched a children’s home in Žichlínek. He was named a dean in 2008.
He appeared on the TV shows “Bolkoviny”, “Krásný ztráty”, “Uvolněte se, prosím” and “Máme rádi Česko”. He is the host of the show “Uchem jehly” on ČT1 as well as the radio show “Jak to vidí” on the ČRo Dvojka radio station. He takes an active part in charity and community service projects intended to help seniors and handicapped children.
He has two brothers and a sister. He is the benefactor of a dog shelter as well as an active sportsman who plays football, golf, tennis, and goes skiing regularly.
Church and beer
When it gets hot, Zbigniew Jan Czendlik likes to have a glass of good beer. How did the church feel about beer? “The Catholic Church's views on beer have been through a rocky journey. It was originally a pagan beverage, one that was never mentioned in the Bible. The old Sumer civilization brewed beer all the way back in 1800 BC, based on the goddess Ninkasi's recipe. Judging from numerous rulings of the Roman Curia, it seems that brewing beer on church grounds for pilgrims and one's own consumption was acceptable. Beer was a welcome, nourishing beverage during periods of fasting because drinking it could supplement the food that was forbidden. That might be where the saying that beer is liquid bread originated. There is an interesting story about beer and fasting. In the early 17th century, monks from the Order of Francis of Paola brewed a very strong beer they planned to use for their Lenten fast. They were in doubt whether drinking it would mean breaking their fast, and so they sent a few casks to Pope Innocent X asking him to approve it. The beer went bad during the journey in the scorching heat and the Pope ruled that drinking such a reviling beverage requires a great deal of abnegation and so it can be allowed during fasting periods,” writes Zibi in his book “The Parish Cookbook.”