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Czech Cardinal Vlk, former window-washer, clandestine priest, dies


  • Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, retired archbishop of Prague, Czech Republic, died March 18 at the age of 84. Cardinal Vlk worked as a window cleaner while secretly carrying out his priestly ministry during the communist era. He is pictured arriving for a general congregation meeting prior to the election of a new pope at the Vatican in this March 7, 2013, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
  • Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, retired archbishop of Prague, Czech Republic, died March 18 at the age of 84. Cardinal Vlk worked as a window cleaner while secretly carrying out his priestly ministry during the communist era. He is pictured during Pope Benedict XVI's general audience at the Vatican in this Jan. 30, 2009, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
  • Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, retired archbishop of Prague, Czech Republic, died March 18 at the age of 84. Cardinal Vlk worked as a window cleaner while secretly carrying out his priestly ministry during the communist era. He is pictured during Pope Benedict XVI's general audience at the Vatican in this Jan. 30, 2009, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Czech Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, who washed windows and ministered underground during communism, died of cancer March 18 in Prague at the age of 84.

The retired archbishop of Prague was elected the first East European president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences and dedicated his term to rebuilding the church and society after communism in the East and defending Christian values in the face of secularism and materialism in the West.

In a telegram to Cardinal Dominik Duka of Prague, Pope Francis recalled "with admiration" the late cardinal's "tenacious fidelity to Christ despite the privation and persecution against the church."

The pope also praised his fruitful ministry, which was driven by a desire to share the joy of the Gospel with everyone and promote "an authentic ecclesial renewal" that was always faithful to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Born May 17, 1932, in Lisnice, Czechoslovakia, he studied history at Prague's Charles University, earned a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Prague and was a trained archivist.

Ten years after he was ordained a priest in 1968, the communist regime revoked his license to engage in priestly ministry. The regime persecuted clerics, imprisoning them and forcing them into menial jobs; he spent the next 10 years washing windows of government buildings.

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