PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf created the Prague Czech Republic Stake — the first stake in the country — on Sunday, May 15.
President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, was born in an area now called Ostrava in the former Czechoslovakia. The Ostrava Ward is part of the new stake.
In addition, one decade ago President Uchtdorf dedicated the Republic of Slovakia for the preaching of the gospel, on May 12, 2006. This took place in Trencin, Slovakia. Among others present were G. Fred Yost, then president of the Czech Prague Mission, and the presidency of the Brno Czech District (which is now part of the new stake).
Currently there are 2,500 members in the Czech Republic, with one mission, two family history centers and 13 Church units.
President Uchtdorf and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, arrived in Europe days before traveling to the Czech Republic; the couple visited Belgium and France on May 10-12. (Please see related article.)
The visit to the Czech Republic was a literal homecoming for President Uchtdorf. “We’re happy to be here and be close to the Saints,” he said in a public affairs video recorded days before the creation of the new stake.
Elder Timothy J. Dyches, second counselor in the Europe Area Presidency, and Elder Detlef Adler, Area Seventy, also were involved in the stake creation, during which President Martin Pilka — former first counselor in the Prague Czech District — was sustained as the new stake president. Members were also thrilled to sustain the first new Czech stake patriarch, Radovan Canek, said Elder Dyches. The event was held in the Zolfin Palace.
The Church has a rich history in the Czech Republic, formerly called Czechoslovakia.
In 1884, Church missionary Thomas Biesinger traveled from Vienna to Prague to preach the gospel in Bohemia. Arrested for preaching, he spent 68 days in jail preceding his banishment from the country. Before he left the country, he baptized and confirmed Anthon Just, who had testified against him at his trial, according to Mormon Newsroom. Elder Biesinger returned to Czechoslovakia in 1928 at the age of 84. This time, he successfully obtained legal permission for the Church to operate.
On July 24, 1929, Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve, and then president of the European Mission, dedicated the land for the preaching of the gospel. The dedication took place on Knezi Hora. There were seven members in the country at the time, according to a Sept. 4, 2004, Church News article, “Commemorate 75 years in Czech Republic.”
Also on July 24, 1929, the Church organized the Czechoslovakia Mission. The Church received publicity over the radio and at a cultural fair in 1931, where missionaries handed out more than 150,000 tracts. The Book of Mormon was translated and published, according to Mormon Newsroom.
In March 1939, the German army occupied the country and regular missionary activity ceased.
A young convert, Josef Roubicek, kept the Church intact after missionaries left during World War II. He added 28 members and published a mission newsletter. Missionary work resumed in 1946 until it was closed again in 1950, according to Mormon Newsroom.
By April 1950, public activity of the Church had been prohibited. For more than 40 years, members kept their faith in silence, unable to worship publicly or to enjoy any regular contact with the Church beyond Czech borders, according to the Church News.
Through the efforts of President Thomas S. Monson, then of the First Presidency; Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy, a native of Switzerland; and then-Czechoslovakia District President Jiri Snederfler, the Church was granted recognition in 1990.
When the Church began the process for recognition, reported President Monson, “The government leaders had said to us, ‘Don’t send an American, a German or a Swiss. Send a Czech.’ ”
Because admitting one was a Church leader during the prohibition of religion was tantamount to imprisonment, Jiri Snederfler put everything on the line when he offered his assistance and went before government leaders.
He had asked for the prayers of the members and had told his wife he didn’t know when, or if, he would come back. But, he loved the gospel and knew he must follow the Savior, President Monson said.
“With that spirit of faith and devotion, he acknowledged to the government officials that he was a Church leader and was seeking for a restoration of the recognition the Church had once enjoyed” (Church News, March 9, 1991, p. 3).
Government leaders deliberated and then told Brother Snederfler they had decided to grant recognition. “Once again missionaries could come back and the Church could provide a haven for freedom of worship in that nation,” President Monson continued.
The nation of Czechoslovakia was dissolved in 1993. The Czech Republic and Slovakia took its place.
After a 40-year absence, missionaries re-entered what had been Czechoslovakia in 1990. By that time there were 345 members.
Richard and Barbara Winder were the first missionary couple called to the Czech Republic following the fall of communism in 1990. President Winder, who served a full-time mission in the country and was expelled in February 1950, served as mission president. Sister Winder, who started serving as the general president of the Relief Society in 1984, was released that April general conference in 1990 to serve with her husband when he was called to preside over the Czechoslovakia Prague Mission in 1990. The mission is now called the Czech Slovak Mission.
Czech Slovak Mission President James W. McConkie III, who was present when President Uchtdorf created the stake, served as a young elder in the country in the early 1990s.
“For many years, members and missionaries in the Czech Slovak Mission have faithfully worked and hoped for a day like today. We are all so grateful to now have the blessing of a stake in the Czech Republic,” President McConkie said.
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