Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Father Jan Lang S. J.

The Times has an obituary of Father Jan Lang, SJ, Czech priest and exile leader, was born on June 24, 1919. He died on March 21, 2007, aged 87. He was a formidable Czech priest and dissident who became the spiritual leader in London of his fellow exiles from communism.

"Father Jan Lang was an indefatigable and charismatic priest. He spent most of his life in exile from his native Czechoslovakia, in Britain, from where he did his best to keep the sufferings of Czechs and Slovaks in the public eye. As well as ministering to his fellow exiles, he campaigned constantly against the human-rights abuses of the Czechoslovak communist regime, and offered valuable outside support to dissidents active within Czechoslovakia itself.

Lang learnt the crucial importance of human rights through bitter experiences early in his life, during the Nazi occupation of the Czech Lands. Born in the Moravian town of Rajhrad in 1919, he studied at a Benedictine college and then joined the Jesuits and became a theology student.

After their occupation in 1939 the Nazis closed many institutions, and Lang moved to Prague to continue his studies. But in 1944 he was arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Terezin, where he nearly died from typhus. Later he would play a prominent role in the international campaign to secure compensation for concentration camp victims from postwar German governments.

After the war Lang was sent to continue his studies in London, which is where he found himself at the time of the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia early in 1948. Aware of what Stalinist rule would mean, particularly for those associated with the “imperialist” West, many Czechs and Slovaks then in Britain opted to stay, and others soon arrived as refugees.

Lang became their spiritual leader and a formidable organiser of the exile community – not only in its religious life but also in its welfare provision, centred from the 1960s on a building, named Velehrad, in Notting Hill. "