4.2 The Protestant Esperanto movement
Protestant Christians, who had learned Esperanto and put it to use, also founded an international association in the early years of the 20th century. The creation of this association is closely linked to the YMCA - the Young Men's Christian Association. In 1906 the secretary of the Central Committee of the YMCA in Geneva, Baron W. von Starck, visited the second World Esperanto Congress in his city. He was immediately convinced of the value Esperanto could have for his association and in January 1907 he published a very favourable article about Esperanto in several YMCA periodicals. Soon quite a few members of the Association became interested in the language while some studied it seriously and looked for penfriends among their fellow-believers. In February 1908 the German engineer Paul Hübner (1881-1970) from Mülheim on the Rhein (now a district of the city of Cologne) began publishing a small newspaper with the title "Esperanto en la servo de la Dia Regno" (Esperanto in the Service of God's Kingdom). As Hübner emphasized, it aimed to be "a link between all Christian Esperantists", "a community newsletter on the Christian life throughout the world" and "a guide to Jesus Christ as our only Saviour".55
Just as in the Catholic Esperanto movement, the Protestant movement also founded a magazine before an association. And here too the work of editor and administrator weighed for a long time on the shoulders of one man, who was prepared to take on both the work and the financial losses. By the end of 1908 Hübner had found just over 80 subscribers in 12 countries and from January 1909 he published the paper under the abbreviated title "Dia Regno" (God's Kingdom) under which name it has appeared with occasional interruptions to the present day.
On the 25th of August 1911, during the 7th World Esperanto Congress in Antwerp, a meeting of Protestant Esperantists was held. There a proposal to found an international Christian association was unanimously accepted. In the following months there was a lively exchange of correspondence about the constitution and the name of the organisation; finally "Kristana Esperantista Ligo" (Christian Esperanto League - KEL) was agreed upon. KEL was officially founded only two years after the meeting in Antwerp, on the 24th of August 1913 in the World Congress in Berne; Paul Hübner was elected president. By tradition however, KEL regards the 25th of August 1911 as its foundation date.56
An important event for Christian Esperantists of all denominations was the publication of the New Testament in Esperanto in 1912. In 1909 a committee in England began the translation under the supervision of Rev. John Cyprian Rust (ca 1850-1927) and a little over three years later published "La Nova Testamento de nia Sinjoro kaj Savanto Jesuo Kristo" (The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ). The first edition of 5,000 copies sold out in only a few months.57
For KEL too, there were signs of progress. The cooperation with the YMCA in organising Esperanto courses worked very well; at the start of 1914 the YMCA's Central Committee even officially recommended "the introduction of Esperanto in all YMCA unions."58 3,739 people registered for the 10th World Esperanto Congress in Paris at which a further meeting of KEL was to be held and a meeting with Parisian representatives of the YMCA. But as with the IKUE congress in Lourdes, this World Congress could not take place. And just as with "Espero Katolika", so too "Dia Regno"'s issue of July/August 1914 was the last for some time. The First World War brought a halt to the activities of Christian Esperantists.
4.3 From the First to the Second World War
During the First World War the use of Esperanto encountered many obstacles. At times corresponding in Esperanto was forbidden because of a lack of censors for the language59; at other times Esperanto magazines were banned as "a harmful influence on the fighters at the front"60. Almost everywhere the number of Esperanto courses and meetings was considerably reduced. In 1915 only 163 people, mainly from the United States and Canada, took part in the 11th World Esperanto Congress in San Francisco. In the neutral state of Switzerland the Geneva office of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio organised a service for passing on family correspondence between hostile countries. The "initiator" of Esperanto, Ludwig Zamenhof, died of heart disease on the 17th of April 1917 in Warsaw.
It is not easy to find information about the activities of Christian Esperantists during the First World War. But in his book "Historio de Esperanto" Edmond Privat makes the remarkable claim that "the International Committee of the YMCA distributed thousands of Esperanto coursebooks to prisoners of war in various countries."61
In 1917 Catholic pacifists founded the "Mondpacligo Blanka Kruco" (White Cross World Peace League) which used Esperanto in its international contacts from 1918.62
In 1920 the magazines "Espero Katolika" and "Dia Regno" resumed publication. In the years that followed other Esperanto magazines and associations appeared. The "Internacio Katolika" (Catholic International - IKA) deserves special mention. It was founded by the priest-martyr Max Josef Metzger (1887-1944) who later became famous as a pacifist and "pioneer of ecumenism". Although founded in 1920 during the World Esperanto Congress in the The Hague, IKA deliberately avoided using the word "Esperanto" in its name. The association also approached those Catholics who did not speak Esperanto and who may not have even wanted to learn it. From 1921 to 1924 Metzger edited the Esperanto magazine "Katolika Mondo" (Catholic World) in Graz, Austria.63
In autumn 1926, just over 12 years after the New Testament, a complete Esperanto translation of the Bible was published in London (though still without the Deuterocanonical books). The Old Testament had been translated by Zamenhof himself from the original Hebrew. He had finished the work by March 1915. However instead of immediately sending the manuscript for publication to the Bible Committee in Britain, he could only inform its president, the Esperantist Rev. John Cyprian Rust, of a major obstacle. Zamenhof wrote to him in French: "Regrettably I cannot for the moment send you the translation because our postal service is not delivering anything (during the war) written in Esperanto. Consequently I must wait until the war is over."64
For this reason it was only after the First World War - and two years after Zamenhof's death - that the translation arrived in Britain, where from 1919 until 1926 the Bible Committee was occupied with reading through the text, correcting it, harmonising the language of the New and Old Testaments, typesetting and proofreading. Two women Quakers, the sisters Priscilla (1833-1931) and Algerina Peckover (1841-1927) offered the necessary financial assistance. Within five years more than 5,000 copies of the Esperanto Bible were sold65 and Christians of all denominations praised the translation for its clarity and precision.
With minor corrections here and there, the "London Bible" is frequently reprinted to this day. In 1992 a modern translation of the four gospels was published in Brazil by the Dutch clergyman Gerrit Berveling. In 1997 the complete Esperanto Bible, including the Deuterocanonical books, was published on CD-ROM.
While the 1920s were a time of successive triumphs and disillusionments, the 1930s brought failures and disasters.
In 1931 the Catalan priest Juan Font Giralt from Collell near Gerona was elected president of IKUE; the following year he also took over as editor of "Espero Katolika". Towards the end of 1934 Font Giralt fell ill, so "Espero Katolika" was eventually edited by Dutch members of IKUE. In 1936 Font Giralt's health improved - but then the Spanish Civil War began in which ten thousand Christians died for their faith. Font Giralt too was horribly martyred; on the 17th of August his hands were chopped off and his body was burnt.66
We now return to the Protestant Esperanto movement. In 1932, after a pause of several years, the magazine "Dia Regno" recommenced publication, again in fact under the editorship of Paul Hübner who during the 1920s had to limit his work for KELI because of personal, professional and financial reasons. During the 1930s Esperanto prospered in the Netherlands particularly, which to some extent was to KELI and IKUE's advantage.67
The situation in Germany was more difficult. There Adolf Hitler came to power early in 1933. It is well known that unfortunately many German Christians had an initially favourable opinion of Nazism, and consequently it should come as no surprise that even Paul Hübner in "Dia Regno"'s issue 4 of 1933 told the KELI members in other countries that "the tide of atheism" had been halted and "Christianity is saved".68
As late as 1936 Hübner expressed the hope that "it should not be long before our official organisations in Germany also recognise the value of Esperanto and again support the movement".69
But there were no grounds for such optimism. In February 1936 Martin Bormann, the chief of staff of Hitler's deputy, signed the following decree:
Because the creation of an international hybrid language contradicts the basic concepts of National Socialism and ultimately can only serve the interests of supranational powers, the Führer's deputy forbids all party members and members of organisations affiliated to the party to belong to all forms of artificial language associations.70
A few months later, on the 20th of June 1936, a decree by the Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the Esperanto associations in Germany to disband if they wished to avoid being compulsorily dissolved.71 From then on all forms of activity by KELI and IKUE were also forbidden in Germany and KELI's international operations were taken over by Dutch and Swedish members. While most of the German Esperantists lost heart and accepted the ban on Esperanto activity, Paul Hübner continued to write articles for "Dia Regno". From January 1938 however, these appeared only with the signature "N.N."72
At the end of the 1930s both "Espero Katolika" and "Dia Regno" were being edited in the Netherlands. After World War Two began, both periodicals were prevented from reaching most of their subscribers. "Espero Katolika" of January/February 1940 was the last issue until the end of the war. On the 10th of May 1940 German troops occupied Holland and February 1941 saw the final issue of "Dia Regno" because in March "the entire Esperanto movement in Holland was banned as 'a Jewish affair'".73 However Christian Esperantists did not entirely cease their activities during the Second World War: from 1941 to 1945 KELI's Swedish section distributed a total of seven issues of "Temporary Dia Regno", but these reached only a small percentage of the addressees.74
In the countries ruled by Hitler and Stalin, Esperantists were among the victims of those dictators. In Germany some Esperantists were arrested and sent to concentration camps merely because of their work for Esperanto75; others were arrested primarily for being of Jewish descent or for their general pacifist involvement. The victims of Nazism include all three of Zamenhof's children. They had been arrested in January 1940. Zamenhof's only son, Adam, was immediately shot; the daughters Zofia and Lidja were sent to the Treblinka concentration camp in 1942 where they were killed in August and October respectively of that same year.76 The Esperantist and founder of the Una-Sancta Movement, Max Josef Metzger, was arrested in 1943 and sentenced to death for treason; on the 17th of April 1944 he was beheaded.77
The Soviet dictator Stalin regarded as suspect anyone who had international contacts and to that category the Esperantists also belonged. According to various estimates, in the "Great Purge" launched on a massive scale in March 1937, a total of between 2,000 and 30,000 Esperantists perished.78 Stalin's victims included famous Esperanto writers or Esperantologists such as Vladimir Varankin (1902-1938) and Ernest Drezen (1892-1937).
4.4 The Post-war Period
After the war ended the Christian Esperanto associations IKUE and KELI were able to re-establish themselves quite quickly in the West. In 1946 the periodicals "Espero Katolika" and "Dia Regno" reappeared, and not long afterwards Protestant Esperantists carried out a long dreamt-of plan: in summer 1948 they held the first KELI congress in Tostarp, Sweden. Previously they had come together during World Esperanto Congresses where the KELI meetings were held. But this first independent congress was a total success. "In Europe, still suffering from thousands of unhealed wounds, that simple coming together of Christians from seven countries, of brothers and sisters speaking one language ... made an unforgettable impression" reports Henk de Hoog (1910-2001) in his history of KELI.79 After that, no one wanted to miss out on this kind of event and since 1948 similar KELI congresses have been held almost every year.
In 1950, after a break of 11 years, Catholic Esperantists once again organised a congress. It was the 22nd IKUE Congress and the third held in Rome (after those of 1913 and 1935).
In Eastern Europe the situation remained very difficult. There, under Stalin's influence, Communist regimes were set up which were hostile both to Esperanto and to Christianity and consequently had two reasons for banning the activities of IKUE and KELI. During the "Cold War" era, contact with Western countries where IKUE and KELI had their headquarters was frowned on, while the governments of Soviet Union's satellites wanted to interest their citizens in the "real world language", namely Russian. In the German Democratic Republic for example, Esperantists were allowed neither to organise nor publicise their language from 1949 until 196580 and even after that Esperanto activity was possible only within the framework of specified structures which did not allow for cooperation with IKUE or KELI.
The situation in Poland was somewhat more favourable. In 1957 the government at least allowed in "Espero Katolika" (although difficulties remained over the payment of subscriptions).81 But for a long time close cooperation between Christian Esperantists from East and West was not possible and so it is not surprising that in the 1950s and 1960s all IKUE and KELI congresses were held in Western countries.
In the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) the Catholic Church emphasized its readiness for ecumenical cooperation. In July 1966 IKUE accepted KELI's invitation to organise the first joint congress of the two associations. It took place in Limburg (Germany) and was at the same time la 32nd Congress of IKUE and the 21st KELI Congress.82
In the same year, the "Prague Spring" encouraged the Czech members of IKUE and members of the Hussite Church to send out invitations to an ecumenical Esperanto congress in their country. It was scheduled to take place in summer 1970 in Brno. But after the Soviet armed forces invaded, a "normalisation process" began and the Ministries of Culture and the Interior banned the holding of the congress six weeks before its planned opening. The congress was moved to Klagenfurt but only a few of those from Eastern Europe who registered for it succeeded in getting the necessary Austrian visa in time.83
In yet another initiative by Czech IKUE members, the Catholic Esperanto Camps begun in 1969. They were officially called "Recreational Esperanto Camps" so as to partly conceal their religious character. For several years every summer young Catholics from Czechoslovakia and some other countries such as Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands and Italy came together there in friendship - until in July 1977 police raided the camp and arrested the organisers, Miloslav Svacek and Father Vorjtech Srna. Shortly afterwards IKUE's Czech section was disbanded.84
Once again the situation was brighter in Poland where in that same summer the 37th IKUE Congress was held. It was the first congress of its kind in a socialist country and is still the largest-ever IKUE congress with more than 700 participants.85 Catholics from East and West met twice more in socialist countries before the fall of the Iron Curtain - in Varna (1978) and Czestochowa (1987).
The extinction of the totalitarian regimes gave Christian Esperantists in Eastern Europe the freedom they had dreamed of for so long. On the 19th of May 1990 almost 13 years after it was banned, IKUE's Czech section was re-established and - still under the leadership of Miloslav Svacek - it immediately became one of the most active national branches of IKUE. Active IKUE sections were also established in Romania and Lithuania.
Today, both IKUE and KELI are characterised by continuity and stability. From 1961 to 2000 the German pastor Adolf Burkhardt was president of KELI (apart from the years 1975-1981). In summer 2000 his post was taken over by Jacques Tuinder (Netherlands). In IKUE the same office was filled from 1979 to 1995 by the Italian priest Duilio Magnani from Rimini until he handed over to Antonio de Salvo. For the first time two IKUE congresses were held in 1995 - the 48th congress in Olomouc (Czech Republic) and the 49th during the 11th Ecumenical Esperanto Congress in Kaunas (Lithuania). In the same year IKUE was able to purchase its own headquarters in Rome; it now serves as the association's office and the editorial department of "Espero Katolika".
On the 10th of August 1996, during the 15th Catholic Esperanto Camp in Sebranice, young Catholics from Belgium, Germany, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary founded the IKUE youth group under the name of "IKUE-Junularo" (IKUE Youth) or "IKUEJ". According to its constitution, its aims are:
To help young Esperantists find a path to God and Christian living
To advance international understanding and cooperation between young Catholics worldwide
To strengthen young Catholics in their faith
To popularise Esperanto among Catholics
The members of the association not only meet regularly during Catholic Esperanto Camps, IKUE congresses and other Christian events but keep up lively exchanges by letter and e-mail with members in Africa and the People's Republic of China.
4.5 The Attitudes of Popes and Bishops toward Esperanto
The previous chapter dealt chiefly with the involvement of priests and laity in support of Esperanto. We now turn to the attitude of Church authorities to the Esperanto movement.
As early as 1931 the German "Lexicon of Theology and the Church" concluded its article on Esperanto with the words: "The popes from Pius X onwards (and numerous cardinals and bishops) welcomed and supported the Esperanto movement."86 And in fact in the 20th century all the popes in some degree took a favourable view of the work of the Catholic Esperantists.87 Early in the 1930s a note appeared on the cover of "Espero Katolika": "Honoured by the apostolic blessing of Pope Pius X, 27 June 1906 and by Pope Benedict XV, 20 August 1920 and Pope Pius XI, 11 October 1924." These and other blessings were also documented at the time in the pages of "Espero Katolika".
Pope Pius X sent his blessing to "Espero Katolika" and the Catholic Esperantists every year from 1906 until his death in 1914. In addition he spoke about Esperanto in some of his public audiences. On the 4th of April 1909 he told Isidoro Clé, an Esperantist who was director of an ecclesiastical institute in Brussels: "Esperanto has a great future before it".88
Other quotes exist which came to light only after the death of the pope concerned, and which reveal nothing about the time and circumstances of the statement, giving reason to doubt their authenticity. These quotes, in a number of variations, are frequently reprinted in Catholic publications and even more so by non-Catholic Esperantists, for instance the following one attributed to Pius X: "I see in the Esperanto language a valuable means for maintaining ties between Catholics throughout the world."89 While Saint Pius X's very friendly attitude towards Esperanto leads one to suppose that this sentence does fully reflect his opinion, we can be less certain about a quote which is said to have come from Pius XII: "In the future of civilisation I foresee Esperanto having a position similar to Latin in the Middle Ages".90
On the 19th of May 1964 Pope Paul VI received in audience some members of the IKUE Executive. According to a report of the then President of IKUE, the Belgian priest Alfons Beckers, the Pope "showed a lively interest in the Catholic Esperanto movement. He acknowledged the necessity and usefulness of Esperanto and stressed that he wanted to support a language which enables mutual understanding between peoples, for the advancement of harmony and peace."91
The first statement by a pope about Esperanto to be documented by the Vatican newspaper "L' Osservatore Romano" also comes from Paul VI. The 36th IKUE Congress was held in Rome in the Holy Year 1975. During a general audience in St Peter's Square on the 13th of August 1975 Paul VI introduced the groups present: "Another international group, about which I will say a special word of introduction shortly, is that of the participants in the international congress of the Catholic Esperantists. See, they have the green flag which is a symbol of hope, they are the Esperantists."92
And he addressed the congress participants in the following words:
We do not wish to conclude this part of the audience without addressing our greetings and good wishes to the participants in the 36th international congress of the Catholic Esperantists. To your particular cultural goals you wished to add a most delicate religious note, entering into the spirit of the Jubilee which speaks to all people of good will of renewal, of conversion, of rediscovered contact with God, who loves and forgives. May this spirit guide you in the furtherance of fraternity and mutual understanding among the various peoples of the world with different languages, whom you strive to benefit according to your distinctive programme. That is our sincere wish, which we enrich by our apostolic blessing for the gifts of the Lord.93
Two years later the 37th IKUE Congress previously referred to took place in Czestochowa. Its Patron was Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II. In his greeting to the congress he wrote: "Just as Jesus Christ prayed for unity among his disciples (Jn 17,11), in the same way I, in the name of the Church, pray for your intentions. May one faith and one love help you to unite the shattered world in one flock under one Shepherd. And may one transnational language - Esperanto - serve effectively that noble goal."94 Wojtyla accepted the invitation to celebrate Mass in Esperanto by special permission of Paul VI,95 but at the last moment the funeral of the bishop of Poznan, Antoni Baraniak, prevented him from coming.96
After his election as Pope in 1978 nearly 13 years were to pass before John Paul II became the first pope to speak publicly in Esperanto. It was during the 6th World Youth Day in Czestochowa, where, on the 14th of August 1991, he addressed his greetings to more than one million young people there:
Mi donas ankaux en Esperanto bonvenan saluton al la junaj pilgrimantoj el la tuta mondo en cxi tiu tago de universala frateco, kiu vidas nin unuigitajn kiel filojn de unu sama Patro en la nomo de Kristo, vero de la homo.
[I also give a greeting of welcome in Esperanto to the young pilgrims from throughout the world on this day of universal brotherhood, which sees us united as sons of the same Father in the name of Christ, man's truth.]
The next day he again addressed his greetings in many languages to the youth in Czestochowa. In Esperanto he said:
Karegaj junuloj! La sperto de kredo, travivita cxe la piedoj de la "Nigra Madono", restu neforigeble gravurita en viaj koroj. Sanktega Maria akompanu vin!97
[Dearest young people! May the experience of faith, lived at the feet of the "Black Madonna, remain indelibly engraved in your hearts. Most Holy Mary go with you!]
Almost two years later, in the summer of 1993, John Paul II gave his apostolic blessing to the World Esperanto Congress in Valencia:
The Holy Father sincerely greets the organisers and participants of the 78th Esperanto Congress and encourages them to continue their most honourable efforts for a world in which understanding and unity reign.
At the same time the Holy Father asks you to make this meeting of people from different countries, cultures and denominations, who speak the same language, a witness of that brotherhood which should reign without any form of discrimination among all human beings as members of the great family of the children of God, and which encourages personal and collective compromise in order to build peace in their respective homelands. With these sentiments and asking for God's protection on the work of the congress and its participants, the Pope gives the desired apostolic blessing.98
On the 3rd of April 1994 Pope John Paul II gave his Easter greeting before the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing in Esperanto for the first time, wishing "Felicxan Paskon en Kristo resurektinta" ("a Happy Easter in Christ risen").99 That was followed in the same year by the Christmas greeting: "Dibenitan Kristnaskon kaj prosperan novjaron" ("A blessed Christmas and a prosperous new year").100 The Holy Father has repeated these greetings every year since then.
From the 31st of August to the 7th of September 1997 the jubilee 50th IKUE Congress was held in Rome and Rimini with the theme "Go therefore and make disciples of all peoples". During the general audience in St Peter's Square on the 3rd of September 1997 John Paul II greeted the participants directly in Esperanto:
Mi gxojas bonvenigi la responsulojn de Internacia Katolika Unuigxo Esperantista, engagxitajn en sia kvindeka kongreso. Karegaj, la temo de via renkonto reprenas la misian taskon konfiditan de Kristo al sia Eklezio. Akceptu gxin malavare kun tiu spirito de universaleco, kiu estas cxe la bazo de la lingvo, kiun vi kulturas.101
[I am delighted to welcome those responsible for the International Catholic Esperanto Union, engaged in their 50th congress. Dear ones, the theme of your meeting takes up again the missionary task entrusted by Christ to his Church. Accept it generously with that spirit of universality which is the basis of the language which you cultivate.]
The words of the Popes were not the only recognition the Catholic Esperanto movement received from the Vatican. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) had decided to reform the liturgy, in 1966 Esperanto received partial - and in July 1968, full - recognition as a liturgical language.102 On the 8th of November 1990 the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments approved the Mass texts in Esperanto.103 The texts were prepared by a commission led by the Auxiliary bishop of Warsaw Wladyslaw Miziolek (1914-2000). Since the summer of 1995 the "Missal and Readings for Sundays and Feast days" has been available in the form of two volumes in high quality binding with a total of 904 pages.
On the 11th of January 1992 IKUE was recognised by a decree of the Pontifical Council for the Laity as an international association of the faithful under canon law. In its decree, the Pontifical Council for the Laity expresses appreciation of IKUE's aims as set out in its constitution as well as "the various activities carried out by the Union in its programmes and services (Christian formation, publications and communication, charitable and ecumenical activity)".104
A form of recognition with practical importance for the Catholic Esperanto movement is the use of the language by Vatican Radio. In the next chapter we will go into more detail about the broadcasts.
It is interesting to know if there have been any negative attitudes on the part of the Vatican towards Esperanto. In fact we find some of signs of these in newspaper articles. For example the German Catholic News Agency KNA reported on the 2nd of February 1995: "But there was at first an attitude of distrust towards Esperanto within the Catholic Church. For instance its inventor was suspected of being among other things a Freemason."105 And in an article about the publication of the Esperanto Missal in the German Catholic magazine "Christ in der Gegenwart" of 24 September 1995 we read: "The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship had first to overcome considerable opposition - but finally permitted the Esperanto translation of the Roman Missal."
The Missal itself explains what kind of "considerable opposition" was involved. Its introductory pages reproduce the document "Norms for the celebration of the Mass in Esperanto" of the 20th of March 1990 in Italian and Esperanto. It contains a reference to the circular letter "Decem iam annos" of the 5th of June 1976 which represented a setback for the Catholic Esperanto Movement. According to the letter, "the Esperanto language does not of itself offer the qualities which would enable it to be considered a liturgical language and be used ordinarily in the celebration of the liturgy, because it is not a language spoken by a people."106
Concerning the "suspicion" that Zamenhof was a Freemason, it should first be said that the supposition is "probably" not correct according to research by the French historian André Cherpillod in 1997;107 secondly that Freemasonry certainly merits respect from the Catholic viewpoint; and thirdly that Esperanto is first and foremost a language which is not tied to any specific world view.
Beside many popes, also Saint Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) several times showed favour to Esperanto. In 1937 he encouraged students of the Franciscan seminary in Niepokalanów by the words: "The Immaculated likes your participation in the Esperanto movement."108
If we now turn to the attitude of bishops and cardinals towards Esperanto, we readily find hundreds of friendly greetings on the occasion of Christian Esperanto events. When the IKUE congress is held in a country with a strong Catholic Esperanto movement, such as the Czech Republic, Italy or Poland, it is now almost taken for granted that one or several bishops will personally visit the congress to greet the participants, praise their work and celebrate Mass with them. In some countries, such as the Czech Republic in 1991 and Slovakia in 1993,109 the Bishops' Conference has recognised the local chapter of IKUE as an ecclesiastical organisation of laypeople; in other countries - for example in Germany - such recognition has been granted at least in those dioceses in which IKUE members are especially active.
Some countries have bishops who speak Esperanto and often celebrate Mass in that language. The bishop of Eisenstadt (Austria), Dr Paul Iby, speaks the language and has been a member of IKUE for many years.
The Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, mastered Esperanto when he was a student and as a young priest assisted at Catholic Esperanto camps. In the IKUE Congress in Olomouc (Czech Republic) he celebrated Mass in Esperanto. In his homily he stated:
When I am with the Esperantists I always feel not only the advantages of the language, but that it brings about more than mutual understanding, it brings community, unity, communication. And at the level of the Gospel, at the level of the Church, this means one very important thing, because it is not only community but also the presence of Christ among mankind. Christ came to bring the presence of God among people, because this is God's plan. This is paradise. And what you enjoy among yourselves is a real reflection of this.110
More frequently than Cardinal Vlk, Karel Otcenášek, the bishop of Hradec Králové, visits Esperanto events to encourage the participants in their efforts for better understanding.
When expressing their views on Esperanto Church authorities very often acknowledge the contribution of this language towards understanding among peoples and the bringing together of the faithful. On the question of whether it would be worthwhile making concrete changes in the language policy of the Church and the world, their attitude is more guarded.
Here, the Romanian bishop György Jakubinyi went one step further. Jakubinyi was born in 1946 in the Romanian city of Sighetul Marmatiei whose population consisted of Romanians, Hungarians, Ukrainians and Jews. In this multicultural environment reminiscent of Bialystok a century before, Jakubinyi learned Esperanto when he was 13. Later he regularly taught Esperanto to his students while lecturing at the theological college in Alba Iulia from 1972 to 1992.
In 1991 the First Special Synod for Europe was held in the Vatican. There Jakubinyi openly called for the acceptance of Esperanto as a new ecclesiastical language. The German Catholic News Agency agency KNA reported:
Vatican City. The political reversals in Europe have also changed the composition of the simultaneous interpretation team at the venue of the Special Synod for Europe held on Thursday last week in the Vatican: Latin - the Church's "mother tongue" - is no longer on offer, but replaced by Russian. In this way the Secretary of the Bishops Synod recognises the fact that among the 200 participants at the assembly are several representatives from Russian-speaking regions.
The Romanian Auxiliary Bishop György Jakubinyi (Alba Iulia) also made a contribution on the subject of language at the Synod. He proposed replacing Latin, which is not in such common use as it once was, with the international language Esperanto. Latin, the bishop argued, is furthermore a liturgical language only in the Western Church. To prevent "linguistic imperialism", by which big nations try to force their language on small ones together with their culture and outlook, he believes "an artificial international language" is needed behind which no nation stands.111
In 1994 Jakubinyi became archbishop of a diocese with half a million Catholics, of whom 95% are Hungarians. In October 1999 he addressed the Second European Synod concerning the Romanian Bishops' Conference which "to a certain extent mirrors Europe" because of its diverse rites (Latin, Greek Catholic and Armenian) and languages (Romanian, Hungarian, German). "I don't want to idealise our collaboration because there are problems everywhere" he emphasized, and again proposed Esperanto as a solution to the language problem. He has repeated his call on several occasions, for instance at the German Catholic Fairs in Dresden (1994) and Hamburg (2000).
If ever someone truly listens to and considers his suggestion, the following words which the Polish Cardinal Stefan Wyszinski spoke in 1974 to the then president of IKUE Duilio Magnani, could prove prophetic. "In the Second Vatican Council Latin suffered a crisis ... At the next Council they will speak Esperanto."112