When did you last meet a priest who worked in a corporation and in multilevel marketing company, who established a botanical garden and who was on a mission in Latin America for 18 years? I met this incredibly nice Slovak priest for a cup of tea to discuss his life adventures as well as multiculturalism, New Age and quest for happiness.
How did you get from the world of hard business of auditor company Deloitte to a realization that you wanted to become a missionary?
After graduation from the University of Economics, Prague, I needed to prove to myself that I could grow my career and these huge corporations can offer you this growth, despite huge sacrifices in your time and relationships. After two years in Deloitte, I realized that that was not the purpose intended for my life. In parallel I tried to become financially independent via multilevel marketing. It is somehow a religion of its own, as it believes that the financial freedom is the same as freedom of a human being. You start to believe that you are the God but you first need to become financially independent and fulfill your dreams. Something happened afterwards which I call the invisible hand of God.
What was it?
During one conference of important people of this business, my colleague introduced his mother to me who sat next to me in the conference hall. After the show, full of photos from Hawaii and beautiful cars, this small modest lady in a black dress took out Bible and asked me: “Young man, do you think that everything we hear and see here is compatible with the gospel?” That question was such a big hit that I would not recover from it until the end of my life. Before I always saw spirituality and work as something divided, but one cannot live divided. After two weeks I started to leave this structure and the auditor job and then I went to Paraguay to find new challenges and sort my thoughts.
Before I start asking you about your 18-year experience in Latin America I am interested to know what you think of corporations and these multilevel marketing companies?
Many people do not develop talents gifted by God and they live in a state of anesthesia in both work and spiritual area, they are frustrated and do not see starting point. These companies offer them a vision and they put it in contrast with what would happen if one did not do anything with his or her life. They set a work and personal regime, help meet interesting types of people and educate the person. A certain obsession of goals arises and in that moment one starts to focus more on him/herself than on other people. This gradually leads to greater egoism and conflicts with family and friends. Christendom teaches people to serve other people as well, and not only themselves.
So eventually you decided to quit this type of company and go to the continent of your dreams?
Yes, I went to Asuncion to work for a company called MedinCorp which sold dental instruments in MERCOSUR because I needed to clean my head and develop myself spiritually. It was God’s hand which brought me to the desert. When you go away from your roots, you are more accessible to God because you need him more. I was also devoted to spiritual development, I started to cooperate in one local parish and I started to feel the need to help other people there.
Was it in Paraguay that you became a missionary?
It was there where I told myself I would not settle down in Europe anymore, but one changes his mind and God as well and so it changed many times after that. I wanted to join the community life of the mission institute Idente (I knew the missionaries of this congregation from Bratislava), but I got a fax from New York that I should join holy orders in Bratislava. There was this one event before my departure when my bank got bankrupt. Eventually I had to give up on everything and after several years my money was used on some good purposes. I returned to Paraguay several times afterwards because prevision wanted me to finish my theology studies there.
At the end you had to leave the continent.
Well, I came to Bratislava, but after four months they sent me again to Ecuador where I worked as a missionary administrative-financial director of Catholic University in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchillas. I was helping to establish this university, I gave classes and obviously I also had apostolic activities. I often spent 10-12 hours in the office, but local people are exceptional in welcoming and following foreigners who do good in their land. I think there is no better country in Latin America for foreigners than Ecuador.
Apart from all of your activities, you also founded the biggest botanical garden in Ecuador.
On request of then creative bishop Emilio Lorenzo Stehle I started to build a botanical garden in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchillas on a 17 hectare tropical forest land with help of local people, botanists and biologists from Quito, enthusiastic friends from Botanical garden in Nitra and other people. During the first years it was necessary to visit gardens and ecological projects, go for excursions with botanists from Nitra and collect plants in the mountains. It was an incredibly enriching experience. I even used to have dreams about how little plants grow from the seeds that we exchanged with botanical gardens all over the world. After a few years, it was good to back off. The botanical garden used to be called “La Carolina” on request of the bishop but it was then renamed “Julio Marrero”, the first rector of the university who suddenly died. This wonderful missionary, priest and person always supported this project.
And then time came again when you had to leave your beloved Ecuador.
After six years of intensive work in the tropics and related illnesses (I cured from malaria, dengue etc.) I needed some time to recover in Europe. But then I was relocated to La Paz in Bolivia, where we were in charge of a significant children’s home for 100 children. In the past I had visited this city (located 3600 meter above sea) and had problems with breathing and moving. The people and the environment also seemed to be harsh; I simply did not have a good gut feeling. When the time came to decide about my next mission, I prayed to God to send me anywhere but there. I was also convinced that I could not work with children, but eventually I ended being sent to the La Paz children’s home, Ciudad del Niňo Jesús. The God’s hand always sends us further.
How was it in the end?
It was a very difficult and enriching period. I was an administrator of the home where boys in the age of 5 to 20 years lived. After the accession of socialist Evo Morales in 2005, the Catholic church started to become discriminated, accused and persecuted, and this is still ongoing now. We were victims of aggressions, blackmailing and false accusations but we overcame it. Six years after my arrival we had to evacuate the home because of geodynamic movements and risks of destroyed buildings. Living one year in a provisionary accommodation in school and integration of children to families and society we headed with the rest of the children to San Ignacio Velasco where missionaries have an educative mission. I stayed there for three years until most of the boys became independent and then, quite to my surprise, I was sent to Prague.
Yet another surprise. How did you feel about moving to Prague?
I was expecting a new phase in my life at the time, but I had imagined that it would be in Latin America. I was admitted to holy orders as a deacon in Bolivia and as a priest in Prague. It was a hard change but people in Prague and the parish are nice. I began studying again and am now trying to finish my Master’s thesis in theology for which I had no time at all in Latin America. There is a lot of work to be done here and I am sure that a new phase is awaiting me.
I would now like to ask you a few questions about belief and religion. I feel that in our churches there is too much emphasis on sins and suffering and the accent on joy is missing. What do you think about this?
In Latin America priests convey joy and tranquility and they always try to make a joke in their sermon. When you make a joke here, it is often understood as something awkward. They also like to live in a community and celebrate everything. We are not like them but as Slavic people we also need joy, sharing and openness. It is true that priests should not keep on moralizing and theologizing but rather focus on emotions of believers who want to leave the church happy. Imagine the sermon as charging of your mobile phone and it needs to stay charged for one week. The church is a mother and as Pope Francis says, it is not a tax office to chivvy and moralize the believers, which can come later.
How can one find joy based on belief and on God?
The spiritual joy consists in finding a peace in one’s heart. The career growth, material joys and travelling ambitions will not give you a permanent joy. You will get somewhere by achieving these, but then new unfulfilled desires will come and you end up in the same place. The peace encompasses joy, courage, care for other people and service to others. We should not see a sin in everything we do and think of God as controller in the subway. It would not be a joy but a constant worry. Why would Jesus stay with us until the end of the world; to keep on reminding us that we are sinners? He knows that already, that is why he is here with us to accompany us on the path which has both joy and penitence. We are loved by incredible love of God and our energy and vitality comes from that. The dialog with God should stand in the first place. The true joy is born from peace.
Many people search for truth and happiness in eastern religions and New Age. What do you think about this?
It is a sign of hunger for God and for spiritual life, only the form is different. These movements do not require from people any moral efforts; it is connecting with some energy and ideal but based on efforts emanating from yourself. In Christendom it is our effort but also the initiative of God, who invites us. The New Age considers Christ as one of the teachers and thus takes his divinity which moves everything into some level of relativity. People can choose and get lost in pseudophilosphies and theologies. We need to ask ourselves the question: Is the Catholic church trustworthy for young people to fulfill their spiritual life? That is why our pope Francis encourages us to go among people. These pseudoreligions are attractive but do not constitute a live dialogue with God.
Does the Church try to face this and modernize?
Pope Francis has brought a revolution. He tries to get the Church to rid of its covers. He builds on relationships with the poorest, the unbelievers; he fights corruption, inflexible structures, nontransparent management of assets, intolerance and abuse of children. Even if the Church should lose believers on the way, it needs to be clean and trustworthy.
And what do you think of multiculturalism and coexistence of individual religions?
As Christians we know that we all have common Father, we are brothers and we are to love each other and coexist. Concerning practicalities, these are in charge of citizens who should be able to decide about important social questions based on a referendum. We all have our rights and duties, this is valid in both society as well as in family. If some people do not want to accept it, we are not obliged to live with them. We should encourage other people to find in their own religion what is holy and this will lead the person to the good.
I am interested to know what is the hardest and most beautiful part of your profession?
The hardest part is to love all, forgive and lead by example. “Love each other as I loved you”, preached Christ. We should all have it written on our table. The most beautiful thing is to meet God daily through the Eucharistic and see God’s hand in destinies of many people.
How do you perceive God?
God is the one who gave us a free will and who intervenes physically only in exceptional cases in human history, but mainly spiritually – mystically, but despite that He is the Master of the history and life. If he would intervene in everything we do, we would not fulfill the function as freely thinking persons that we are. We should decide for God with our free will. If he was constantly interfering then we would not even have a cup of tea with sugar, because sugar destroys our organism and shortens our life and so he would come and say “Without sugar” (laughter).
Thank you very much for the amazingly interesting interview and for the joke at the end.
Copyright: Miloš Miko