Religion can play a key part in integrating into a new culture for many foreigners. Often, immigrants arrive to Czech Republic knowing few others from their homeland, and religious communities fill the role of providing an ethnic and cultural haven needed during the transition and inevitable culture shock. The majority of Czechs are not religious, but while the census somewhat reflects the population accurately, an element of governmental distrust pushes some to lie about their religious preferences on official records. Regardless of what the true statistics are, Prague has a selection of places of worship to fit most denominations. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but highlights just a few of the organizations available.
Catholicism makes up the largest percentage of religious Czechs at a mere 10%, so many churches extend their services to the more devoted expat community. St. Thomas’ has daily services throughout the week and Sunday masses can be found at all times of the day and are conducted in either Czech, English, Spanish, or Filipino. My American friend was in Prague for a semester and regularly attended the 11am English mass and now she recommends it to her visiting Catholic friends. The parish participates in outreach missions, such as feeding the homeless, children’s ministry (such as First Communion classes) and weekly bible studies.
Pastor Phil Davis and his team planted this church and have been serving the expat community in Prague for over a decade. They’ve recently had several big milestones: their 10 year anniversary, the first birthday of their bilingual church plant, and the renovation of their worship space. Services are at 4pm on Sundays and conducted in English. Member-led community groups and bible studies meet weekly and they have programs for children and teens.
St. Catherine’s is a worship space for Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian Orthodoxy, and hosts services particularly for the Ukrainian diaspora. Their main service is Sundays at 10am in the Church Slavonic language and a Georgian service is offered on Saturdays at 10am. Last year, a friend invited me to the Georgian service and he forgot to tell me that women are recommended to cover their hair during the service, with the excuse that, as a man, he’s never had to worry about women’s fashion during worship. Despite my faux pas, the congregation had a laugh at my friend’s expense and the priest was eager to answer my questions about their services.
According to the 2011 census, the Vietnamese are the third largest minority in Czech Republic, due to a cooperative work program between the communist nations in which Vietnamese came to Czechoslovakia to work and learn skills to take home. SAPA is a cultural center for Vietnamese and has a tightly packed and vibrant outdoor market where you can find Asian specialty foods and a Vietnamese pagoda, or house of worship.
Prague has an entire Jewish Quarter devoted to the historic impact of Judaism in the city, but for the modern Reform, Orthodox, or Secular Jew looking for an active congregation, many options are available. The Jewish Community of Prague and Beit Praha host worship services, concerts, and have classes on Hebrew language and culture. They meet regularly and these resources are of value to those living in Prague and families with children, as well as tourists.
Europe’s refugee crisis set the tone for the 2017 Czech elections, as politicians set Islam, and corresponding xenophobia in general, high on their list of priorities. Both the current president, Miloš Zeman, and prime minister, Andrej Babiš ran on openly anti-Islamic and anti-immigration platforms. Their subsequent winning of the elections speaks to the light in which most Czechs view Islam, but for the Muslim expat, Prague is much more liberal than the rest of the country. Although faced with unmasked prejudices, an estimated 20,000 Muslims live in the Czech Republic, and the Islamic Foundation in Prague has a mosque with worship services for men and women and offers courses for learning Arabic and educational lectures on Islam.
The Mormon church of Czechoslovakia was established by foreign missionaries long before Communism, but were later denied access to the rest of the worldwide church by the government. The faith persisted through the remaining members and after the borders opened, became officially recognized once again. It has about 2200 members throughout the Czech Republic and Slovakia and is known throughout Prague for their outreach programs and street evangelism.
Moving to a new city is difficult, and whether you are looking for God or for the comforts of home, smart places to start are the religious and cultural centers of Prague.
American by birth and Praguer by choice, Caroline can be found enjoying Pho Bo at one of the city’s many Vietnamese restaurants or finding the best way to promote public transportation.