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Christoph Schönborn -

Cardinal of Catholic Church and Archbishop of Vienna  


It is well- known that you were born in the neighbouring Bohemia, and later your family moved to Austria. Do you have a close relation to the Slavic countries?
Chirstoph Schönborn: For many generations my family had been living in Bohemia. When we left the country to live in Austria I was only six month old. So my memories to this time are quite faint.

Do you ever return to your places of origin?

C.S.:Yes, the only once I returned to my birth place in Skalken was in May 19, 2007. On the occasion of the 75th birthday of Cardinal Vlk in Prague we took also a trip to visit our old castle in Skalken and the neighbouring town of Sutom, both placed not far from Litomëřice in northern Bohemia. In Sutom I visited the old churchyard, where my ancestors are buried. I also met even my old nurse; she has held me in her hands at the age of 3 or 4 month.. The castle itself, now half a ruin, belongs to the local community and I am happy to be liberated from such properties.  

According to our information you come from an old German aristocratic family.

Could you give us more information?
C.S.: This is true. But what I think is more interesting to know about my family is that there have been a number of Schönborns who also were bishops like I am.


During your studies, you were one of Jozef Ratzinger´s students. What were his lectures like?

Later you also gave theology lectures. Do you still have the opportunity to be active in the academic world?
C.S.: Josef Ratzinger is a very intelligent and humble man. I consider myself extremely fortunate to having had the opportunity to learn from him as a student. What still impresses me is how he listens to his students and is able to get to the heart of these many questions much later.
I dedicate most of my time to pastoral work. The only academic tasks I occasionally take up are the writing of books or lectures sometimes.

Life profession

Your bishop´s slogan reads “I have called you friends“. With this statement could you characterize your path to the priesthood and devotion to God?
C.S.:  It was on a May evening in 1991, more than 20 years ago. I had just received the message that Pope John Paul II had appointed me auxiliary bishop of Vienna. Moved, confused, full of questions, I sat on the bus to go back to my home on the outskirts of Rome.
On this long bus trip a word of Jesus went through my mind again and again: "But I have called you friends"! Today, many years later, I can say: It remains for me one of the most important words spoken by Jesus. It has been very influential in my life: "I no longer call you servants... Instead, I have called you friends". Friendship thrives in that I'm interested in the other, that I share the joy and sorrow of my friend, that I participate on his worries. How friends stood by me in difficult times forms part of the strongest experiences of my life

Pope Francis talks about a particular day in his life, when he felt the closeness and love for God after a confession, and also the call to the priesthood. Did you too have such a decisive day in your life?
C.S.: I have felt the vocation to become a priest by the age of ten or eleven. I guess this was also partly because at that age because of the separation of my parents my home, my family broke apart. Thus I found a home in faith and the catholic church. A pivotal experience was a few years later when I was driving by a car with my mother in the mountains of Austria. I told her that I wanted to become a monk. She was so extremely shocked that we almost had a deathly accident. That we did not die that day is a miracle. Since then she obviously is very happy with my decision.    

Life mission

You worked on the preparation of a Catechism of the Catholic Church. How would you recommend to simple people to work with this important summary of the truths of the Catholic Church?

C.S.: Every Catholic man and woman should be capable to give answer to our faith and to provide sufficient information when we are requested. We all need to know what we believe. The Catechism contains all substantial topics of the catholic faith and gives us orientation for the decisive moral and ethical questions we are confronted in our life. Therefore the Catechism should be used from all faithful in our church, from very young to old people.

You are a shepherd of the Church in Vienna, to which also our country has historical bonds. Currently a lot of Slovaks go to Vienna for study or work. How do you perceive the presence of the Slovaks in Vienna?

C.S.:  I am very glad that there are people from all over the world in Vienna. Regarding the rather Slovak community here I am happy that there still seems to be a strong bond from the mutual history we share.

The Church in Austria and in Slovakia lives in different situations. How would you characterize these differences?
C.S.:  I think that due to the communist regime Slovakia has been ruled by for so many years the developments put forward by the 2nd Vatican Council were hardly put into practice. Therefore during the years since 1962 the catholic church in Slovakia was not able to devote energy to itself as much as in Austria, for example. But on the other hand the development since the fall of the iron curtain has been enormous.

Today the concept a new revival (Evangelism) is frequently heard in the Church. What does this term mean for you. And what it should mean for a simple Catholic?

C.S.: I consider the search for the lord’s way also like an adventure. It is also about considering the times we are living in. The times, society is constantly changing. Within this frame we have to ask ourselves: What is Jesus’ plan for us? The first prerequisite for becoming a “disciple” is a belief in Jesus as the son of god. Second is: prayer. Third: the constant aim of becoming similar to god’s son. Fourth: We are sinners, but sin was taken from us by Jesus when he died on the cross. Fifth: We are not alone in our task of annunciating the word of god.  

Human dimension

Does a Viennese Cardinal have time for himself and his interests?
C.S.:  Well, as you can imagine only very little. But as monk and theologian I dedicate most of my time to god and the people. I consider it as my main task to put the time I have in those.