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Zeman gives Masaryk order to Vatican Ambassador Leanza

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Prague, March 21 (CTK) – Czech President Milos Zeman presented Apostolic Nuncio Giuseppe Leanza, the Vatican’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, with the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk at a ceremony at Prague Castle, the presidential seat, on Wednesday.

The order, the second highest state decoration after the Order of White Lion, bears the name of the first Czechoslovak president Masaryk (1918-35).

Leanza, who was appointed to the post by Pope Benedict XVI, has been the Vatican’s ambassador to Prague since 2011. As he turned 75 this year, he ends in the post. His successor is to be announced in the course of this year.

Leanza received the Masaryk order for his excellent contribution to the development of democracy, humanity and human rights, the Presidential Office said.

As a foreign citizen, he can receive a state order any day and not only on the state holidays on October 28, the Day of the Establishment of the Independent Czechoslovakia in 1918, or January 1, the Day of the Restoration of the Independent Czech State, when state orders and medals are regularly presented.

In the past, Leanza occupied the same post in Haiti, Zambia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Macedonia and Ireland. He also served in the Apostolic Nunciature in Paraguay, Uganda and USA.

None of Leanza’s predecessors received such a high Czech state order, according to available sources.

After the collapse of the communist regime in 1989, the Czechoslovak and Czech presidents presented high orders mainly to representatives of domestic Catholics. Zeman bestowed the supreme state order on Prague Archbishop Cardinal Dominik Duka, while archbishops Frantisek Tomasek, Miloslav Vlk and Josef Beran (in memoriam) were awarded the Masaryk order by President Vaclav Havel and his successor Vaclav Klaus. Rabbi Karol Sidon also received this order.

Zeman, who assumed office in 2013 and was re-elected for another five year-term in January and inaugurated on March 8, has so far given the Masaryk order to 13 personalities, including foreigners.

Last year, Zeman bestowed it on the late Slovenian architect Joze Plecnik (1872-1957), who left a significant imprint on Prague Castle, and American diplomat Charles Crane (1858-1939) in memoriam.

Zeman has also decorated some foreign personalities with the Order of White Lion, such as Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Briton Nicholas Winton (1909-2015), who saved several hundred Czech Jewish children before WWII.

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