St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, 26 September 2018
Catechesis on the Journey in the Baltics
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
In recent days I have made an apostolic trip to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, on the occasion of the centenary of the independence of these countries called the Baltics. One hundred years that they lived half under the yoke of the occupations, the Nazi one, first, and the Soviet one, then. They are peoples who have suffered greatly, and for this reason the Lord has looked at them with predilection. I'm sure about this. I thank the Presidents of the three republics and civil authorities for the exquisite reception I received. I thank the Bishops and all those who have collaborated in preparing and carrying out this ecclesial event.
My visit took place in a very changed context compared to the one that met St. John Paul II; therefore my mission was to proclaim to those peoples the joy of the Gospel and the revolution of tenderness, of mercy, because freedom is not enough to give meaning and fullness to life without love, love that always comes from God. The Gospel, that in the time of trial gives strength and soul the struggle for liberation, in the time of freedom it is light for the daily journey of people, families, societies and it is salt that gives flavor to ordinary life and preserves it from the corruption of mediocrity and of selfishness.
In Lithuania, Catholics are the majority, while Lutherans and Orthodox prevail in Latvia and Estonia, but many have turned away from religious life. So the challenge is to strengthen the communion among all Christians, already developed during the harsh period of persecution. In fact, the ecumenical dimension was intrinsic to this journey, and found expression in the moment of prayer in the Riga Cathedral and in the meeting with young people in Tallinn.
In addressing the respective Authorities of the three countries, I have emphasized the contribution they give to the community of nations and especially to Europe: the contribution of human and social values passed through the melting pot of proof. I encouraged dialogue between the generation of the elderly and that of the young, because the contact with the "roots" can continue to fertilize the present and the future. I urged to always combine freedom with solidarity and hospitality, according to the tradition of those lands.
Two specific meetings were dedicated to young people and to the elderly: with the young people in Vilnius, with the elderly in Riga. In the square of Vilnius, full of boys and girls, the motto of the visit to Lithuania was palpable: "Jesus Christ our hope". The testimonies have shown the beauty of prayer and of singing, where the soul opens to God; the joy of serving others, leaving the enclosures of the "I" to be on the way, able to get up after the falls. With the elderly, in Latvia, I emphasized the close link between patience and hope. Those who have gone through hard trials are the roots of a people, to be guarded with the grace of God, so that new sprouts can draw and flourish and bear fruit. The challenge for those who age is not to harden inside, but to remain open and tender in mind and heart; and this is possible with the "sap" of the Holy Spirit, in prayer and listening to the Word.
Even with priests, consecrated persons and seminarians, met in Lithuania, the dimension of constancy appeared to be essential for hope: to be centered in God, firmly rooted in his love. What a great testimony in this they have given and still give many priests, religious men and women religious! They suffered slanders, prisons, deportations ... but they remained steadfast in the faith. I urged not to forget, to keep the memory of the martyrs, to follow their examples.
And speaking of memory, in Vilnius I paid tribute to the victims of the Jewish genocide in Lithuania, exactly 75 years after the closure of the great Ghetto, which was the antechamber of death for tens of thousands of Jews. At the same time I visited the Museum of Occupations and Freedom for Freedom: I stopped in prayer right in the rooms where the opponents of the regime were detained, tortured and killed. They killed more or less forty per night. It is moving to see how far human cruelty can come. Let's think about this.
The years pass, the regimes pass, but above the Gate of the Dawn of Vilnius, Mary, Mother of Mercy, continues to watch over her people, as a sign of sure hope and consolation (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Const. Dogmatum Lumen Gentium, 68).
A living sign of the Gospel is always concrete charity. Even where secularization is stronger, God speaks with the language of love, of care, of free service to those in need. And then the hearts are opened, and miracles happen: in the deserts sprouts new life.
In the three Eucharistic celebrations - in Kaunas, Lithuania, in Aglona, Latvia, and in Tallinn, Estonia - the holy faithful People of God walking in those lands renewed their "yes" to Christ our hope; he renewed it with Mary, who always shows herself to be the Mother of her children, especially the most suffering; he renewed it as a chosen, priestly and holy people, in whose heart God awakens the grace of baptism.
We pray for our brothers and sisters from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Thank you!