Pope in the Baltic States: Lithuania, model for the European Union

At the beginning of his trip to the Baltic countries, Pope Francis mentioned the 25th anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s visit. Lithuania has a population of around 2.9 million, 79 per cent of whom are Catholic. "Welcoming differences" is the model Lithuania experienced in its past, to be proposed today to the world. Young people "are not only the future but also the present of this nation, if they can remain attached to the roots of the people.”

Vilnius (AsiaNews) – Lithuania, which in its history has always been capable of "welcoming differences", can offer itself as a model of cohabitation "to the international community and in particular to the European Community,” said Pope Francis in his greetings to the people of Lithuania in his first address in the square in front of the presidential palace in Vilnius.

The pontiff left Rome this morning for a visit to the Baltic states (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia) which will last until Tuesday (25 September). Upon arrival at the airport of the Lithuanian capital, he was welcomed by President Dalia GrybauskaitÄ—.

Together they travelled to the presidential palace. After a private meeting, Francis met the authorities, the diplomatic corps and representatives of civil society groups; in all, a few thousands of people. Lithuania has a population of around 2.9 million, 79 per cent of whom are Catholics.

In his address, after mentioning John Paul II’s pilgrimage 25 years ago, the pope urged the people of Lithuania "to make its own the struggles and achievements of the past, and to honour in the present the memory of all those who have gone before ", a century after the declaration of independence of the country, "a century marked by your bearing numerous trials and sufferings: detentions, deportations, even martyrdom.”

“Throughout its history, Lithuania was able to shelter, receive and accept peoples of various ethnic groups and religions. All found a place to live in this land – Lithuanians, Tartars, Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Armenians, Germans … Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Old Catholics, Muslims, Jews – lived together in peace until the arrival of totalitarian ideologies that, by sowing violence and lack of trust, undermined its ability to accept and harmonize differences.”

"If we look at the world scene in our time, more and more voices are sowing division and confrontation – often by exploiting insecurity or situations of conflict – and proclaiming that the only way possible to guarantee security and the continued existence of a culture is to try to eliminate, cancel or expel others.  Here you Lithuanians have a word of your own to contribute: “welcoming differences”.

"Through dialogue, openness and understanding, you can become a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe.  This is the fruit of a mature history, which you as a people can offer to the international community and to the European Community in particular."

Francis also turned his thoughts to young people, “who are not only the future but also the present of this nation, if they can remain attached to the roots of the people.”

“The Lithuania of which they dream will depend on tireless efforts to promote policies that encourage the active participation of young people in society.  Doubtless, this will prove a seed of hope, for it will lead to a dynamic process in which the “soul” of this people will continue to generate hospitality: hospitality towards the stranger, hospitality toward the young, towards the elderly and the poor, and, ultimately, hospitality toward the future.”

Finally, Francis assured that the country can count on “the efforts and the cooperation of the Catholic Church, so that this land can fulfil its vocation as land that serves as bridge of communion and hope.”