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GENERAL AUDIENCE: On Papal Trip to Baltic Countries (Full Text)

‘My mission was to proclaim anew to those peoples the joy of the Gospel and the revolution of tenderness, of mercy, because freedom isn’t enough to give meaning and fullness of life, without love, the love that always comes from God’

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This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:30 in St. Peter’s Square, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.
In his address in Italian, the Pope focused his meditation on his Apostolic Journey to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which just ended (Bible passage: from Psalm 126, 1-6).
After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present. Then he made an appeal on the occasion of the signing of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, on the appointment of Bishops in China, which took place in Beijing last September 22.
The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.
* * *
The Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
In the past days, I have just completed an Apostolic Journey to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, on the occasion of the centenary of the independence of these Baltic countries. One hundred years, half of which they lived under the yoke of Occupations, first the Nazi and then the Soviet. They are people that have suffered much and, because of this, the Lord has looked at them with predilection. I’m certain of this. I thank the Presidents of the three Republics and the civil Authorities for the exquisite reception I received. I thank the Bishops and all those that collaborated to prepare and carry out this ecclesial event.
My visit happened in a rather changed context from that which St. John Paul II found. My mission was to proclaim anew the joy of the Gospel and the revolution of tenderness, of mercy, because freedom isn’t enough to give meaning and fullness of life, without love, the love that always comes from God. The Gospel, which in the time of trial gives strength and encourages the struggle for liberation, in the time of freedom is light for the daily journey of people, of families, of the society, and salt that gives flavour to ordinary life and preserves it from the corruption of mediocrity and egoisms.
In Lithuania, Catholics are the majority, whereas in Latvia and Estonia Lutherans and Orthodox prevail; however, many have distanced themselves from religious life. Therefore, the challenge is that of reinforcing communion among all Christians, already developed during the harsh period of persecution. In fact, the ecumenical dimension was intrinsic to this trip, and found expression in the moment of prayer at the Cathedral of Riga and in the meeting with young people in Tallinn.
In addressing the respective Authorities of the three countries, I stressed the contribution they make to the community of Nations and, especially, to Europe: contribution of human and social values, which passed through the crucible of trial. I encouraged dialogue between the generation of the elderly and that of young people, so that contact with the “roots” can continue to fertilize the present and the future. I exhorted to always combine freedom with solidarity and hospitality, according to the traditions of those lands.
Two specific meetings were dedicated to young people and the elderly: in Vilnius with young people, in Riga with the elderly.  Palpable in the Square in Vilnius, full of boys and girls, was the motto of the visit in Lithuania: “Jesus Christ Our Hope.” The testimonies expressed the beauty of prayer and singing, where the soul opens to God, the joy of serving others, coming out of the enclosure of the “I” to be on the way, able to rise after falls. In Latvia with the elderly I stressed the close bond between patience and hope. Those that have gone through harsh trials are the roots of a people, to protect with God’s grace, so that the new shoots can draw from them and flower and bear fruit. The challenge for those growing old is not to harden inside, but to remain open and tender in mind and heart, and this is possible with the “lymph” of the Holy Spirit, in prayer and in listening of the Word.
Also with the priests, the consecrated and seminarians in Lithuania, the dimension of constancy seemed essential for hope: to be centred on God, firmly rooted in His love. What great witness of this so many elderly priests, men and women religious have given and still give! They suffered slander, imprisonment, deportation . . . , but they remained firm in the faith.  I exhorted not to forget and to guard the memory of the martyrs, to follow their example.
And, in connection with memory, in Vilnius I paid homage to the victims of the Jewish genocide in Lithuania, exactly 75 years since the closure of the Ghetto, which was the anti-chamber of death for tens of thousands of Jews. At the same time I visited the Museum of the Occupations and the Struggles for Freedom: In fact, I paused in prayer in the rooms where the opponents of the regime were detained, tortured and killed. They killed more or less forty a night. It’s overwhelming to see to what point human cruelty can reach. Let us think of this.
The years pass, regimes pass, but above the Gate of Dawn of Vilnius, Mary, Mother of Mercy, continues to watch over her people, as sign of sure hope and consolation (cf. Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 68).
Concrete charity is always a living sign of the Gospel. Even where secularization is strongest, God speaks with the language of love, of healing, of free service for those in need. And then hearts open, and miracles happen: new life springs in the deserts.
In the three Eucharistic celebrations — at Kaunas, Lithuania; at Aglona, Latvia and at Tallinn, Estonia — the holy faithful People of God journeying in those lands renewed their “yes” to Christ, our hope. They renewed it with Mary, who always shows herself Mother of her children, especially those suffering most; they renewed it as chosen, priestly and holy people in whose heart God reawakens the grace of Baptism. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters of Lithuania, of Latvia and of Estonia. Thank you!
[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
In Italian
A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims.
I’m happy to receive the Capitulars of the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate; the participants in the meeting organized by the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, and that organized by the Daughters of Mercy.
I greet the parish groups; the faithful of the Diocese of Alessandria with the Bishop, Monsignor Guido Gallese and Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi; the Saint Clare of Assisi School of Avellino; the Group of the University of Foggia; the Monsignor Cesare Mazzolari Foundation of Concesio and the pilgrims of Robbio.
A particular thought goes to young people, the elderly, the sick and newlyweds.
Observed today is the liturgical memorial of the Holy Doctors and Martyrs Cosmas and Damien. Let us learn, from these two brothers, the Christian witness of their faith in the tireless and free care, given to all those afflicted by infirmities. Through their intercession, may the Lord give comfort and health to all those that are suffering and sick and inspire generosity and a spirit of service in all those involved in health care.
The Holy Father’s Appeal
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last Saturday, September 22, a Provisional Agreement was signed in Beijing between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, on the appointment of Bishops in China. The Agreement is the fruit of a long and pondered path of dialogue, geared to fostering a more positive collaboration between the Holy See and the Chinese Authorities for the good of the Catholic community in China and for the harmony of the entire society.
In this spirit, I decided to address to Chinese Catholics and to the whole universal Church a Message of fraternal encouragement, which will be published today. With this, I hope that a new phase will open in China, which will help to heal the wounds of the past, to re-establish and maintain the full communion of all Chinese Catholics and to assume with renewed commitment the proclamation of the Gospel. Dear brothers and sisters, we have an important task! We are called to accompany our brothers and sisters in China with fervent prayer and fraternal friendship. They know that they are not alone. The whole Church prays with them and for them. I ask Our Lady, Mother of Hope and Help of Christians to bless and protect all Catholics in China, while we invoke from God the gift of prosperity and peace for all the Chinese people.
[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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