Two years ago exactly, on Sept. 24, 2018, the Holy Father visited Latvia’s capital of Riga during his whirlwind trip to the Baltic Nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which ZENIT English covered from the Papal Flight.
Recalling this anniversary, ZENIT would like to bring you back to Latvia. Recently, the Archbishop of Riga, Zbignevs Stankevics, reminded that human rights are born from our being made in God’s likeness, and how natural law, is engraved in every person’s soul.
In his speech about human rights to the Vanenburg Society Meeting of 2020 on Aug. 28, the Latvian prelate reminded: “We know that the inspiration for human rights comes from the fact that man was created in the image and likeness of God.”
“Unfortunately,” the Archbishop of Riga highlighted, “there are attempts nowadays to challenge this great notion that these laws are ingrained in human nature. There is a gender philosophy and a whole worldview that says: a human does not be what it is, but human being becomes what it is.” French Grand Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, who wrote an in-depth article showing how homosexual propaganda works today, quotes Simone de Beauvoir famous saying: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
“By this,” Archbishop Stankevics observed, “it is meant that man creates this nature himself, you choose what you become.”
The Latvian prelate noted that “when a person is subjected to such an ideology, he loses his identity. He no longer knows who he is, whether he is a man or a woman. The concept of the family is also losing its foundations and big problems arise.”
As explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Archbishop recalled, “the natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin (CCC 1954). So, however, there is an absolute truth that is not democratically elected, but written in the soul of every human being.”
“God’s law, of course, can be denied, one can invent one’s own laws,” Archbishop Stankevics observed. “But the law of God, who created man and the whole world,” he clarified, “is the foundation upon which men can be truly happy. The path to true happiness does not lead through indulgence to myself and the destruction of my own humanity.” This happiness can be experienced, he noted, even when there is difficulty and suffering.
“So it is important that the laws of this world, including so called human rights,” he noted, “are in line with the natural law, which is inscribed in the soul of every human being, so that they contribute to the formation and existence of a society in which everybody can fully discover and realize one’s humanity.”
This humanity, he said, can be realized “where dignity of every person is respected, where everyone has the right to live, regardless of age, including a newly conceived child, where dignified relationships between people are promoted, regardless their beliefs and convictions, while still seeking the truth and common good.”
Also recently, Archbishop Stankevics celebrated the 10th anniversary of his bishop’s consecration. The first persons of Latvia, including the President and Speaker of the Parliament, were present.
In the future of his ministry, the Archbishop of Riga expressed his hope “to focus on more purposeful promotion of the spiritual awakening of Latvian society through the transmission of divine revelation or the Good News, using modern media and expanding the existing ecumenical cooperation between denominations.”
“It will often require the church to get out of the usual comfort zone,” he recognized. “However,” he said, “we are ready to do so – it would be a sin not to do so, public communication has a role to play in every aspect of the Church’s mission. As Pope Paul VI said, the Church would “feel guilty before the Lord if they did not use these powerful means.” Therefore, even now we are trying to redefine and develop the Catholic Information Center in order to improve the Church’s internal and external communication processes.”
It is important, he acknowledged, to direct public thought to an awareness of “true values, not just ritual, church-specific activities, but a real awareness of what is valuable — for both ourselves and God,” such as love, relationships, family, society, intimacy, togetherness, unity, inner fulfillment and many other aspects of life.
“In recent years,” he said, “it has become clear that society is looking for a way – or perhaps a way back – to spiritual values. The path to meaning and awareness of existence. The way to God. This is done through the search for and practice of various spiritual practices. We want to respond to this trend by showing that the church, the Christian faith, and the spiritual practices offered by the Church are also one way of reaching such a much-coveted and longed-for inner fulfillment.”
Each of these processes of leadership, the exercise of power, and the addressing of society, he noted, are possible “only with humility before God, wisdom, and great inner strength.”
“These are exactly the three things my mother wished for me when I took office ten years ago. And today, in closing, I want to wish you the same thing: humility, wisdom and strength,” concluded Archbishop Stankevics, thanking those present for his presence.
Below are unofficial working translations of the address to the Vanenburg Society Meeting and the Archbishop’s homily for the ten-year anniversary of his episcopal ordination:
Foundations of Human Rights (for Vanenburg Society Meeting 2020)
Every person has a hidden longing to be happy. To achieve this longing, one of the necessary conditions is other people, it is a society that functions according to certain principles, balancing the interests and behavior of individuals. What is happiness for one is misfortune for another – such a view is common, but it leads to a relative attitude. However, there are all-encompassing, absolute values, and they need to be sought, acknowledged. For example, peace, justice – this is something fundamental. Laws, incl. the Constitution is designed to create a society in which one can live in harmony with other people and achieve true happiness. The Constitution is the bearer of the common will and values of the particular society. The Constitution tries to say in a very short, focused way what is most important for the normal functioning of society. Constitutional rights are the basis for the creation of any right in a country. In the context of the Constitution, it is necessary to look at human rights, which are an integral part of it.
Human rights are fundamental rights that are inherent and self-sufficient for each individual since birth. The state began to form about 7-8 thousand years ago, society was formed at least a million years ago, but the concept of human rights appeared only a little over 200 years ago. As a category of the field of law, human rights first of all characterize the relationship between human and state power, power in general. The main function of human rights in this respect is to protect the area of individual freedoms from the intrusion of state power and its totalitarian spread. Human rights are a fundamental restriction of state power that must be respected in relation to all people.
At the heart of human rights must be the man as a personality, because human rights protect the expressions of a particular personality. And they can perform their function only if they have a higher legal rank than other legal norms. It should be noted, however, that in practice these fundamental human rights are subject to different interpretations (for example, the view that abortion and euthanasia are not violations of the human right to life).
And, of course, the lion’s share in the Constitution or in our laws in general is determined by the principle of voting. We simply get together, decide together, vote on what is acceptable to all, and record it in the law.
However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that it cannot be done with the most basic principles, with what is the very basis of the law. Interestingly, over the centuries, it has been the case in the civilizations of our earth that the laws passed were usually based on some religious inspiration. We know that also today some states impose Sharia law on all its citizens, regardless of their religion. It is attempt to embody religious laws in the life of the state. But interestingly, Christianity was the religion that separated the two and never tried to directly bring in what is called Sharia law. Where is the big change? Christianity has always trusted the human mind and what is called human nature.
The first inspiration for the modern legal system came from Rome, it was Roman law combined with ancient Greek philosophy based on the mind. What does it mean? If other religions say that it is necessary to take directly from the Book of Revelation – from the Qur’an or Dhammapada, or Bhagavad-gita or from the teachings of Confucius, then Christianity says: study nature, go into the principles according to which man, society is formed, try to recognize and respect them. Interestingly, this challenge has been accepted and, as a result, human rights, constitutions, etc. have developed in European civilization. And we know that the inspiration for human rights comes from the fact that man was created in the image and likeness of God.
Unfortunately, there are attempts nowadays to challenge this great notion that these laws are ingrained in human nature. There is a gender philosophy and a whole worldview that says: a human does not be what it is, but human being becomes what it is. French Grand Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, who wrote an in-depth article showing how homosexual propaganda works today, has quoted Simone de Beauvoir’s famous saying: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” By this it is meant that man creates this nature himself, you choose what you become. And, behold, when a person is subjected to such an ideology, he loses his identity. He no longer knows who he is, whether he is a man or a woman. The concept of the family is also losing its foundations and big problems arises.
The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin (CCC 1954).
God’s law, of course, can be denied, one can invent one’s own laws.
But the law of God, who created man and the whole world, is the foundation upon which men can be truly happy. The path to the true happiness does not lead through indulgence to myself and the destruction of my own humanity. This happiness can be experienced even when there is difficulty and suffering.
So it is important that the laws of this world, incl. so called human rights are in line with the natural law, which is inscribed in the soul of every human being, so that they contribute to the formation and existence of a society in which everybody can fully discover and realize one’s humanity, where dignity of every person is respected the, where everyone has the right to live, regardless of age, incl. a newly conceived child, where dignified relationships between people are promoted, regardless their beliefs and convictions, while still seeking the truth and the common good.
On Wednesday, August 26, at the St. Jacob’s Cathedral in Riga, the Archbishop of Riga, Metropolitan Zbignevs Stankevics, led the Holy Mass, during which he thanked God for his decade of ministry, as well as shared his thoughts on what he had done during that time. The Archbishop was greeted by President Egils Levits, Speaker of the Saeima Ināra Mūrniece, ministers, representatives of art and culture, of science and education and many other friends. The event was attended by Latvian bishops and clergy.
Below is an unofficial working full text of the archbishop’s address.
Dear ladies and gentlemen, dear brothers and sisters in Christ!
Thank you very much for being present at such an important event for me – the decade of my ministry.
Ten years is both a long and a short time. A long time to learn skills, abilities and get used to the daily routine as an archbishop metropolitan. In short, to gain the trust of the public and to promote change, especially in such old and traditional area as religion. God has endowed each person with some ability, talent and mission. Over the years, I have tried in my best conscience to apply the talents given to me and use them for the common good – in the Church and in society.
Much has been done in these ten years, although some have only just begun or are in the process. What would be the main thing for satisfaction?
Within 9 years, three of our main building complexes were insulated – the Curia, the Theological Seminary and the Catholic Gymnasium, and the bishop’s residence was restored. Renovation of St. Jacob’s Cathedral is currently underway.
An important area is Christian education and formation. Over the years, our educational institutions have not only been preserved, but also developed – the Riga Catholic Gymnasium and the Riga Institute of Religious Sciences. For the second year in a row, the International Missionary Spiritual Seminar “Redemptoris Mater” is taking place, where future priests from several countries are studying.
During these years, “Radio Marija” was launched on the air, where, among other things, young people specializing in social communication at our gymnasium also learn journalistic skills. Joy for the rehabilitation center for addicts “House of Bethlehem”, which celebrated its nine-year anniversary, and for the 17 charity or Caritas groups in parishes, which help the poor.
Good relations with the media have developed over the years, and a large number of interviews have been given. When I took office, a good resonance was caused by my stated goal of ministry: the spiritual rebirth of Latvia. This was evidenced by the title European Man of the Year in Latvia in 2011.
I have been invited many times to speak at various conferences dedicated to various fields, not only spiritual, and have participated in the expert councils of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, as well as in the work of the University of Latvia Council of Advisors.
The international dimension has also been important. Active participation in the four Bishops Synods in the Vatican, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and several other international church structures has required a great deal of time and energy. Three years ago, I was elected Chair of the Commission of Evangelization and Culture in the Council of European Bishops.
Speaking of the international and universal dimension, we should mention the ecumenical Taizé meeting of young Europeans in Riga, which we organized together with the Taizé community and other Christian denominations in Latvia. Pope Francis’ visit to Latvia in the centenary of our country should also be noted. To make it a reality, we worked hand in hand with the representatives of the State and the bishops of our neighboring countries for several years.
Yes, so much has happened and I would like to continue to do the same. Of course, I would also like to complete the work that has started on the refurbishment of the buildings. We are starting to think about using solar panels or geothermal heat to further reduce building maintenance costs.
I would like to strengthen the Christian education system. Work has begun on the establishment of Catholic television, using modern technology and the opportunities provided by international cooperation. An important area is the further education and formation of clergy and religious people. Without it, we will not be able to awaken the “sleeping giant,” that is, a conscientious and persuasive believer to take joint responsibility for the mission of the church and the spread of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel, to the surrounding community. How to do it?
In this regard, I would first like to focus more consciously on the idea of spiritual leadership. We, the leaders of society, and here I will allow ourselves to speak, not just in the form of ‘I’, because everyone present today is a leader in his field, in which a certain part of society listens… We, the leaders, are given a lot. God has given us the opportunity to speak to people – to speak to their minds and souls. As we are given this opportunity, he also expects us to take responsibility for how we use it.
An integral part of leadership is the word, a tool that is used to address and listen. Over the years, I have thought a lot about the power of the word. It is important to realize that first an idea is born in people’s heads, then this idea is formulated and expressed in words, and then an attempt is made to transform the surrounding reality according to this idea. The word carries an idea which, when expressed, creates reality. Examples are not far to look for, the whole last century is full of them. Therefore, as I continue to serve, I will continue to treat the power of the word responsibly, and I urge you to do the same.
Another element that inevitably comes with leadership is influence and power. Power has a dual nature: guided by the flow of righteousness, love, truth and justice, it serves as a fertile ground for change. However, when flowing without direction and without awareness, when it becomes the goal in itself, power can also be devastating. Power is a tool in our hands. Are we leaders always aware of its power?
Every leader in society has a role to play, a function, and a responsibility to God for how that function is performed.
The role of spiritual leaders has always been to strengthen people’s faith, both in God and in themselves, in their own abilities. We serve to awaken and strengthen people’s desire to live a full and internally fulfilled life. This is not possible without inner freedom and peace. Their fruits are also harmony in relations with all people of good will, thus expanding the presence of the Good, the True and the Beauty (in capital letters) in the world.
Many of you present are leaders in other areas of public life. The duty of every leader is to serve – to serve society and to do so with awareness of their influence. A wonderful gift of my decade of service would be the awareness that both I and everyone who is present here, begin to realize themselves as leaders and to be aware of the leader within themselves. To be aware of the gift, the talent that God has given us, to understand our mission, which is entrusted to each of us and for which we have been sent into the world. Only an awareness of our true mission, our calling, can make our leadership meaningful. I invite all of us to be aware of the power over the people and society entrusted to us, it goes hand in hand with our leadership and mission. It is important to use the power given to us responsibly.
A leader promotes the growth of other people; a manager only promotes things. But in order for things to move forward, we must first think about people, their growth, because not technology or finances, but persons are the most important long-term aspect of a company. I want to mention three world-class successful business examples where business executives in their approach as a priority was a deliberate choice of moral leadership – the chairman of the leading tire manufacturer Michelin – Francois Michelin, the head of a major mainstream paper product manufacturing company in the world Kimberly-Clark – Darwin Smith; and Herb Kelleher – the head of the world’s largest low cost airline – Southwest Airlines.
Many entrepreneurs do not believe that virtuous leadership promotes profit. Or rather, do not want to believe. They say, “business is business,” to justify the cruelty to their employees. A real business person is honest with himself. He knows that virtuous leadership is not an obstacle to business, but, on the contrary, serves it. Leadership is realized through character. Temperament is given by nature, but we strengthen our character by inculcating healthy virtues. Virtue is a dynamic force, as evidenced by the origin of the word “virtus” – in Latin “virtus” means “force”. Each of the virtues, if practiced regularly, gradually increases a person’s capacity for action. Virtue creates a space where leadership is realized by winning the trust of those around us. The basis of leadership is the so-called 4 cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, courage and moderation, while generosity and humility are the essence of leadership.
True leaders never manipulate. Nor do they guide others by exercising the “potestas” or power that is resulting from their position. They guide through “auctoritas” – an authority that derives from their character. There is also one good news in the end: leadership does not exclude anyone, it is available to everyone.
Secondly, in the future of my ministry, I would like to focus on more purposeful promotion of the spiritual awakening of Latvian society through the transmission of divine revelation or the Good News, using modern media and expanding the existing ecumenical cooperation between denominations. It will often require the church to get out of the usual comfort zone. However, we are ready to do so – it would be a sin not to do so, public communication has a role to play in every aspect of the Church’s mission. As Pope Paul VI said, the Church would “feel guilty before the Lord if they did not use these powerful means.” Therefore, even now we are trying to redefine and develop the Catholic Information Center in order to improve the Church’s internal and external communication processes.
Third, in making this communication, it is important to direct public thought to an awareness of true values — not just ritual, church-specific activities, but a real awareness of what is valuable — for both ourselves and God. For example, love, relationships, family, society, intimacy, togetherness, unity, inner fulfillment and many other aspects of life. In recent years, it has become clear that society is looking for a way – or perhaps a way back – to spiritual values. The path to meaning and awareness of existence. The way to God. This is done through the search for and experience of various spiritual practices. We want to respond to this trend by showing that the Church, the Christian faith, and the spiritual practices offered by the Church are also one way of reaching such a much-coveted and longed-for inner fulfillment.
Each of these processes — leadership, the exercise of power, and the addressing of society are possible only with humility before God, wisdom, and great inner strength. These are exactly the three things my mother wished me for when I took office ten years ago. And today, in closing, I want to wish you the same thing: humility, wisdom and strength.
Thank you all again for your presence.[WORKING UNOFFICIAL ENGLISH TRANSLATION, FROM LATVIAN]