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Aglona Shrine -- Copyright: Vatican Media

FEATURE: ‘Here & Now, Like Mary Did, We Can Say Yes to God’s Plan for Our Lives,’ Archbishop Stankevics Encourages Latvians at Miraculous Marian Shrine

Affirmation of Family & Sacredness of Life, Featured on Latvia’s #1 TV Channel, on Feast of the Assumption

Latvia’s most beloved Marian Shrine has brought together tens of thousands of faithful and the whole nation, not only Catholics, partook.

In the Sanctuary of Aglona, as always on the Feast of the Assumption, along with the President of Latvian Bishops, Janis Stulpins, Archbishop Metropolitan of Riga, Zbignevs Stankevics, and all Latvian bishops, the Latvian President, Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister were present. The Speaker and Prime Minister read the Prayer of the Faithful.

ZENIT’s Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov, was on the Papal Flight for Pope Francis’ September 2018 Apostolic Visit to the Baltic Nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. To understand the importance of the trip, she interviewed Archbishop Stankevics, and during those days, she also was present at the Holy Father’s Mass in Latvia’s most famous shrine of Aglona.

Speaking about the religious make up of the Baltic Nation, Archbishop Stankevics had told ZENIT that “we Catholics are about a quarter or a fifth of the population, next to Lutherans, 30%, Orthodox, under 20%, and other smaller denominations.”

“The collaboration is very good,” he said, noting: “It is the reason why in the preamble of the Latvian Constitution, Christian values, alongside universal national and human values, are mentioned as the foundation of Latvia. The Constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. There is a law that forbids immoral propaganda in schools.”

In September 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the Aglona Shrine, and last September, Pope Francis celebrated Mass there.

Aglona is famous in particular, for the Basilica of the Assumption of Mary, which attracts pilgrims from Latvia and not only, especially on the Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary.

Having long been an object of veneration, the historic icon of the Aglona Mother of God, which dates back to the 17th Century, is considered miraculous.

The content of the Metropolitan of Riga on the Feast of the Assumption “was very rooted in the Latvian reality,” he told ZENIT, noting “it was an analysis of the processes of the last 30 years in the light of the Word and of the Social Doctrine of the Church.” The Archbishop received many words of gratitude from the various components present and from those watching.

He also observed that the Prime Minister is a Lutheran, and contributed “strong” prayer at the event.

“The Via Crucis of the local bishop, on Aug. 14, at 10 pm, was also in the presence of the President and the Speaker of Parliament,” he also conveyed to ZENIT, “was strong – without politically correctness, on the theme of the family and the defense of life and human dignity.”

Everything was broadcast on the nation’s primary, number one, television channel.

In his homily, Archbishop Stankevics encourages Latvians to “entrust to God all your hopes, dreams and heart desires.” He expressed his belief that the journey taken to arrive at the sanctuary and their common prayer, “will help us open ourselves to the wisdom, peace, and power that comes from above, makes us better, inspires us, and touches the deepest strings of the soul.”

After explaining many of the concrete issues facing Latvians, the Archbishop argues: “The power of Christ’s death and Resurrection is capable of transforming our lives, transforming Latvia.”

The Virgin Mary, the Latvian prelate underscored, was the one who opened up to the presence of God in her life. After talking to the angel and deciding to say “yes” to God’s plan in her life, Mary took the child of Jesus into her body by the Holy Spirit, he reminded.

“Here and now,” he exhorted, “we can say to God ‘yes’ to His plan for our lives.”

“In baptism, we are “grafted” on the true vine, Jesus Christ, and united with Him, the seed of divine life is sown in us. With our new ‘yes,’” the archbishop said, “we will allow this seed to develop and grow.

Noting it “will transform us,” he stressed it will also give us the power to transform the world around us, including the sphere of economic, political and social life. “Mary got up and went hurriedly to the mountains.”

“Following this worship, we too will rise and challenge our lives in the mountains, transforming the reality around us according to the Word of God we hear today,” he said, praying: “I hope that after this special day, we would feel the mysterious power we receive in this place.”

Here are links to both events:

https://replay.lsm.lv/lv/ieraksts/ltv/165304/vissvetakas-jaunavas-marijas-debesis-uznemsanas-svetki-aglona-sveta-mise

https://replay.lsm.lv/lv/ieraksts/ltv/165255/vissvetakas-jaunavas-marijas-debesis-uznemsanas-svetki-aglona-tautas-krusta-cels

Here is the full homily of Archbishop Stankevics, provided to ZENIT’s Deborah Lubov, for which, she provides a ‘working’ translation from Latvian:

***

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (Corinthians 15:22)

Dear pilgrims and guests!

I sincerely greet all of you who have come from all corners of Latvia here on the sacred square of the Aglona Shrine to entrust to God all your hopes, dreams and heart desires. I believe that the path taken and the common prayer will help us open ourselves to the wisdom, peace, and power that comes from above, makes us better, inspires us, and touches the deepest strings of the soul.

The Virgin Mary plays an indispensable role in God’s plan. Newly read texts help us understand the past 30 years since the beginning of the Awakening. Many of us were standing on the Baltic Way, the anniversary of which will be remembered on August 23. Since then, life has moved on, full of new events and surprises. Of course, we want to understand the meaning of these events, and here the social doctrine of the Church is helping. It answers the question: What exactly can I do to improve the quality of my life and that of my fellow human beings?

We just heard that “a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed in the sun, and the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars in her head. And she gave birth to a son, a man who shall rule over all nations” (Rev. 11-12). Today we thank God for the sun-clothed woman who has given birth to Jesus Christ, and we have just heard, “As all die in Adam, so shall all be made alive again in Christ” (1 Cor. 15). Death came into the world as a result of Adam’s sin. Jesus went through the gates of death in solidarity with every man who died. But as the power of God dwelt in him, his body was built from the dead, and transformed.

The doctrine of Christ, which embodies a paradoxical and unimaginable message to human logic, has attracted people’s attention for two thousand years. Why is this happening? People are looking for answers to life’s important questions. So what are the issues that affect Latvian society as a whole?

The first of these is: almost 30 years have passed since we regained our independence, there is a lot of talk about achievements, but why so many people have no real satisfaction with what has been achieved? On the contrary, we face bitterness, frustration and sharp criticism on a daily basis. It is irrelevant whether, in the eyes of others, Latvia is a success story. It is important how people who live in Latvia feel! The main task of the public administration and its officials is to care for the people who make it up. To do this qualitatively, one has to understand the regularities of societal and economic development, and to adopt the laws that are right for them, and to further improve the loopholes in these laws. Moreover, it is extremely important to be able to anticipate the consequences of the decisions made, also in the long term. We need to understand how these decisions and the actions that they follow will affect everyone and their lives. These are the conditions for people to be satisfied with their country and want to live in it. However, the facts show that people are still leaving Latvia and the population is constantly decreasing. Demographic trends cannot be ignored, as a nation without people is unthinkable.

Why do people leave Latvia and those who stay away avoid long-term goals and serious business?

People are frightened by the uncertainty of the future. There are several reasons for this:

1) Alienation of state institute and society, frequent change of conditions affecting the living conditions of the population, including business and employment.

People crave for certainty and predictability, for stability. In recent years, we have had so much change that it has created concern and fear for our future. For example, at the beginning of this year, many thousands of us were horrified to learn that they owed the State Personal Income Tax (PIT).

Another example is the reform of schools and health care facilities, official reason is population decline. This reform is the result of a policy of depopulation of the area and is being implemented ruthlessly, ignoring population protests and exacerbating future demographic challenges. Much is now being written and discussed about administrative-territorial reform. If reform officials cannot explain why we should do it, then people do not understand it and they do not cooperate. In the end, the desired result is not achieved.

Another example of this estrangement is the event described in mass media, where the Tax and Customs Police, managed by the SRS, searched five Roman Catholic congregations and seized 36 thousand EUR, of the money found there.  I hope that the real cause of this event is the lack of information and understanding of the Church. It is important to understand that we are on the same boat, and that the values ​​of both are respect, the rule of law, honesty in finances and responsibility to society. In the case of diverging understandings on some issues, it is important to communicate and resolve the issues through dialogue rather than positions of power.

2) Long-term view, evaluation of the consequences of the decisions made is very important in public policy.

Recently, the media reported that there is a shortage of bridge builders in Latvia, but there are huge numbers of bridges which urgently needs reparation. Discussions about the need for a higher education institution for police training have resumed, but the existing one has been removed as unnecessary. Millions are currently being planned for the reconstruction of former railway lines, which were destroyed despite evidence that railway is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly mode of transport. In these cases, has the desire for short-term gain prevailed over a broader and longer-term view?

Frequent changes in the law are often explained by the unintended consequences of past changes that seek to eliminate them with subsequent changes.

3) Injustice, unequal attitude and contradiction between words and deeds.

People are angry, offended and saddened by the injustice they face on a daily basis. In a state governed by the rule of law, power structures stand guard over the law and the rights of the citizen, defending the individual. When power structures, under cover of the letter of the law, are used to advance particular – ideological, political or business interests – people feel intimidated. Once the law is instrumentalized, it no longer serves to defend the individual and he begins to feel like he is in a police state.

The injustice is the shifting of the cost of eliminating the effects of economic hardship and crisis onto the shoulders of the most deprived people, mainly through social and infrastructure funding to overcome the crisis. Not only has it hindered business, it has also driven speculative and high-risk finance, which exacerbates inequalities. However, tax reform, which was intended to close the gap between the rich and the poor, does not appear to have achieved its goal.

These are the issues that employ many people in Latvia. What does the teaching of Christ say about this?

In his address at Riga Castle, Pope Francis reminded us of the importance of being able to look upward, opening to the call for higher horizons. Without it, the restoration of our nation is impossible. Here we are grateful to everyone working on this challenge to help our community develop this spiritual upward look – organizers of pilgrimages and pilgrims, parishes and their clergy, government and local government here for their contributions and support.

We must not forget that economic activity and material progress must serve man and society. In God’s plan, the economy is merely a means of the general growth of the individual and of society, and of raising the quality of human life. Wealth exists to be shared. Material benefits are always for everyone; however, any unlawful accumulation thereof is immoral because it is in stark contrast to the universal assignment of the Creator to all good (cf. N 328). Evil is an excessive attachment to riches.

The economy cannot be separated from its ethical dimension. Economic growth achieved at the expense of individuals or social groups, pushing them into the poverty and exclusion is unacceptable. As wealth grows, it is also important to grow in the virtue of solidarity. If economic activity is conducted in accordance with ethical standards, it becomes a mutual service in the production of goods and services necessary for the development of each person. (332-333)

These are the Church’s basic guidelines for economic life. For more details, see the recently released Compendium on Church Social Teaching. What is the main prerequisite for the implementation of these guidelines in our lives? Farewell to His disciples, Jesus promised, “I am with you daily to the end of the world.” Those who open up to His mysterious presence are transformed, gaining a new view of things, including the economy, and a different degree of freedom in relationship to money and property appears. The power of Christ’s death and Resurrection is capable of transforming our lives, transforming Latvia. Pope Francis at the Riga Dome reminded us: “If the music of the Gospel ceases to sound in our homes, our public squares, our workplaces, our political and financial life, then we will no longer hear the strains that challenge us to defend the dignity of every man and woman, whatever his or her origin. We will become caught up in what is “mine”, neglecting what is “ours”: our common home.”

The Virgin Mary, whom we especially mention today, was the one who opened up to the presence of God in her life. After talking to the angel and deciding to say “yes” to God’s plan in her life, Mary conceived the child of Jesus into her body through the Holy Spirit. She then “got up and went hurriedly to a city” (Lk 1:39) to serve her relative at a difficult time in her life. Here and now we can say to God yes to His plan for our lives. In baptism, we are “grafted” on the true vine, Jesus Christ, and united with Him, the seed of divine life is sown in us. With our new “yes” we will allow this seed to develop and grow. It will transform us and give us the power to transform the world around us, including the sphere of economic, political and social life. “Mary got up and went hurriedly to the mountains.” After this worship, we too will rise and go to face the mountains of challenges of our lives, transforming the reality around us according to the Word of God we hear today. I hope that after this special day, we would feel the mysterious power we receive in this place.

When the reign of God comes into our lives, we discover that our country, Latvia, is not an abstract entity, but real, alive and concrete people, and concepts such as solidarity, common good, benefit to all, subsidiarity and participation cease to be abstractions, but become understandable and filled with specific content. And in a society that respects these principles, the quality of life of each of its members can increase.

The meaning of the trials of the past thirty years helps us understand the meaning of Pope John Paul II: “All human suffering, every pain, and weakness, hold the promise of salvation and joy. “Brethren, now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,” wrote the Apostle Paul (Col 1:24). This applies to all suffering caused by evil. It is about the immense social and political evils that shake and plague the modern world … It is only to awaken in us the love which means giving ourselves by serving unselfishly and selflessly those who suffer. The love that comes from the heart of Christ gives hope for the future of the world. ”

Finally, I would like to quote Pope Francis to Latvia: “The centenary reminds us of the importance of continuing to focus on Latvia’s freedom and independence, which is certainly a gift, but at the same time a task that involves everyone. Working for Freedom means engaging in the full and inclusive development of people and society … That spiritual capacity to see more deeply, as expressed in small and daily gestures of solidarity, compassion and mutual assistance, has sustained you and in turn has given you the creativity needed to generate new social dynamic.”

Amen!

[Full Text provided to ZENIT’s Deborah Lubov, by Archbishop Stankevics]

About Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is a 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 four languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight, and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. 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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