Pope Francis has kicked off his 25th Apostolic Visit abroad to the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Zenit’s Deborah Castellano Lubov is following the trip again from the Papal Flight.
The Holy Father took a 7:30 a.m. AZ400 Alitalia flight from Rome—which for those of us on the Papal flight meant a 3 a.m. alarm. We arrived by 10:30 a.m. local time. When greeting journalists, including Zenit, during the flight, the Holy Father thanked journalists for their work and encouraged them to recognize and appreciate how these three countries have a lot in common, but still are diverse from one another.
Moments after a joyous and music-filled welcome ceremony outside the flight, despite the rain and ominous clouds, the Pope and papal entourage headed toward the center of the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, where Francis was received by the nation’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė. As is customary, they exchanged gifts and the Pope signed the book of honor.
During the Supreme Pontiff’s address to authorities, he reminded: “It is a source of joy and hope to begin this pilgrimage to the Baltic countries in Lithuania, which is, in the words of Saint John Paul II, ‘a silent witness of a passionate love for religious freedom.'”
“Each generation is challenged to make its own the struggles and achievements of the past, and to honor in the present the memory of all those who have gone before. We do not know what tomorrow bring,” he said, “but we do know that each age has a duty.” That duty, he explained, is to “cherish the ‘soul’ that created it and helped it to turn every situation of sorrow and injustice into opportunity, preserving alive and healthy the roots that nurtured the fruits we enjoy today.”
“Truly,” he affirmed, “this people has a strong “soul” that enables it to hold fast and to keep building!”
Lithuanians, he acknowledged, should be applauded on their “welcoming differences.”
“Through dialogue, openness and understanding,” he said, “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.”
Following that encounter, the Pope headed toward lunch, which took place at the nunciature. Despite news published today about China and the Holy See taking many’s attention, the Pope’s trip seemed to be truly pastoral.
The Pope’s stop in the afternoon was to pray and speak at the famous Shrine of Mater Misericordiae (Shrine of the Mother of Mercy), where there is the beloved image of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn, much venerated, which many believe to be a source of cures and healing.
There, The Holy Father underscored that Mary, the Virgin Mary “Mother of Mercy,” is the holy Mother of God who is always ready to help us, to come to our aid.
“As we contemplate the mysteries of the Rosary, let us ask Mary that we may be a community
capable of proclaiming Jesus Christ our hope,” he said, praying: “May Mary always be the Gate of Dawn for this whole blessed land.”
“The Mother of Mercy, like every good mother,” the Argentine Pope observed, “tries to bring her family together. She whispers in our ear: ‘Look for your brother, look for your sister.’ In this way, she opens to us the door to a new dawn, a new day.”
On the way to the youth gathering, Pope Francis unexpectedly stopped at a hospice in Vilnius to greet and blessed terminally ill patients who were waiting outside under a tent along his popemobile route.
During his subsequent youth meeting, he was met with much enthusiasm. Some young people performed and expressed to him their concerns, to which he responded with practical advice.
“Jesus fills our lives,” he underscored, stressing: ‘Young people, it is worth it to follow Christ!’
‘We are Christians, we are working toward holiness,’ the Holy Father reminded, urging: ‘Don’t be afraid to go against the current!’
Pope’s Address to Authorities: https://zenit.org/articles/popes-address-to-authorities-in-lithuania/
Pope’s Words at Shrine: https://zenit.org/articles/holy-fathers-remarks-at-shrine-of-the-mother-of-mercy-vilnius-lithuania/