Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 21, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of his visit to the Baltic states Sept. 22-25, Pope Francis praised liberty and said his trip would honor those who have sacrificed for the freedom the countries now experience.
In a video message to the people of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia Sept. 20, Francis said freedom, “as we know, is a treasure that must be constantly preserved and handed down, as a precious heritage, to the new generations.”
His visit coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Baltic states, which were part of the Russian Empire until 1917 and gained independence in 1918.
They became part of Soviet Union in 1940-1941, endured Nazi domination in 1940-1944, and were returned to the Soviet Union in 1945. In 1991, they regained democratic independence, and have been members of NATO and the EU since 2004.
The pope said his visit “will honor all those whose sacrifices in the past have made possible the liberties of the present.”
“In times of darkness, violence and persecution, the flame of freedom is not extinguished, but inspires the hope of a future in which the dignity given by God to each person is respected and we all feel called to collaborate in the construction of a just and fraternal society,” he said.
Today a sense of solidarity and service to the common good is more important than ever, he continued, saying he hopes his visit will be a source of encouragement to people “inspired by the deepest spiritual and cultural values inherited from the past,” who are working to relieve suffering and promote peace and unity.
Pope Francis’ four-day visit to the Baltics will include the usual meetings with authorities, with priests and religious, and with youth. He will also celebrate three Masses, one in each country.
He will also pray a decade of the rosary in the chapel of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, which contains an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of Mercy – an important shrine and place of pilgrimage in Lithuania.
In Latvia, he will stop to pray at the tomb of St. Meinhard in the now-Lutheran cathedral in Riga. And in Tallinn, Estonia, he will visit the cathedral where the first Estonian martyr, a Jesuit, was last seen alive.
He will participate in ecumenical prayer meetings in Latvia and with youth in Estonia, where there are only around 5,000 Catholics in a population of 1.3 million. About 16 percent of the population is Eastern Orthodox and about 10 percent are Lutheran. Around 54 percent identify as non-religious.
In Latvia, Lutheranism accounts for about 34 percent of the population of just under 2 million and Catholics make up 25 percent, primarily in the eastern portion of the country.
He will travel by helicopter to the other side of Latvia, to the Marian shrine at Agrona, where he will celebrate Mass. He will also make stops at several markers of historical significance in the three countries.