By Devin Watkins – Tallinn, Estonia
Tears filled her eyes as she told the story.
The Vicar General of the Bridgettine Sisters recalled the many sacrifices and struggles her sisters had to endure to return to Estonia. Their convent near Tallinn, in Pirita, was founded before the Reformation in 1406. The nuns endured that tumultuous period and went on to thrive until the Soviet occupation in 1940. Then they were forced to close.
The Bridgettines returned some 23 years ago, after Pope St. John Paul II visited after the fall of communism. Now they host his successor, Pope Francis, for lunch on Tuesday, as he takes a moment from his busy schedule to rest in this place of peace.
Archbishop Edward Profittlich
On the wall where the Pope takes his lunch is a picture of a man whose story encapsulates the struggle of Catholics in Estonia: Servant of God Edward Profittlich.
He was the first bishop of Estonia, and was carted off by the Soviets to die in a forced-labor camp in Siberia. His cause of canonization will soon reach Rome.
His name is etched alongside more than 130,000 others at a state memorial to the many people who died during the Soviet occupation.
A memorial plaque also adorns the entrance to the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, where Pope Francis meets with the local people helped by the Church’s works of mercy. Edward Profittlich is a witness to the strength of faith in times of tribulation.
25 years of change
Pope St. John Paul II came here 25 years ago, not long after the fall of the Soviet Union. His visit helped the tiny Catholic community rebuild and rediscover its roots.
Now, with some 70% of the population claiming to be non-religious, this technologically and democratically advanced nation is looking for substance and something more to live for besides just another Euro in the pocket. Thus the motto for Pope Francis’ visit: “Wake Up, My Heart.”
Long ago, Pope Innocent III proclaimed the Baltics, Terra Mariana, or the Land of Mary. Even the Lutheran Cathedral is dedicated to Mary, and has a picture of her on display, something unheard of elsewhere.
Now, Pope Francis is travelling through these Marian Lands, reminding people of their heritage.
Maybe his quick visit can awaken something in the hearts of Estonians. As the tearful Bridgettine sister said: “Remember the past, be rooted, and hope in the future.”