By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis on Saturday invited Lithuanians to draw strength and vigour from their past experience and welcome differences through dialogue, openness and understanding, something which the international community and especially the European Community can learn from.
The Pope’s invitation came at the start of his apostolic visit to the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Addressing Lithuanian authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps at the presidential palace in the capital, Vilnius, the pontiff recalled that his visit was taking place in centenary year of the declaration of their independence in 1918, at the end of World War I.
Lithuania lost its independence to Soviet Russia in 1940. The following year the Nazis took over until 1944, following which Soviet Russia again occupied the nation. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, Lithuania regained its freedom.
Lessons from the past
Pope Francis remarked that it has been a century marked by numerous trials and sufferings: “detentions, deportations, even martyrdom.” Celebrating the hundredth anniversary of independence, he said, “means taking time to stop and revive the memory of all those experiences,” in order to be in touch with everything that forged you as a nation, and find the key to assessing present challenges and looking to the future in a spirit of dialogue and unity with all those who dwell here, careful to ensure that no one remains excluded.”
The Pope commended Lithuania’s hospitality in sheltering, receiving and accepting peoples of various ethnic groups and religions. They lived together in peace until the totalitarian ideologies arrived and sowed violence, lack of trust and undermined its ability to accept and harmonize differences.
The Pope urged Lithuanians to tolerance, hospitality, respect and solidarity, saying these qualities from their past helped them to grow and not succumb as a nation. He also encouraged them to desire the common good and strive towards it, saying they suffered because the totalitarian ideologies tried to impose a single model that wanted to annul differences under the pretence of believing that the privileges of a few are more important than the dignity of others or the common good.
All conflicts presently emerging, the Pope said, will find lasting solutions only if those solutions are grounded in the concrete recognition of the dignity of persons, especially the most vulnerable, and in the realization that all of us are challenged “to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all.”
Pope Francis also urged Lithuania to pay special attention to its young people, saying promoting policies that encourage their active participation in building up the social and communitarian fabric, will be a seed of hope that will generate hospitality towards the stranger, hospitality toward the young, towards the elderly and the poor, and, ultimately, hospitality toward the future.