Estonia will be the last destination of Pope Francis’ visit to the Baltic States. The Country numbers 5.5 thousand Catholics on a population of 1.3 million, with a dozen parishes nationwide, a few chapels, only a priest of Estonian origins, now over 90 years old. The remaining priests came from abroad.
Marge-Marie Paas, in charge of relations with the media at the Estonian Apostolic Administration told SIR that approximately 10 thousand people are expected to attend the Holy Mass in Tallinn, where the Pope will arrive on September 25th. “Lutherans and other guests are expected to attend. In Finland and Sweden there is widespread interest for the meeting with the Pope. Groups of Catholics are expected to arrive from Saint Petersburg for the special meeting with youths and the ensuing Mass.” In fact these are the highlights of the programme: the first Holy Mass will take place in the morning, in a Lutheran church, larger that the “tiny” Catholic Cathedral. The afternoon Mass will take place in the main square of Tallinn.
The programme. After the arrival at the airport, the day’s program includes a courtesy visit to the President of the Republic Kersti Kaljulaid in the presidential Palace followed by a reception in the Rose Garden with the Country’s civil authorities, civil society, scientists and artists. Since the Pope’s visit is also a State visit, this part of the program was defined by the President – Pass said – and “as a Church we asked that the list of invited guests include not only notabilities but also representatives of the academic world.” After the meeting with intellectuals the Pope will meet the youths “it will be a festive encounter in all respects, a joyful event. Estonian Catholic and Lutheran youths will take the floor as well as Russian Orthodox youths and young non-believers.”
It’s an ecumenical event whose gaze is extended to the October Synod. Pope Francis will listen to the contribution of youths in every destination of the Baltic visit.”
Father Pedro Cervio, coordinator of the event, is also organizing a prayer vigil for youths for the previous evening, in preparation for the meeting with the Pope. Before celebrating Mass, in the afternoon, the Pope will meet the poor in the St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“We have four Missionary Sisters of mercy, the Sister of Mother Theresa, and we hoped that the Pope would meet them where they carry out their service, but the place is too small, so it was decided that the nuns would meet the Pope in the Cathedral with families whom they assist.”
On the occasion of his visit to the Cathedral the Pope will visit the image of servant of God Eduard Gottlieb Profittlich (1890-1942), a German bishop who carried out his service in Estonia, deported to Siberia in 1941, where he was killed. “We have no saint in Estonia and it’s extremely important for the Holy Father to know and to visit the Servant of God’s image and support us in the beatification process that is under way”, Paas said: “The diocesan stage is almost concluded, all the documents will be submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the fall.” After the Holy Mass in Tallin Square the Pope will depart for Rome.
The organization. The preparations for the Estonian sites of the papal visitation fall entirely on the shoulders of a small working group: “Organizing everything is a real challenge.” The group is headed by bishop Philippe Jourdan, Apostolic Administrator of Estonia of French origins with “great authoritativeness, also in the media.” There is also Helle-Helena Puusepp in charge of logistics, who keeps the contacts with the Foreign Minister and the nunciature in Vilnius. Marge is in charge of relations with the media and with the press, with the support of eight volunteer workers. The most complex thing are the details of the organization and coordination with television networks,
“We need to explain who the Holy Father is, what the Holy See is, who Estonian Catholics are, because it’s a secularized Country and nobody knows much.”
A priest, Father Wodzisław Szczepanik, is in charge of coordinating the Holy Mass.
Expectations. “There is much talk of the Pope’s visit to Estonia, and there’s a very spiritual atmosphere”, Marge said. For example, every Sunday approximately five-hundred faithful attend the Holy Mass in St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral in the small parish of Tallin: we see a special, unprecedented climate of expectation.”
Unlike Nordic countries, here the large majority of Catholic faithful are Estonian. There are also two communities, a Polish and a Russian community. Approximately 20-25 people – mostly from the Lutheran Church – convert and enter the Catholic Church every year. Widespread interest for the papal visit involves also Finland, separated by Estonia by a stretch of international waters that extends for 90 km.
“We were under Soviet rule for almost fifty years, and it’s something we share, although our peoples and our Churches differ.”
Groups of pilgrims, especially young people, are organizing themselves to arrive by ferry from Helsinki.
People look forward to the Pope bringing “love, a great amount of love. I have seen the Pope smiling on many occasions and I would like to see the same smile on the faces of people who will be arriving to meet the Holy Father. We have a great need of this smile in Estonia”, said Marge-Marie.
“We lack spirituality, we are not aware of what lies in our hearts, we need to rekindle it, for here everything revolves around on what is material, around success, development, excelling. We need to understand what is in our heart, purify it with smiles.”
“Wake up, my heart!” is the opening line of a popular song in Estonia and it’s the motto of the upcoming meeting with the Pope. This applies, said Marge-Marie “especially to young people. When the Pope was in Brazil young people acclaimed him and they were happy, full of energy. I’m afraid that in Estonia the people will remain composed and seated, and they will greet him with a small movement of their hands. They are not that open. Perhaps it also depends on the fact that in our Country the sun does not shine for months!”
“How to be simple and open is what I hope the Pope will pass down to our Country with his visit.”