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The Pope in the Baltic Countries. Mons. Jourdan (Estonia), “we are looking forward to his words of hope and peace”

The populations of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are awaiting the Pope’s visit September 22 to 25. Three very different Countries, “linked” to the European Union, alarmed by their Russian neighbour. In Tallinn the preparations that involve the small Catholic community, ecumenical relations and State institutions, are in full swing. The Apostolic Administrator spoke about the Country’s mounting anticipation with SIR

Pope Francis will travel to Tallinn next September 25. It’s the last leg of a visit that will start in Lithuania (Vilnius and Kaunas, September 22-23), pass through Latvia (Riga and Aglona on September 24) and end in the Estonian capital. The motto of the program in Tallin is “Wake up, my heart” (Mu süda, ärka üles) taken from an Estonian spiritual hymn by Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962). The logo of the visit exemplifies the Country’s profile in the colours of the Holy See’s flag and the smiling face of the Holy Father waving to the people.

“An honour for the whole Country.” The Holy See announced the visit on Friday March 9, but the event’s organization is already under way, “promoted by a dedicated Committee that has been working on the program for the past two months”, Bishop Philippe Jourdan, Apostolic Administrator entrusted with the guidance of the Catholic Community, told SIR. The Estonian population numbers approximately 1.3 million people, including approximately seven thousand Catholics (less than 1% of the overall population), who, along with Lutherans and Orthodox Christians live amidst 75% of a-religious Estonians. The bishop is not worried about the small number of people involved in the preparations because “Estonians are a very meticulous, efficient people, sometimes slow-paced, but I believe we will make it.” Also the Government led by Premier Jüri Ratas, leader of the Centre Party, “has gone a long way to invite the Pope” and offered support in the event’s organization.

“The Pope’ visit will be an honour for the whole Country”

as the “extremely positive reactions” to the news of the Pope’s visit testify to. “Some people were surprised by the fact that the Pope will visit the small Country of Estonia, while he still hasn’t gone to Spain or France, nor to other large Countries. It’s a great joy we had been looking forward to. We weren’t completely sure it would happen until a few months ago.”

Ecumenism and a meeting with young people. Also the Lutheran Church has positively welcomed the news. “Last year the archbishop of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church Urmas Viilma and myself sent a joint invitation to the Holy Father”, said Msgr. Jourdan. The Lutherans view Francis “somewhat like their Pope.” This implies that on the “very busy” schedule of the Pope in Taillin there will be space for an ecumenical event, in addition to a meeting with youths. “The fact that – if I’m not mistaken – this is the Pope’s last visit before the beginning of the Synod on Young People is extremely significant to us.”

Material security, spiritual insecurity. Expectations for the visit, Msgr. Jourdan explained, are expressed in “what we chose as the motto of the visit, the opening lines of a spiritual hymn that is very popular here, ‘Wake up, my heart’.” “When John Paul II visited the Country twenty five years ago”, the bishop recalled, “two years had passed since its independence and his message to our Country, as to other Countries of Eastern Europe, was: do not be afraid! In those years the Estonian State was like a sick person who had just woken up from a coma, treading with insecure steps, but with great expectations of peace, of unity with the rest of Europe, of great ideals, perhaps also of material things but with great hope.” Twenty-five years later “State and society and more stable, they have found their place in Europe and in the world, but the great ideals have somewhat fallen asleep”: “this can be seen also in Europe, in the ideals of the European project or in the fact that the end of the Cold War had heralded hopes of world peace that gradually waned. We saw the arrival of materialism. However, while Estonian society has a reached a good level of material security, spiritual security is lacking today. That’s why we need a strong voice that will tell us: wake up,  my heart! Wake up, my soul!”

Looking forward to a message of peace. Has the political influence of the pastoral journeys of John Paul II to Eastern Europe, on the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall and of the disintegration of Soviet Union, faded out? “The political situation has changed and Pope Francis will be coming first of all as a shepherd. However, it’s equally true that our Countries and Eastern Europe as a whole are experiencing a certain degree of tension, with the Russian neighbour, Ukraine…” “Pope Francis’ role is different from the one that John Paul II had in Eastern Europe. But it’s no secret that Baltic peoples are also living in fear. Whether it is grounded or not is a different question, but it’s a fact that they live in fear.” The Pope’s visit “will serve to instil peace also at international level, and the people here are aware of it.”

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