Tuesday 21 May 2019

Pope wraps up Baltics trip to boost faith in secular Estonia

Estonia is the last stop in Francis’ four-day visit that took him to Lithuania and Latvia.

President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid welcomes Pope Francis (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)
President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid welcomes Pope Francis (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

Pope Francis is wrapping up his pilgrimage to the Baltics with a stop in Estonia, often considered one of the least religious countries in the world.

Francis met President Kersti Kaljulaid upon arriving in the capital Tallinn.

Later, he will preside over a youth gathering before celebrating Mass in Tallinn’s Freedom Square for a Catholic community that numbers only 6,000 people.

Between a half and two-thirds of Estonia’s 1.3 million people profess no religious affiliation, with the Lutheran and Russian Orthodox churches counting the most followers of those who do.

Estonia is the last stop in Francis’s four-day visit that took him to Lithuania and Latvia.

He is aiming to encourage the Christian faith in the Baltics, which saw five decades of Soviet-imposed religious repression and state-sponsored atheism.

Francis reviews the honour guard (Andrew Medichini/AP)

In a speech to Ms Kaljulaid in the Rose Garden of the presidential palace, Francis praised Estonia’s social and economic transformation in the quarter century since the Soviet Union’s five-decade occupation ended.

But he warned that a certain “existential ennui” can set in when societies lose their cultural roots and put their faith in technological progress alone.

“One of the evident effects of technocratic societies is a loss of meaning in life and the joy of living,” he said. Interpersonal and intergenerational bonds can be lost, depriving young generations of foundations to build a common future, he said.

“Consequently, one of the most important obligations incumbent on all of us who have social, political, educational and religious responsibilities has to do precisely with how we can keep building bonds,” he said, adding that while small, the Catholic Church can make its contribution.

In her welcoming speech, Ms Kaljulaid acknowledged that rapid changes taking place amid robust economic growth — something particularly visible in the Baltic nations — should not mean the “vulnerable among us” are neglected.

“We must remember that economic success obliges us to take notice of others and reach out to them,” Estonia’s head of state said, referring to “the poor, the disabled, the very young and the very old”.

Press Association

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