On September 22, Pope Francis began his trip to Lithuania with a courtesy visit to the Baltic country’s President, Dalia Grybauskaite, and a meeting with authorities, civil society representatives and the diplomatic corp, in Daukantas Square in Vilnius, the capital city.
During that encounter, the Pope told those gathered: “It is a source of joy and hope to begin this pilgrimage to the Baltic countries in Lithuania, which is, in the words of Saint John Paul II, ‘a silent witness of a passionate love for religious freedom’.”
Later the head of the Catholic Church prayed a part of the Rosary in the Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy at the Gate of Dawn shrine. He was joined in prayer by families that have many children, provide foster care, have adopted or are seeking to adopt children, and by orphans and sick people, below on Gate of Dawn Street. Pope Francis left a gold rosary as a gift by the shrine’s famous image of Our Lady of Mercy and blessed a new crown for the Blessed Virgin Mary. He also gave his blessing to the approximately 2,000 persons who were present.
“This Mother without Child, radiant with gold, is the Mother of everyone,” the Pope said. “She sees in every person who comes here what we ourselves fail so often to see: the face of her Son Jesus impressed on our heart. […] Every man and every woman make it possible for us to encounter God.”
From the Gate of Dawn, the Holy Father left by popemobile for Cathedral Square, unexpectedly stopping at a hospice to bless terminally ill patients. He arrived at Cathedral Square in early evening to meet with the estimated 60,000 youth who awaited him. The Pope first listened to testimonials by those present, then spoke to the young people himself:
“Following Jesus is a passionate adventure that gives meaning to our lives and makes us feel part of a community. […] Dear young people, following Christ is worthwhile! Do not be afraid to take part in the revolution to which he invites us: the revolution of tenderness,” he said, encouraging them to keep “moving forward, seeking the right way without being afraid to retrace our steps if we make a mistake.”
After speaking Pope Francis entered Vilnius Cathedral, where he prayed by the tomb of Saint Casimir, a patron saint of youth and of Lithuania, and left flowers in the Chapel of Exiles by a statue of Mary known as the Siberian Madonna.
The highpoint of the Holy Father’s visit to Lithuania came on the morning of the second day, September 23, with the Holy Mass that he celebrated in Kaunas in Santakos Park. Participants, who began gathering from the early hours of the morning, came not only from Lithuania, but also from Belarus, Poland, Latvia, Russia and other countries – more than 100,000 persons in total.
At the end of the Mass, the Pope led the Angelus prayer. In brief remarks, referencing the day’s readings from Scripture, he asked those present “to beg Mary to help us all to plant our own cross, the cross of our service and commitment to the needs of others [there] where the poor dwell, where care and concern are needed for the outcast and for minorities.”
After Mass, the Holy Father had lunch with Lithuania’s bishops, followed immediately by a meeting in Kaunas Cathedral with priests, deacons, men and women religious, and seminarians from all three Baltic countries. With them, Pope Francis gave thanks to the Lord for vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Speaking to those gathered, he said:
“As men and women of special consecration, we can never afford to lose that inward groaning, that restlessness of heart that finds its rest in the Lord alone. No instant news, no virtual communication can substitute for our need of concrete, prolonged and regular moments – calling for sustained effort – of daily dialogue with the Lord. […] The cry that makes us turn to God in prayer and adoration is the same that makes us sensitive to the pleas of our brothers and sisters. They put their ‘hope’ in us and they require us to discern carefully [in order to] genuinely respond to the needs of God’s people.”
Returning to Vilnius, the Pope stopped briefly to pray in Rūdininkai Square, in the historic Vilnius Ghetto, for the victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania. From there he went to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, where he met Lithuanians who suffered exile and political imprisonment under the Soviet regime. Approximately 4,000 people were gathered. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and the leadership of the country’s parliament were also present.
Laying a wreath by a monument to the victims of occupations, Pope Francis prayed:
“Lord, may Lithuania be a beacon of hope. May it be a land of memory and action, constantly committed to fighting all forms of injustice. May it promote creative efforts to defend the rights of all persons, especially those most defenceless and vulnerable. And may Lithuania be for all a teacher in the way to reconcile and harmonize diversity.”
After that prayer, the Holy Father blessed all those gathered and departed for the Apostolic Nunciature. Early on Monday, September 24, he was to fly to Latvia to continue his visit to the Baltic States.
Papal Visit Organizing Committee of the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference