Pope Francis arrived at Cathedral Square in Vilnius this Saturday evening for a special encounter with youth, as a hymn created especially for the occasion, titled “Christ Jesus – my hope”, was sung by the many young people gathered in the Lithuanian capital. An estimated 30,000 people were in the square itself and another 30,000 filled the surrounding areas.
The Holy Father always seeks dialogue wherever he goes, and here, too, on taking the stage, he first listened to two testimonials. A young woman, Monika Midverytė, spoke of psychological and emotional violence she had suffered and the suicide of her alcoholic father. Thanks to a Christian community, she managed to accept her father and come to terms with his death. The second to speak was Jonas Davalga, a 35-year-old with an autoimmune disease who is an active and successful businessman. He said he was living through the best time in his life despite his health limitations and the continual risk of deadly complications occurring.
At-risk youth and the dance groups Love Air and Gelmė complemented the testimonials with specially developed dance performances. A choir from the Shrine of Divine Mercy also performed a special arrangement of traditional hymns and songs of popular piety.
Pope Francis began his address by thanking Monika and Jonas for having spoken, saying he listened to them “as a friend, as if we were sitting close to one another in some bar, telling one another about our lives.” He said he understood that their lives “are not a piece of theater: they are real and concrete,” and that the two of them were here to help him and the others see “that God gave you the grace to be strong, to lift yourselves up and to keep moving forward in life.”
The Pope urged young people not to “yield to the temptation of getting caught up in yourself, ending up selfish or superficial in the face of sorrow, difficulty or temporary success,” and to oppose “that individualism which isolates us, makes us egocentric and vain, concerned only for our image and our own well-being.”
The Holy Father recommended overcoming difficulties with prayer and service to others. Encountering Jesus, he said, “reminds us that it makes no difference how strong the opponent is” since “what matters is not the result, but the fact that the Lord is at our side.” The Pope stressed that “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 urged young people not to let themselves “get trapped in a maze” which is hard to get out of, but always to keep “moving forward, seeking the right way without being afraid to retrace our steps if we make a mistake.”
Following the Holy Father’s words, Vilnius Archbishop Gintaras Grušas addressed him, saying: “Holy Father, thank you for coming to Lithuania and devoting time to meet with young people, to listen to them. Youth is the future of our Church and our nation.” He expressed joy that the pope had come as a pilgrim of hope carrying Christ’s light. Turning to the Holy Father, he said, “I pray that the words you speak today put down roots in our hearts and bear fruit in every one of our lives, that every young person who hears the Good News may discover a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who gives hope and meaning to life.”
Pope Francis presented Archbishop Grušas with a gift, and after giving his blessing to all those gathered, entered the Vilnius Cathedral Basilica of Saint Stanislaus and Saint Vladislaus and visited the Chapel of Saint Casimir. There, accompanied by elderly religious men and women, he prayed by the tomb of Saint Casimir, a patron saint of youth and of Lithuania. The young people in Cathedral Square followed what was going on inside the Cathedral and prayed along in silence.
Inside Vilnius Cathedral, Pope Francis also stopped briefly at the Chapel of Exiles, dedicated to all those who were killed, imprisoned or exiled during the half-century Soviet occupation of Lithuania. A statue of Mary known as the Siberian Madonna is venerated in the chapel. The statue was brought back from a cemetery for Lithuanians exiles in Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia.
On exiting the organizers of the encounter greeted the Holy Father and, together with all those gathered in Cathedral Square, saw him off. Pope Francis set out by popemobile for the Nunciature, where he is residing in Vilnius.
Papal Visit Organizing Committee of the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference
Photo by Laima Penek.