Lithuanian priest: Less enthusiastic Baltic countries need encouragement

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In a short time, Francis will be the first pope to visit the Baltic countries in 25 years. Yet, after gaining their independence and reestablishing themselves, many changes have taken place in these countries in the last quarter century. 

A Lithuanian priest who traveled with John Paul II in 1993 as a seminarian, will also accompany Pope Francis on this trip. He explained some of his insight with journalists.  

Lithuanian Priest
“In 1993, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had just been liberated from Soviet regime and found independence. So symbolically, this visit from John Paul II was met with a lot of enthusiasm, not only by the Church, but from the country, because it meant that we are once again a part of the world. From another point of view, after 28 years of independence our countries need new motivation to not get lost on the path of independence or freedom, or since the Church has recovered the possibility of living freely.'

Msgr. Kulbokas insists that the pope can provide this boost of motivation for the Church and potentially destroy the fear of the institution within the country. Francis' pastoral attitude can also demonstrate to priests and bishops how to reach out to youth and families, which was forbidden for years under Soviet power. 

Lithuanian Priest
'Above all, for the Church, for the priests, for the religious in our Baltic countries, the pope's message is very important. Not only the message of encouragement but also launching a momentum for evangelization.”

With high rates of suicide, depression and alcoholism, and immigration numbers within the Baltic countries, the priest believes the visit will also benefit society as a whole. 

Lithuanian Priest
“Even as a society, I see that in the Baltic countries there is a lot of immigration and the birthrate is low. This means there's a certain mistrust in their country, in their situation. “I believe we also need encouragement on a human level, both to defend, and to continue to build freedom, independence and accountability. The visit itself becomes a symbol of encouragement - the pope has come. It means he wanted to visit you, you are not abandoned, you are not forgotten.”

While smaller crowds are expected for Francis' papal visit, this Lithuanian priest is hopeful that numbers won't directly affect how Pope Francis' messages of courage, joy and encouragement are transmitted to his native land.

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