CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 November 2018

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Christian life involves the cross pope says

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS): Pope Francis began his September 22 to 23 visit to Lithuania with a plea to break down walls of suspicion and fear.
 
“If we look at the world scene in our time, more and more voices are sowing division and confrontation—often by exploiting insecurity or situations of conflict—and proclaiming that the only way possible to guarantee security and the continued existence of a culture is to try to eliminate, cancel or expel others,” the pope said as he arrived on September 22.
 
In the capital, Vilnius, he acknowledged the country’s painful past, which included “numerous trials and sufferings: detentions, deportations and even martyrdom.” But he also praised the country’s culture and people for tenaciously resisting attacks on its freedom.
 
Addressing national leaders, at the presidential palace, Pope Francis noted that until the Nazis and Soviets arrived, people of a variety of national backgrounds and religions lived peacefully in Lithuania.
 
The pope ovserved tha the “totalitarian ideologies…by sowing violence and lack of trust, undermined this ability to accept and harmonise differences.” 
 
He said that as Lithuanians consolidate their independence and democracy, they must return to those earlier cultural values of “tolerance, hospitality, respect and solidarity.”
 
Lithuanians, the pope said, know firsthand what happens when a political ideology tries “to impose a single model that would annul differences under the pretense of believing that the privileges of a few are more important than the dignity of others or the common good.”
 
On September 23, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Santakos Park in Kaunas. He said mistreatment endured first under the Nazis and then under the communists cannot be a justification fro mistreating others. Instead, the experience must make victims and survivors even more sensitive and attentive to new attempts to denigrate or dominate certain groups of people.
 
“The Christian life always involves experiences of the cross,” Pope Francis said in his homily. Lithuania’s older generation still bears “the scars of the period of the occupation, anguish at those who were deported, uncertainty about those who never returned, shame for those who were informers and traitors.”
 
After Mass he drew special attention to the anniversary of the destruction of the Jewish ghetto and to the evil of anti-Semitism. Of 200,000 Lithuanian Jews, fewer than 15,000 survived the Nazi occupation. Later, the pope stopped to pray at a monument to more than 40,000 Jews killed by the Nazis in Vilnius.
 
Ending the day at the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis warned Lithuanians to be attentive to any signs of anti-Semitism or hatred. The walls of the building—a former jail and execution site—echo the cry of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the pope said.
 
Thousands of people filled Lukiškės Square in front of the building and the mood was somber for the pope’s visit, punctuated by long pauses for silent prayer.
 
Pope Francis had toured the museum with 79-year-old Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, whose photo is featured prominently on a wall display honouring the priests and bishops who endured imprisonment in the building’s basement.
 
The archbishop had been imprisoned from 1983 to 1988 for “anti-Soviet propaganda.” As a Jesuit priest, in 1972 he began publishing the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, an underground newsletter documenting communist repression of the Church. 
 
Despite repeated questioning by the KGB, he managed to publish and distribute the chronicle for more than 10 years and, once he was arrested, others continued his work. St. John Paul II named him archbishop of Kaunas in 1996. He retired in 2015.
 
Pope Francis prayed that God would “keep us alert” and strengthen the commitment of Catholics and all Lithuanians to fighting all forms of injustice and defending the dignity of all people.
 
The pope’s September 22 to 25 visits to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia come in the year the three Baltic nations celebrate the 100th anniversary of their declarations of independence after World War I. 

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