Bishop Philippe Jourdan asked for the attention of the congregation for a special announcement toward the end of the Estonian mass at the Church of St Peter and St. Paul in Tallinn yesterday.
“Not to say there are unimportant announcement; however, this one is especially important,” the bishop said, after having first delivered more mundane information: reminding the congregation of a theology lecture to follow the Estonian mass and this Friday’s movie night that will treat Tallinn’s Catholics to 2010 PÖFF feature, Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men” that tells the story of monks who died as martyrs in Algeria in 1996.
“If earlier in the year, the papal nuncio said it was 90 percent, today it is 99 percent certain Pope Francis will visit Estonia next year,” Bishop Jourdan told the congregation, asking members to pray for the visit.
“There is little more to tell you until the Holy See discusses and agrees on some aspects with the Republic of Estonia and discloses the details, including date and program of the papal visit,“ the bishop later told Postimees.
„What I can say is that the papal nuncio [for the Baltics] [Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana] met with Pope Francis a few days ago,“ the head of the Estonian Catholic Church said. „The pope said he is sincerely glad to be making preparations for visiting Estonia, and that he really wants to come see us.“
Jourdan, who was born in France and later took Estonian citizenship, added that the news is remarkable, considering the pope has not even had time to visit France or his country of origin Argentina.
Should Pope Francis visit Estonia, he would become the second pope to have done so. Pope John Paul II visited Estonia on September 10, 1993.
Pope John Paul II, originally from Poland, held two masses during his 10-hour visit to Estonia, one in the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul and the other in Tallinn’s Freedom Square. He also attended an ecumenical prayer in Tallinn’s St. Nicholas’ Church and met with Prime Minister Mart Laar and President Lennart Meri.
The pope visited all three Baltic countries one after another in 1993: first, the predominantly Catholic Lithuania, then Latvia, and finally Estonia. Considering that all three states will celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2018, it seems likely the head of the Catholic Church will also visit all three countries this time.
Representatives of the two southern Baltic countries have met with the pope in Vatican this year. President of Latvia Raimonds Vejonis visited the Holy Father on June 2, and Prime Minister of Lithuania Saulius Skvernelis on October 6.
In Estonia, the message of the pope’s upcoming visit was the second piece of good news from Vatican last weekend. Pope Francis presented Estonian composer Arvo Pärt with the Ratzinger Prize, created by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, on Saturday.
Pärt is not only the first Estonian, but also the first composer to be awarded the prize. Other recipients of the Ratzinger Prize this year were Lutheran theologist, Principal of the Strasbourg Institute for Ecumenical Research Theodor Dieter and Catholic priest, Professor Emeritus of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Bonn Karl Heinz Menke.
Pärt also performed his composition “Pater Noster”, dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the ordination as priest of Benedictus XVI, on the piano at the ceremony. News agency Zenit reported that Pärt being awarded the prize shows Benedictus XVI’s appreciation for arts that help people move closer to the truth and meet God.
The Catholic Church is growing: the number of Catholics and their relative importance in Christendom is growing. The latest data suggests there are approximately 1.3 billion Catholics in the world. The 2011 census puts the number of Estonian Catholics at 4,500.