Pope’s welcome warm for a secular country

Evelyn Kaldoja
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Photo: Max Rossi / Reuters / Scanpix

Tallinn Airport, that saw Pope Francis and his delegation off to Rome yesterday evening, proved that out of the three Baltic capitals, Tallinn is the most courteous but also the most disciplined as people who had been accompanying the pope for the past four days where randomly checked for explosives.

Experienced vaticanistas were surprised but decided to make light of the situation. Because they seemed to like it in sunlit Tallinn where the pope’s journey mostly brought them Lutherans and atheists to interview. As well as the fact the holy mass held in the Freedom Square had more listeners than Estonia has Catholics.

Best speeches reserved for Estonia

The upcoming day was summed up somewhat mirthlessly by a Lithuanian journalist on board the papal aircraft yesterday morning: “The best speeches were reserved for the most atheist country.” The journalist likely knew what they were talking about as the pope’s speeches were distributed to the 66-strong press corps the previous evening.

Words of the sermon the holy father delivered in Freedom Square that evening moved many listeners: “These days, it is often believed a person’s strength can be measured differently. Some speak clearly, full of confidence – without doubt or hesitation. Others yell and scream, throwing around threats of resorting to arms, sending troops and executing strategies. It makes them look stronger.”

“However, that is not the search for God, it is the search for power over others. Behind this attitude lies denial of ethics, denial of God.”

Pope Francis also referred to lording over others during his visit to Lithuania in the context of the atrocities the Soviet power visited upon the Lithuanian people and the Catholic Church.

It was relatively certain the pope, whose listeners in Tallinn and in Kaunas’ Santakos Park and the Basilica of Aglona included NATO soldiers serving in Baltics to keep the region safe, was referring to Russia this time. Journalists decided that one of the questions asked at the evening’s press conference before the pope’s flight back had to concern the Russia problem.

Estonia’s eastern neighbor is worrying both NATO and the Vatican. Even though Pope Francis managed to organize a historical meeting with Patriarch Kirill in February of 2016, Russia is still a place where the holy father is not welcome.

Perfect sunshine morning to evening

The pope compared the freedom of Estonia and the other Baltic countries from the Soviet yolk to the Jews’ salvation from Egypt.

“You have shown through your history that you are proud to be Estonian. You even sing about it in the lyrics “I am an Estonian and that I will remain” and that it is “proud and good”. How beautiful it is to hear that from a people! How beautiful it is to be free and independent!” the pope said.

Even though the wind made Tallinn colder yesterday than Vilnius and Riga had been and saw journalists waiting for the speeches of Pope Francis and President Kersti Kaljulaid behind the Kadriorg Palace shiver in the breeze, the Estonian capital offered perfect sunshine. When Pope

Francis and President Kaljulaid finally emerged from the palace, their faces betrayed a pleasant conversation.

Kaljulaid spoke first and her speech was more festive than that of her Latvian colleague Raimonds Vejonis had been the day before concentrating on Latvia’s social problems. Kaljulaid assured the leader of Estonia’s fewer than 5,000 Catholics that religious freedom is one of the founding principles of Estonian democracy.

Kaljulaid recalled how Kaarel Robert Pusta met with Cardinal Pietro Gasparri to ask for recognition of the newly created Estonian state. Learning that the new republic would have religious freedom, the cardinal said: “Then we are friends.”

The president praised the enduring friendship between Estonia and the Vatican throughout the Soviet period. The Holy See was among only a few countries to stick to its policy of not recognizing the Soviet annexation and left empty the position of the Estonian apostolic administrator following sedisvacantia rerum politicarum causa, or political reasons.

Kaljulaid closed with the Prayer of Saint Francis.

Pope Francis pronounced the Estonian word Maarjamaa (Mary’s country). “Thinking of Mary reminds me of two words: memory and fertility,” the pope continued. “That is why I would like to think of Estonia as a land of memory and fertility.”

The holy father said that a land of memory stands for remembering that the present is the result of hard work, determination and faith of people who came before us. “Cultivating grateful memory allows you to see today’s achievements as the fruits of history nurtured by men and women who fought for freedom.”

Kaljulaid finds kindred spirit

While the pope became an Estonian e-resident that morning, his speech included a veiled warning: “Placing all our faith in technological progress as the only possible path we run the risk of losing the connection between people, generations and cultures.”

The pope returned to the idea that progress might not always be for the better in his sermon in Freedom Square that evening when he said that Estonians did not regain the independence to end up as slaves to consumption.

President Kaljulaid later told Postimees that she was very happy with her private conversation with the holy father. She even said she had found a kindred spirit.

Asked whether it was special to talk with someone who is a leader to 1.3 billion people, Kaljulaid said not really, but added she liked discussing philosophical matters with the pope.

Concerning their conversation she said: “Generally speaking, we talked about openness and tolerance. I asked him about everyone being equal in the eyes of God. Are people equal despite their origin, the color of their skin or sexual orientation? The pope had noticed I’m involved in matters having to do with openness in Estonia and it was easy for us to find common ground.”

The pope summed up the heart of the conversation the best at a youth meeting in the Charles’ Church later in the day, Kaljulaid said.

“He said that closeness and fear are not the best advisors. We need to be open, listen to one another,” the president, who was also present at the meeting, recalled. “Those are the things essential to being human. We are all equal and entitled to happiness.”

Kaljulaid was invited to visit the pope in Vatican. Pope Francis repeated the invitation he had extended in the morning before leaving the president after the Charles’ Church meeting.

Asked when the visit could take place, the president said it was too soon to say: “I believe that we must consider the possibility of it taking place toward the end of my term.”