Pope Francis prayed that Lithuania become an example of defense of human rights in a gathering Sunday with former 20th-century freedom fighters, political prisoners, exiles and their families.
“May Lithuania become a beacon of hope,” the pope prayed. “May it become a land of memory and action, constantly committed to fighting all forms of injustice. May it promote creative efforts to defend the rights of all persons, especially the most defenseless and vulnerable.”
“And may Lithuania be for all a teacher in the way to reconcile and harmonize diversity.”
Sunday’s gathering took place at the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fighters, a former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, where Soviets detained and executed hundreds of people. The event mourned victims of Nazi and Soviet oppression in Lithuania and honored those who fought for human rights.
In his prayer, the pope reflected on Christ’s cry in the gospels; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
“Your cry, O Lord, continues to resound,” the pope prayed. “It echoes within these walls that recall of the sufferings endured by so many sons and daughters of this people.”
“Lithuanians and those from other nations paid in their own flesh the price of the thirst for absolute power on the part of those who sought complete domination.”
The pope urged Lithuanians to remember their history, and to continue to fight against violations of human rights today.
“May that (Jesus’) cry encourage us not to succumb to the fashions of the day, to simplistic slogans, or to efforts to diminish or take away from any person the dignity you have given them,” he prayed.
“Lord, grant that we may not be deaf to the plea of all those who cry out to heaven in our own day.”
The pope’s meeting with former freedom fighters took place on the second day of his four-day trip to the Baltic states. During the gathering, Lithuanians read poems and performed songs from times of exile and Soviet repression.
Prior to his meeting with the freedom fighters, Pope Francis stopped to pray in Rudninku Square, where the historic Vilnius ghetto was located before its destruction 75 years ago. Lithuania had a Jewish population of about 208,000 before World War II. An estimated 95 percent of that population was killed in the Holocaust.