Interview with Apostolic nuncio in the Baltic States, Mons. Petar Rajičiga

1. You have been in Baltic’s for a while now. How do the three countries and the Catholic communities in these countries compare?

I arrived in the region in July of 2019 and officially commenced with my duties initially in Lithuania. In October of the same year, I presented my credentials in Latvia followed by Estonia in November. Lithuania has the largest number of Catholic faithful in the three Baltic States, which provides the Catholic Church with a solid foundation in which to continue its mission of evangelization in the country. In the case of Latvia, it has a smaller percentage of Catholics, yet it maintains a very strong Catholic tradition which is recognized and respected in society. Estonia, being the smallest country and population amongst the three States, can still be considered a developing Church since it is an Apostolic Administration, which means that it is not a diocese yet with native clergy. It must rely on the presence of foreign missionaries in order to fulfil its mission and sustain the local parishes. Despite its small numbers, I believe that the Catholic Church in Estonia is slowly increasing, in part not only to the arrival of new faithful to the country but also due to awakened interest in the Catholic faith by a number of the local Estonians.


2. What are some of the challenges for the Catholic Church for Estonia?

Possibly the greatest challenge facing the local Church in Estonia is that of living and witnessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an increasingly secularized world, influenced by globalism, that is indifferent and, in some cases, even hostile towards the teachings of the Church. Another challenge is the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Additional efforts with youth groups are necessary to encourage the possibility of following our Lord Jesus more closely as a priest, sister or consecrated lay person. Other challenges can be found in simply responding to the spiritual and pastoral needs of the faithful at various levels, from the elderly to children. Along with this, working together in order to create a sense of community, and also creating and finding the financial resources necessary for the funding of parishes and various pastoral projects, thereby contributing to the continued evangelization of the faithful.

3. What are the main responsibilities and activities of the Apostolic Nunciature in the Baltic States?

Unlike other diplomatic missions, the Apostolic Nunciature is not involved in promoting economic, political or military ties. The Nunciature, however, does have an interest in following all these sectors in order to be well informed about the events in the local and regional arena. As representatives of His Holiness the Pope, we serve as a liaison office between the Holy See and the local Catholic Church in the region. One of our main responsibilities is to work on the appointment of new bishops, when bishops are transferred or reach retirement age. While assisting the bishops and other clergy in their pastoral mission, we seek to ensure that the local Catholic and other Christian communities can freely practice their faith and enjoy their fundamental human rights. In this regard, part of our diplomatic activity involves maintaining contacts with the civil authorities so that the needs of our communities can be properly addressed and the continued activities of the local Church can be freely exercised and guaranteed. It is my intention to continue the good work done by my predecessors and to make the Holy Father’s voice known and heard in the Baltics. Towards this goal, I count on the cooperation and the prayers of all the faithful that comprise the Church in Estonia.

4. Recently we celebrated Easter. How did the Easter celebrations take place in Lithuania?

The Easter celebrations this year in Lithuania and indeed throughout the world were limited by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. All churches were closed, yet the local priests and bishops celebrated privately and many liturgies were live-streamed to the local faithful. Despite the restrictions, many people took advantage of the different media outlets offered by television, radio and the internet, in order to follow the Eucharistic celebrations and devotional prayers, thereby finding spiritual comfort and consolation for their souls. Indeed, for many of the faithful, not being able to go to church and actively participate in the Eucharistic celebrations was a sacrifice. The pastors certainly felt the impact, by not having their parishioners present, but they should be commended for having done their best to prepare Masses and various devotions through social media. Their ongoing efforts to facilitate and offer comfort to their flock during this crisis is not only a testament to their faithfulness to God but also a demonstration of their commitment to their parishioners.

5. The Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson, mentioned recently that the health commission within the Dicastery works with Apostolic Nuncios around the world at the moment. What guidelines have been given to you by the Holy See regarding Covid-19?

The Dicastery you mentioned, has expressed its desire to unite itself with the voice of the Holy Father, in reiterating the closeness of the Church in promoting the pastoral care of health, to all those who suffer from the contagion of Covid-19, to the victims and their families, as well as to all health care workers involved, who are committing all their energies to caring for those affected and bringing them relief. The same Dicastery mentions the need to unite with the work of the civil authorities, volunteers and those who are committed to stopping the contagion and averting the risk to public health and the growing fear that this pandemic is generating. It also encourages lay and Catholic, national and international health structures and organizations, to continue to offer the necessary assistance to people and populations, as well as to implement all efforts indispensable to finding a solution to the new pandemic, following the indications of the WHO and the national and local political authorities. Our hope is that this moment of great need will become a time to strengthen solidarity and closeness between States and friendship between peoples, by promoting international solidarity in sharing tools and resources.

6. It is important to begin thinking today about the future. Where to start?

As Christians who place their trust in God, it is our faith in Christ the Lord that sustains us not only in these uncertain times but at all times. Believers must draw upon their faith every day, in all circumstances, for it provides us with the courage and strength we need to move forward with confidence, knowing that the Lord is with us always and that no evil can ever separate us from his Fatherly love. Pope Francis mentioned in his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, some important points to keep in mind for the months ahead, which I would like to quote. He said among other things: “Now, while we are looking forward to a slow and arduous recovery from the pandemic, there is a danger that we will forget those who are left behind. The risk is that we may then be struck by an even worse virus, that of selfish indifference. A virus spread by the thought that life is better if it is better for me, and that everything will be fine if it is fine for me. (…) The present pandemic, however, reminds us that there are no differences or borders between those who suffer. We are all frail, all equal, all precious. (…) To everyone: let us not think only of our interests, our vested interests. Let us welcome this time of trial as an opportunity to prepare for our collective future, a future for all without discarding anyone. Because without an all-embracing vision, there will be no future for anyone.” Prayer accompanied by good works and appropriate measures, will therefore help us navigate through these difficult times and motivate us towards making our future world a more fraternal, humane and Christian one.

7. Your wish for Estonian Catholics?

Though the Catholic Church in Estonia is small in size, it has an important position in the family of the Universal Church. Despite all the hardships endured in the past and the current challenges, the Catholic Church has survived here and is now in the process of slow yet steady growth. The Catholics of Estonia are comprised of people from various nations, ethnic and linguistic groups, with a common faith in God, as brothers and sisters of one worldwide family of faith, closely united to the See of Rome and the Holy Father the Pope. My prayer for the Church in Estonia is that it will continue to excel in faith and good works, thereby producing true disciples and witnesses for Christ, courageous men and determined women, whose lives will demonstrate their love for God and neighbor. The efforts of convinced and steadfast believers will help strengthen and develop faith within Estonian society for the common good of all.

23 April 2020

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