CHRIST JESUS OUR HOPE

[22-25 SEPTEMBER 2018]

The month of September was a very special month for the Lithuanian people, since Pope Francis was visiting Lithuania.

When I found out that Pope Francis was going to visit Lithuania and meet with youth, came up the idea of organizing a trip from Iceland with Lithuanians youth to visit Pope Francis.

I am the only priest who is responsible for the pastoral care of the Lithuanian community in Iceland. The Catholic Lithuanian community is growing more and more, and now it is part of our parish of Saint Joseph in Hafnarfjörður.

When I began to organize the trip to Lithuania it was not difficult because I knew the places we were going to visit. Lithuania was my first place of mission as a priest, I spend there 5 years of my priesthood in the village of Pumpenai.

On September 17th , our trip to Lithuania began, and there was no time for boredom. Our group was a small group, a group full of enthusiasm. Our goal was to visit the successor of Christ on earth, Pope Francis, and participate in the two largest gatherings: the meeting with youth in Vilnius on Saturday 22nd, and the Sunday Mass in Kaunas.

From Iceland we traveled a group of 9 people. Father Juan Carlos and 8 Lithuanian youth.

Before the meeting with Pope Francis we had the opportunity to visit some important places in Lithuania.

The first day we were able to visit the parish where I worked for 5 years. There, they received us very well, and they prepared us the traditional Lithuanian food: cepelinas.

Next day, we visited the Hill of Crosses. The Hill of Crosses is a powerful testament of religious devotion. In Soviet times, the erection of crosses was not tolerated, and the hill became a non-desirable, even forbidden place, opposing the Soviet ideology. On the night of April 5th 1961 all crosses were bulldozed and crushed, and then pushed downhill. Wooden crosses were burned right on the spot. The Hill of Crosses was periodically devastated for four more times. However, the more fervently the hill was being destroyed, the more powerfully it would be rebuilt. People were stubbornly bringing crosses at night, despite the dangers, prohibitions and persecutions of authorities. The Hill of Crosses became a symbol of an unshakable faith in the people, their sufferings and hopes

On September 7, 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses, declaring it a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice.

Another important place we visited was Šiluva. Šiluva is a very small town where the Most Holy Virgin Mary appeared in 1608.

Also we had the opportunity to celebrate the Holy Mass in the sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Vilnius.

There was no time for boredom. Friday 21st, was our “day of entertainment”. We went to the “treetop climbing park” and “water park”.

On Saturday 22nd, we participated in the youth meeting with Pope Francis. One of the things that most impressed our youth was the unity of the Catholic Church. See a person who can gather thousands of people to pray in harmony with the same spirit, so many people from different cultures.

He arrived at Cathedral Square in early evening to meet with the estimated 60,000 youth who awaited him. The Pope spoke to the young people: “Following Jesus is a passionate adventure that gives meaning to our lives and makes us feel part of a community. […] Dear young people, following Christ is worthwhile! Do not be afraid to take part in the revolution to which he invites us: the revolution of tenderness,” he said, encouraging them to keep “moving forward, seeking the right way without being afraid to retrace our steps if we make a mistake.”

He encouraged them: “Don’t ever be afraid to put your trust in Jesus, to embrace his cause…”

I want to thank God who blessed us during these days of pilgrimage. For all the graces He gave us, and for the opportunity the Lithuanians youth had to meet the Pope personally.

Fr. Juan Carlos Escudero IVE.

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