- Reset + Print

On the occasion of the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis

On the occasion of the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis © Office of the President of Estonia


Your Holiness,

it is my great pleasure to welcome you to Estonia, the historical Terra Mariana, as we celebrate our centenary.

Our declaration of independence made on February 24th, 1918 pledged equal liberties for all people in Estonia, regardless of their political views, ethnicity, or religious creed. The freedom of religion is precisely one of the unyielding bedrocks upon which our democracy is founded.

In connection, I would like to bring up an exchange that took place in the Vatican nearly one hundred years ago. During Estonia’s War of Independence, as the country lobbied the international community for recognition, the Estonian diplomat Kaarel Robert Pusta met the Holy See’s Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri, who among other things inquired as to the relationship between church and state in Estonia. Pusta replied that there was absolute freedom of religion in the new republic, to which the cardinal cheerfully replied: ‘Then we must be friends.’

This friendship has endured, standing the test of even the hardest times. The Holy See never recognised the occupation of Estonia. Throughout the Soviet period, you kept the Apostolic Administration of Estonia vacant for political reasons – sedisvacantia rerum politicarum causa.

With its moral and political authority, the Holy See was a source of spiritual power for the European nations held captive by communism. It gave them inspiration to regain their freedom and brought to mind the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans: ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’

Estonia has been free again for over a quarter of a century. Much has changed in this time, but Estonia has always remained true to freedom, openness, and democracy, which has underpinned our society’s rapid development in turn. Yet, it is also important to remember lines from a poem spoken by John Paul II, who visited Estonia 25 years ago:

‘Freedom must be won continually; it cannot merely be possessed. It comes as a gift but can only be kept with a struggle.’

We must always be vigilant in safeguarding our freedom and human rights. If we fail to do so, then we may gain a few carefree days, but we will inherit a future fraught with worry.

Hiding away from the world’s problems makes no one stronger or happier, because only fears grow behind closed doors, never a creative and secure future. It is the shared responsibility of us all to find solutions to the world’s problems, be they the sufferings of people fleeing atrocities and war, climate change, migration problems, or poverty.

In a period of rapid change and economic development, the most vulnerable among us must not be neglected: the poor, disabled, very young, and very old. We must remember that economic success obliges us to take notice of others and reach out to them. To expand upon an idea that you’ve voiced, a people that does not care for its children and elderly has no hope.

Your Holiness, dealing with climate change is the critical question of our age. We know how clearly it is linked to the problem of migration. Rapid technological advances will certainly help to counterbalance climate change. However, this is only one aspect of the issue, because we have to tackle our wasteful behavioural patterns and mindsets.

In this respect, even the smallest countries and nations can be leaders, because we have the mobility needed to implement quick changes. A good example is the Let’s Do It campaign, which started in Estonia and just a couple weeks ago became a worldwide movement. This shows that even the small can be great when it comes to solving global problems. It’s up to us to decide what kind of planet we will leave for future generations. The Estonian writer Jaan Kaplinski proposed that the symbol of the anti-wastefulness movement could be the robes of St Francis of Assisi, which the man only ever mended and never threw away.

I would indeed like to close with St Francis’s words: ‘Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is darkness, light. And where there is sadness, joy.’

Your Holiness, I thank you and am certain our friendship will continue throughout the ages.

I’d now ask you to speak.