Pope Francis praised Lithuania's bishops for their courage in a nation marked by both a history of persecution against the Church as well as modern threats of secularism and relativism. “You are the heirs of this history, this patrimony of pastoral charity, and you demonstrate the energy of your action, the communion which you enliven, and the perseverance in pursuing the objectives which the Spirit shows you,” he said. The bishops of Lithuania have been in Rome for their ad limina visit, during which they were received by the Holy Father on Feb. 2. “You have come to Rome with your youth, but also with your courage,” Pope Francis said, noting the presence of those who had lived during the “sad period of persecution” of the former Soviet state. The majority Catholic country was under Soviet rule until the early 1990s, during which the Church faced intense persecution. A second Soviet occupation in the 1940s saw some of the most severe oppression, with seizures of Church property, the deportation of over 150 priests, and the arrest, torture and execution of Telsiai bishop Vincentas Borisevicius. Pope Francis acknowledged the “apostolic efforts” of the bishops in Lithuania amid this oppression against the Church by “regimes founded on ideologies contrary to human dignity and freedom,” and which today is marked by “other hidden dangers,” such as secularism and relativism. In addition to proclaiming the Gospel and Christian values, the bishops were urged toward “constructive dialogue with all, even those who do not belong to the Church or are far from the religious experience.” The Pope then encouraged them to care for the Christian communities, that “they may always be places of welcome, of open and constructive discussion, a stimulus for the whole society in pursuit of the common good.” Pope Francis turned his address to the theme of the family, encouraging bishops to offer their “contribution in the great work of discernment, and above all in the pastoral care of the family.” Within the European Union, of which Lithuania became a full member in 2004, the Pope noted the “influx if ideologies” which seek to destabilize families, the “fruit of a misunderstood sense of personal freedom.” He reminded the bishops of their “age-old Lithuanian tradition” to aid them in responding to these challenges “according to reason and faith.” The pontiff then turned to the topic of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, calling on the Lithuanian Church to “never tire” of “praying for vocations.” He urged them to provide “adequate formation” for priests, religious and seminarians, especially in the areas of spiritual in moral life, and educating them in “evangelical poverty and the management of material goods according to the principles of the Church’s social doctrine.” Despite the economic advancements in Lithuania, the Pope reminded the bishops to care for their neighbors who are “in need, unemployed, sick, abandoned.” He concluded by calling on the Lithuanian bishops' conference to give special attention to the youth, that “they may preserve the faith and religious traditions” of their country.
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