Source: Associated Press
By NICOLE WINFIELD and PIETRO DE CRISTOFARO
VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Tens of thousands of Lithuanians lined the narrow streets of the Old Town of Vilnius and cheered Saturday as Pope Francis’ popemobile passed by, an exuberant greeting that must have been welcome to a pope battered by new revelations in the Catholic Church’s long-running sex abuse scandal.
The church’s mounting credibility crisis was nowhere to be seen or heard on Vilnius’ streets, which were filled with Lithuanians and Poles who arrived by the busload to welcome Francis as he kicked off a four-day visit to three Baltic countries concerned about neighboring Russia.
Francis was travelling to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to mark their 100th anniversaries of independence and to encourage the faith in the Baltics, which saw five decades of Soviet-imposed religious repression and state-sponsored atheism. In addition, during the 1940s Nazi occupation, Lithuania’s centuries-old Jewish community was nearly exterminated.
Speaking outside the Vilnius presidential palace upon his arrival, Francis recalled that until the imposition of “totalitarian ideologies” in the 20th century, Lithuania had peacefully been home to a variety of ethnic and religious groups, including Christians, Jews and Muslims.