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President of the Republic on the occasion of the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis

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

25.09.2018

Your Holiness,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to Estonia, the historical Terra Mariana, during a time that we are celebrating our country's centenary.

Our Declaration of Independence of 24 February 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 rocks on which our democracy is founded.

In this connection, I would like to recall 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, 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. Pusta replied that there was complete freedom of religion in the new republic, to which the cardinal replied cheerfully: "Then we must be friends."

That friendship has lasted, 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 European nations held captive by communism. It gave them inspiration to regain their freedom, and recalled the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

For over a quarter century, Estonia has once more been free. During that time, much has changed, but Estonia has always remained true to freedom, openness and democracy and this has been the underpinning for our society's rapid development. Yet it is also important to remember a line from a poem by John Paul II, who visited Estonia 25 years ago:

"Freedom has continually to be won, it cannot merely be possessed.

It comes as a gift but can only be kept with a struggle."

We always have to be vigilant in safeguarding our freedom and human rights. If we are not, we may gain a few carefree days but inherit a future very fraught with worry.

Hiding away from the problems of the world makes no one stronger or happier, because behind closed doors, only fears grow, 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 and migration problems, or poverty.

In a period of rapid changes and economic development, the most vulnerable among us must not be neglected – the poor, the disabled, and the 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 on an idea you have 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 migration problem. Certainly rapid technological advances will help counterbalance climate change. But that is only one side, because we have to deal with changing our wasteful behavioural patterns and mindsets.

In this respect, even the smallest countries and nations can be leaders, because we have the necessary mobility for implementing rapid changes. A good example is the Let's Do It campaign, which started in Estonia and 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 what kind of planet we will leave our future generations. The Estonian writer Jaan Kaplinski has proposed that the symbol of the anti-wastefulness movement could be the robes of St. Francis of Assisi that he kept on patching and never threw away.

I would indeed like to close with some words of St. Francis of Assisi. "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 I am certain our friendship will continue to last through the ages.

I would now like to ask you to speak.