Highly Esteemed Rector,
Your Eminence, the Cardinal,
Your Excellence, the Archbishop,
Distinguished Participants and Guests of the Conference!
I am delighted to extend my welcome to all of you, assembled here, at old Vilnius University to recall the past ties between Lithuania and the Holy See, to discuss the present and to look ahead to the future.
This conference abounds in symbolism.
September 4th of this year shall mark the tenth anniversary of the historic day, when for the first time during all the centuries of Christianity, the Holy Father set foot on Lithuania’s soil.
The expectations of Lithuania’s Catholics to greet the Pope in their own country came to fruition.
We remember well the days of the historic visit. We were aware earlier of the Holy Father’s love for Lithuania, however this time, we beheld him in our shrines -- in prayer, immersed in the depths of faith, unworldly.
That is unforgettable. Each one of us preserves the Holy Father’s blessing in our hearts in our own unique fashion.
The Holy Father attached a very high rating to the loyalty of the Lithuanian nation to Christianity. It was at that time that he noted in Vilnius that, Lithuania, a silent witness of a deep love for religious freedom – has traversed a long and sorrowful path, and became famous as a land of martyrs and professors of faith.
A few days ago, I received a message of congratulations from Pope John Paul II, expressing his wishes that I would come to serve justice, peace and the welfare of the people of Lithuania.
These words by the Holy Father are of great importance to me, as I commence my duties as the head of state, especially, in view of the fact that this happens to be the first conference, which I welcome as the President of the Republic of Lithuania.
The deep roots of Christianity and the values fostered by them have assisted Lithuania in the midst of the oppressive historical intervals it has encountered.
The connecting strands between Lithuania and the Holy See extend as far back as 1251, when Lithuania’s ruler Mindaugas, by means of baptism linked the fate of our state with the tradition of Latin Europe.
This year, we commemorate the 750th anniversary of the coronation of Mindaugas as the King of Lithuania –the jubilee year of the founding of the Christian State of Lithuania.
The coronation of Mindaugas at the behest of Pope Innocent IV, the highest authority of the civilization in the Middle Ages, also signified the European recognition of our State.
Eighty years ago, on November 10, 1922, Pope Pius XI, recognized de jure, the Republic of Lithuania thus, as if stamping a seal upon the freedom file of Lithuania.
Following the fateful year 1940, the firm stance by the Holy See proved to be of major significance. The Vatican has never recognized the annexation of Lithuania. Throughout the entire cold war period, a diplomatic mission of the Republic of Lithuania functioned at the Holy See.
I would like, however, to return to the present. Seeing in this auditorium His Excellency Archbishop Jean Louis Tauran, I perceive one additional symbol.
To my knowledge, Your Excellency has made a first visit to Lithuania in 1992, at a time when Lithuania, through the determination and will of its people, had recently regained its Independence.
I wish to assure you, that now, a decade later, Lithuania has become strengthened, is rising and is prepared for membership in NATO and the European Union.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Christianity has not in vain been vividly labeled as the native tongue of the Europeans,
The historical development of Europe is inseparable from religion and first of all, from Christianity. The historical development of Lithuania’s statehood is inseparably linked with the Catholic Church in Lithuania and the ties with the Holy See.
In like manner to the Holy See, we perceive the integration of Europe, as the movement along a path of unity and cooperation of the states and nations, which have grown up from the same cultural and religious roots.
The President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, who spoke in this university several years ago, emphasized the fact that, for the first time, Europe has the opportunity to arrange matters in a way, which would make peace spread from it into the world and that it would become an example of peaceful and fruitful cooperation.
Indeed, we are creating a unified Europe, based upon common historical, religious and cultural ties.
We are creating a Europe, which must stand on a foundation of solid ethical and spiritual values.
I believe, that today’s conference, will also assist us in perceiving even with greater transparency the future of Lithuania within a uniting Europe.
I would like to express my thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference, The Institute of Political Science and International Relations of Vilnius University, the Lithuanian Institute of History, and the Catholic Academy of Sciences of Lithuania for organizing this very important and significant event and I wish the conference success in its endeavours.
Press Service of the President