missionary journeys have taken me this time to the edge of the Baltic Sea.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are the legacy of the old Livonia, a
land that Pope Innocent III, in the XII century, called
The people have not forgotten the cold-war, when, on the 13th
October 1944, these three countries were forcibly annexed to the Soviet
Union. The people sensed a great relief when the winds of Mickail Gorbachov=s
blew over their land. They came out into the streets, courageously asking
for independence and freedom. These three Baltic countries have a keen
sense of their own identity, of their culture and land.
I went to Latvia as part of my role as Missionary Secretary. It is squeezed
between its two republican neighbours. With its 64,598 square kilometres it
is just smaller than Ireland. There is enough surface area for its
2,360,000 inhabitants. Like the other Baltic republics, Latvia is open to
the sea, with a 494 kilometre coastline, with rivers and lakes, and plains
that are never any higher than 300 metres. It has managed to maintain
unchanged its frontiers since the constitution of the Republic on th 18th
November 1918. Dark periods of its recent history include the Nazi
invasion, due to the agreement on the 23rd August 1939 between
Molotov and Ribbentrop (representing Stalin and Hitler) and then the
subsequent Russian annexation.
the Soviet period (1944-1991) a nuclear missile base was created in the
Zematija national park. For 40 years it remained a secret, hidden beneath
the earth. But in 1978 it was misteriously dismantled. The Latvians
discovered only then what danger they they had run in their own country
during those cold war years.
On the 21st
August 1991 the country regained its freedom. The first parliamentary
elections took place in 1993. A year later the last Russian contingent left
the country. With the rebirth of freedom the
(The Drive towards Europe) began in earnest. On the 1st May 2004
Latvia was admitted into the European Union. The country was understandably
euphoric, as it had made a great and admirable effort at reconstruction.
But it is aware of the big challenges its still has to face due to the
problems created by such a rapid economic change.
apostle to Latvia was the German, Saint Meinard, a Canon of St John Lateran.
He built the first wooden Church in Ikskil, in 1184. Pope Clement II
nominated him as the first Bishop. Nine centuries later, during his
apostolic visit on the 8th September 1993, John Paul II restored
the liturgy of Saint Meinard (+ 1196), patron of Latvia.
pearl of the Baltic
It is the
most impressive of the Baltic capitals, an attractive coastal city, divided
by a river, with lots of flat surrounding land that easily accommodates its
one million inhabitants. A German Bishop, Albert, from Bremen, successor of
Meinard, established the Diocese in 1201.
full of streets and wide avenues. The bridges keep the city united, the
river Daugav, being more than 500 metres wide. The old city is quaint. The
church of St. Peter dominates the place with its high round tower. In a
country with vaste forests much of the contruction is in wood. I was
surprised to see the presence of a style of architecture know as
as I believed it was exclusive to Vienna. One can also see the simple
accomodation built during the Soviet period. Thanks to the celebration of
the VIII centenary of the city, in 2001, a great effort was made at
restoration. I admired the soldiers on guard-duty at the countries main
monuments, solemn and very still even in the cold. However, I was assured
that they were dispensed from such service when the temperature fell below
20 degrees Celsius.
street next to the river there is a monument to the giant who helped people
cross the river Daugav. Here we have the origin of the legend of Saint
Christopher. With his height and broad shoulders he helped people cross the
wide river, long before there was a bridge. One night the giant heard the
cries of a child in distress coming from the other bank. Christopher picked
the child up and placing him on his shoulders they crossed the river to
safety. We know the legend and even more the medals dedicated to St.
Christopher, that show Christopher carrying on his shoulders the Infant
Jesus - the Greek word
The mysterious Infant disappeared, but in the place where he lived they
minted gold coins, with which Bishop Albert founded the city of Riga. From
this popular belief was born the devotion to their patron Saint,
the Great Christopher.
the artistic life of the city, Richard Wagner lived here as
from 1837-1839. He composed the opera
in Riga, as well as the carol
In 1843 he presented
the national theatre in Riga for the first time.
metropolitan seminary, converted into a major institute for theology and
catechesis, is a huge brick building with an adjacent park. Next door is
the neo-gothic parish church dedicated to St. Francis. It is a fine
building, and some what surprisingly was constructed during the Soviet
period; this is because they decided in Moscow that all the Catholic
seminarians through out the Soviet Union would study only in one place,
seminary was my base during the days that I stayed in the capital. I could
not have found a more suitable place to discover better the situation of the
Church. I lived with the 36 seminarians and their professors. The fact that
I did not know the language was not a barrier as they were able to
understand me when I spoke in German, or French or Latin...We communicated.
In my homilies and our five meetings I spoke to them about the Church, its
mission, about Carmel, and prayer. There was a felt need to be more open
to the wider Church. They were aware that the Church of Latvia had now
reached a time, thanks to new found freedom, to give without reserve.
Church in Riga has begun the material and moral reconstruction after five
decades of neglect and confinement due to the communist regime. In the last
14 years of freedom it has built more than 30 places of worship. A young and
enthusiastic clergy promises much for the future.
I came to
Latvia eager to know the present situation above all for the Carmelites. I
did not have time to find out if any of the 13 priories which made up the
previous Province of Saint Casimir in Latvia, since its foundation in 1734,
still exist today.
past there have been a few vocations to Carmel and those have been sent
outside the country to: Belgium, Germany and Poland. There has been success
in vocational work and today there are two Latvian priests Ande Marie
Jerumanis and Andris Kravalis as well as other youngsters. But the time has
come for Carmel to be planted in Latvia. 28 kms from Riga, along a motorway
lined by pine and fir trees, is to be found town of Ikskile. It is famous
as the place where the first Christian community was established in Latvia
by Saint Meinard. Here, very close to the river Daugav, is the place where
the new Carmelite convent is soon to be built. On the 16th July
Cardinal Janis Pujats will bless the first stone of the building, with rooms
for 18 Sisters plus accomodation for anyone wanting to visit or spend time
on retreat. Work has already begun on the land to drain it and prepare the
foundations. 200 trees have been planted. The building work should take two
years, as, during the coldest part of the winter, the work has to be
credit is due to Sister Elisha of Jesus OCD and her community in Essen,
Germany. She has been the architect of the new project, and has persevered
in making a preliminary study of the land and obtained the relevant
authorizations. Carmel has aroused great interest in the Lutheran community,
who invited the Carmelite Nuns to build the first Roman Catholic Church in
the place. The arrival of native vocations makes us optimistic for the
future. For the time being the Carmelite Order will be the only
contemplative presence in the country. It will be a new presence of the
Order, and open to Carmelite Sisters from any country that would like to be
associated with this missionary undertaking.
archdiocese of Riga has in mind two possible locations for a small
international community of our Friars, who will begin to live a Carmelite
life here in the coming months. One of the places is the Catholic School of
Riga. The local Church is looking forward to the beginning of the Carmelite
apostolate. The present
Stein Christian Institute for Dialogue and Religion@
could hand over its functions to the Carmelites. Thanks to it=s
Director, Inga Reinvalde, who is also President of the Carmelite Secular
Order in Riga, the Institute already has a Carmelite presence. Present at
the conference I gave, entitled
Stein in the school of St. Teresa@,
was the Professor, Heidi Tuorila Kahanpee, president of the OCDS in Helsinki
(Finland), who gave a lecture entitled,
pedagogy of prayer according to St. Teresa@.
the time I spent in Riga I received an invitation from the Mgr. Lapelis, the
young Domican Bishop of Liepaya, for the Carmelites to accept the running of
a centre of spirituality. The building is already available and could easily
be adapted to this apostolate. There is no such centre in his diocese at
help of Germany a group of the Secular Order was formed about ten years ago.
The number of members is now over 20. I received the first promises of two
of them. There is another group being formed outside Riga. The heart of the
OCDS in Latvia is Professor Inga Reinvalde, who has spent an academic year
in the International Carmelite Institute in Avila, Spain.
Latvian woman has recently defended her brilliant doctoral thesis on St.
Teresa at the Teresianum in Rome, and is now preparing to translate all the
writings of St. Teresa into Latvian. Another is preparing her doctorate on
St. John of the Cross in Spain. There are also to be seen the beginnings of
(MEC). The Patroness of the Missions, St. Therese, is very popular in this
country thanks in great part to the saintly Bishop Sloskan (+ 1981), who
suffered greatly under both the Nazis and the Communists. He translated
Story of A Soul@
and made every effort to encourage devotion.
Congregation of the Carmelite Sisters of the Child Jesus, founded in Poland
by Fr. Anselm of St. Andrew Corsini, in 1921, has recently made two
foundations in Latvia. And even though they have not been in the country
long they already have 15 native vocations. Chief supporters of this
Carmelite growth for the service of the Church in Latvia are two Priests,
both members of
Dame de Vie@
a Carmelite Secular Institute.
flower of Carmel in Latvia has begun to grow. We can expect an imminent
blooming for both the Nuns and Friars. This surely merits all the help that
the General Secretary of the Carmelite Missions can give.