There doesn’t seem to be much good news coming out of Latvia at the moment. When the country appears in the news, the talk is always of economic problems or political turmoil. But is that the whole picture? Don’t we sometimes fall prey to pessimism? What are the signs of "New Solidarity" that exist already?
With temperatures around -30C, I travelled to the eastern province of Latgale. A group of young people together with their pastor from the small town of Ilūkste has visited Taizé the last two summers. With the temperature in the church reading -10C, the pastor decided that our time of prayer and meeting should be held in the town’s youth centre. Around 30 young people gathered on a Saturday afternoon, together with the Bishop of Daugavpils in the hall of the youth centre, arranged for prayer with candles and icons. At the end of the meeting, we prayed around the icon of the Taizé cross.
As we were clearing things away, the woman who looks after the centre came up and asked what we were doing around the cross. I explained that it was a time when we can bring to God our burden and suffering to give them to Jesus. She told that she didn’t go to church, but asked if she could pray for a moment. I said yes of course. So knelt and placed her forehead on the cross. A few minutes later she got up, her eyes full of tears, but smiling the smile of someone set free. The words of the Letter 2012 came to mind "When tirelessly the Church listens, heals, and reconciles, it becomes what it is at its most luminous..."
Coming back on the train from Daugavpils, the ticket collectors herded us into the one warm wagon. Everyone was very grateful for her advice! She was a Russian speaker, but when someone replied to her in Latvian, she switched language without any fuss. Some people try to exploit the situation politically, but at a grassroots level, the problems are not as great as they sometimes seem.
In Valmiera, the congregation has been through much turmoil for a variety of reasons. I last visited there four years ago when the new pastor had arrived. It was a joy to see how over that time, much healing has taken place. Our time of meeting together was so open, radiating "a communion of love, of compassion, of consolation, a limpid reflection of the Risen Christ."
In Rīga, at Old Gertrude’s Church, we gathered for prayer in the cellars beneath the church. Around 100 people came. It’s here that the church runs its Alpha course. Many young couples come to take part in this form of adult catechism. It is proving to be a real source of renewal in the parish. Young volunteers go from the parish together with their pastors to visit two local prisons. Prisoners come freely for a time of prayer and catechism. In the Letter 2012, we read Christ sends Christians "out to serve humankind as a leaven of trust and peace." Such outreach embodies these words.
I was first in Saldus 18 years ago. The future Lutheran Archbishop showed us his plans for a school of discipleship. St Gregor’s Mission Centre, as it is now known, welcomes young adults for times of study and reflection about mission in Latvia already since many years. Among the students were three young people from Rom families. Their presence is important and enriching.