Latvia and Estonia

Visits in February 2010

Seeking signs of hope

Latvia has been hit harder than most countries in Europe by the economic downturn. The reasons for this are vast and varied, but during a recent visit, one of the brothers wanted to seek out the signs of hope in the midst of the coldest winter for twenty years. Early Monday morning, before school begins, the pupils of the Riga Christian High School gather for prayer. Pupils from 6 to 16 start each day in this way. For many years, every Monday evening, young people have been meeting for prayer with songs from Taizé in Old Gertrude Lutheran Church in the centre of Riga, sometimes there is 10 of them, sometimes 50 - it’s faithfulness that counts! In the town of Jelgava, the association "Svetelis" welcomes children and young adults with learning difficulties or from challenging social backgrounds. It provides a haven of peace and laughter. The Catholic Cathedral in Jelgava has a very active parish life around its bishop. Drawing in all generations, the services gather together the community of communities. Madona is a small town in the east of the country from where many young people have gone abroad to look for work. Close contact between the Catholic and Lutheran parishes brings hope in (re)building community. Taking part in the European meeting in Poznan led to a renewal in the worship life for the youth group of the Catholic Cathedral in Riga. After the pilgrimage, twenty prayer cells began!

Renewing our strength to persevere

Tallinn must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There’s also a beauty in the heart of Estonians forged through years of enduring hardships. On a cold Friday evening in February, fifty young people gathered in the "Catacombs" of St John’s Church for a time of prayer and sharing, to speak of the joy that they’d experienced over the past months. The church is in the shadow of the newly erected cross on Freedom Place, which pays tribute to all who gave their lives for their country. A whole generation has now grown up in an independent Estonia. Yet, you can sense that this is a time for perseverance and that faith has an important role to play. An early enthusiasm at independence time for baptism and confirmation has levelled off, but it’s now that faith communities can really contribute to shaping society.

The suburb of Mustamäe in Tallinn was built during the Soviet period. It therefore has no church building for its 65,000 or so inhabitants. Now a church is being planted there by St John’s. Led by a young deacon, a group of young people meets for worship every second week in a school hall. Local people are beginning to join them. Soon they will have their own building. Before, people had to travel to the Old Town. Now the church is in their midst.

In the village of Nõo in southern Estonia, young people meet once a month for prayer with songs from Taizé. The new songbook with the Taizé songs translated into Estonian means that a greater repertoire is now much more accessible than before. And with such a strong musical tradition in Estonia, there are always musicians to accompany the singing.

The ice between the island of Saaremaa and the mainland is only 30cms thick this year, so the ice-road which allows cars to drive over the sea isn’t open. The ferries "Regula" and "Ofeelia" continuing their trips, crashing through the plaques of ice! A prayer in Kuressaare brought together young people from the town and outlying villages. Prayer always gathers us together and helps us understand that we’re part of a larger reality, even when our own communities seem small. And that renews our strength to persevere.

Two stages in the pilgrimage of trust: 2009

After the meeting in Vilnius, the Pilgrimage of Trust continued in Latvia and Estonia. For many years, young people from these countries have visited Taizé and have taken part in the European meetings as well. How could we travel to Lithuania and not visit them? Evening prayers were prepared by young people and others involved in youth ministry in Riga on May 4 and in Tallinn on May 5. Brother Alois, together with three other brothers took part. In Riga, the young people came from different church traditions and messages of support were read from the Cardinal and from one of the Lutheran bishops.

In Tallinn, shortly before the prayer, a young woman wrote: "Many Christians living in Estonia often feel alone and I am one of them. There are not many people to whom we can talk about our faith. Our society does not support Christians. There are not many people with whom we can pray together. Our Christians are scattered in different places over the country and usually our ordinary everyday work takes all our strength and time. There are usually few possibilities just come to together to support each other. When you come to Estonia to visit us, it means so much for us. We are such a small nation and I think sometimes, how long can we survive as a nation if we continue to live like we do now? When you come to visit us, it gives us a sign that there is somebody who cares." What are the ways through which we can show other Christians that we care about them?

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