The Holy See official, who functions as the minister of foreign affairs, told BNS that the visit would serve as “an opportunity to inject some encouragement and to tell people to persevere in their commitment of faith.”
“It would encourage the society of Lithuania to not to be blown off course by the inevitable challenges that come away, and to persevere in this nation building, as people often say and the strenghening of your society and clarifying your political and social objectives what sort of society we are trying to build, what sort of hope are we trying to nudge for the future of our people,” said Gallagher.
He added that Lithuanians should start making spiritual preparations for the papal visit.
“That is always a wonderful thing, because it is the opportunity to renew your faith, to examine your faith, to see what things in life are needed or not,” said the secretary of the Holy See who attended the Snow Meeting of Lithuanian and foreign security experts in the Trakai district last Thursday and Friday.
BNS: As far as I understand you can’t tell a lot of details of his planned trip to Lithuania because its not yet confirmed…
BNS: But you met with our foreign minister on a bilateral basis. What did you discuss?
Gallagher: Yes, I had a meeting last night with the minister and we talked about general things of interest. But also, obviously, he expressed great satisfaction of the eventual visit of the Holy Father to Lithuania and to other Baltic countries. (…) Obviously, the visit is still being studied very seriously and I think that there is a hope that in a not distant future there will be an announcement being made.
We should bear in mind that obviously things have moved on from 25 years ago when John Paul II came. So there is a new context, a new style, a new pope, as well. So it probably would be a different sort of visit. It will have the usual protocol elements in it and also giving great attention to local Catholic communities. Also its an opportunity for the Holy Father, as it has been for me in last 24 hours, to understand and have a glimpse into the life here in Lithuania and the Baltics.
BNS: Can you tell me a little bit more in detail how pope chooses the countries he visits?
Gallagher: I think that’s a great mystery, really, in some ways, but certainly there is a little bit of a pattern. Most people and I observe that he chooses countries that, first of all, invite him. Secondly, countries which perhaps might not be on top of some people lists. He hasn’t made a great deal of visits to big European countries, for example. As you know in the beginning of his pontificate he has talked about the peripheries. (…) For example, he went to the Philippines, to the areas which were struck by the hurricanes, he went now to Myanmar and Bangladesh where we know there is this great crisis of refugees.
The Baltics, as well, are somewhere on the edge of Europe, somewhere which is the crossroads for many different currents of politics, of history and the recent history of Europe. So I think he probably finds that very fascinating.
BNS: So we can speak of Lithuania as a periphery too?
Gallagher: I think to be frank when I was growing up in the UK 50 or more years ago we didn’t know much about Lithuania then. We now know a lot about Lithuania, we have a lot of Lithuanians coming to the UK.
I think that was also true within the Church. In those days perhaps the local churches didn’t know all that much about this part of Europe, particularly those parts of Europe which were dominated by the Soviet Union. And now things have opened up and we live in a very different situation. I came here for the first time in the early 2000s when I was working in the Council of Europe. My eyes were really open to this reality.
So I think yes, that is one of parts in Europe which people are less familiar with but they are becoming increasingly familiar and increasingly appreciating the rich heritage and culture. For us, the Catholic Christians as well understanding the history and the faith here, that has existed in the many centuries.
BNS: When the visit of Pope Francis was announced, well, but not yet confirmed by the Vatican, Lithuania’s Bishop Gintaras Grušas told that the pope was not coming to countries because of political reasons or commemorations, as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are celebrating 100 years of independence, but he said that pope is coming to visit people. What did he mean?
Gallagher: Yes, I think that pope is not coming particurarly to commemorate political events or even the church events. All around the world in any particular time there are anniversaries of this and anniversaries of that. I don’t think the pope is allowing that to decide his program each year. But rather he is interested in offering support to people, offering support to communities, perhaps communities that are in some way of difficulty. It happens that here, 25 years after the visit of John Paul II, so many years after Lithuania regained its independence it’s good to have an opportunity to turn back time and for the Church as well to see what has happened to us as a community of believers, as a community of faith in all these years. Pope can give us some assistance, come with encouragement. (…) People who come to Rome, for example, those of us who have the privilege to see pope frequently, listen to him frequently are often very surprised what impact he can make on them and what encouragement they get from that. So I think the pope coming here even for a short period of time, there would be an attempt from him to get maximum exposure to people, to see them and to exchange with them. I think that is what he thinks: “Maybe I could contribute something to them and offer some encouragement for these people.”
BNS: Is Lithuania facing big difficulties that pope may be concerned about?
Gallagher: Well, every country in Europe is facing many economic challenges. Those economic challenges have an impact on family life, on the future, young people. As you know later in this year in Rome there would be a Senate to address the question of youth and avocations.
We have to understand there is a challenging time in Europe for the Church – we have declining numbers, we have problems of avocations and obviously Lithuania is participating in many of these difficulties. So its an opportunity to inject some encouragement and to tell people to persevere in their commitment of faith and also in general to society of Lithuania to not to be blown off course by the inevitable challenges that come away, and to persevere in this nation building, as people often say and the strengthening of your society and clarifying your political and social objectives what sort of society we are trying to build, what sort of hope are we trying to nudge for the future of our people.
BNS: How Lithuanians should prepare for that? When our parliamentary speaker was visiting Lithuania’s second city Kaunas he spoke on possibilities to renovate the local Church here for it to look better when the pope arrives. But actually is that a way to prepare for the Holy Father’s visit or there is more to be done?
Gallagher: I think it’s perfectly normal that people, when you have an honorable guest coming to your home, you make preparations in your house. You make preparations within your family, you put the best clothes on yourself to receive your guest properly. But I think that we should think that pope is going to attach great importance to that or is going to be terribly impressed. What he is going to be impressed with and what is he would expect if for people to make a good spiritual preparation to receive him. That is always a wonderful thing, because it is the opportunity to renew your faith, to examine your faith, to see what things in life are needed or not.
BNS: Do you think that technological development allows this pope to be closer to the people than any pope before?
Gallagher: I think it would be very difficult to say that Pope Francis is closer to the people than John Paul II, for example. Pope Benedict was much a more reserved character personality, perhaps a shyer personality in some ways. Certainly, Pope Francis as pope has flourished. He’s blossomed in some ways. If you talk to the people who knew him back in Buenos Aires, they probably would tell that he was not quite the same person as you meet in Rome today or you meet around the world as Pope Francis.
BNS: But speaking more broadly: in this age of post truth and in times where information consumption is very large but people lack attention on most of the issues, how can Church raise its impact to reach people’s minds today?
Gallagher: I think pope teaches us a lot about that. I think he is quite good at what you people in the media call the “soundbite.” In his speeches, he always identifies the phrase that will make an impact and he repeats that. And in addition to that, he is very aware of the power of gesture and in the power of action rather than in a power of word. His gestures to the poor, reaching the poor, his great kindness and his enormous patience. The number of people he greets at the end of general audience and when he has private audiences with large groups he wants to greet every single participant even, if there are 200 or 250 of people… That is actually very tiring, very exhaustive, but he does that.
That is the thing that always makes an impact on me. When I was a nuncio in central America, I used to do a lot of confirmations and the people are always asking you to have a photograph. After you have done 20, 30 or 40 or maybe even a 100, you can get very tired and in these times I always used to think of John Paul II. In that long pontificate of 26 years, he never said no to having the photograph taken with some people. You know how much the people would have cherished that photograph for the rest of their lives?
BNS: Speaking of Lithuanian politics, local Church here sometimes gets criticism on being to involved in Lithuanian political decision making, for example when parliament was considering the removal of embryos. How can you comment this?
Gallagher: The Church and the state are separate things, but at the same time the Church is a national institution, which is part of the political discourse, particularly in matters of delicate ethical questions, moral questions, which are going to settle the life of individuals and society for the future. It is not only permissible for the Church to express its opinion – it is the duty of the Church.
The aim of the Church is not to involve in the party politics, but in teaching, instructing and making its voice heard. That is appropriate. In many countries, the voice of the Church is listened to by politicians and by society. On delicate matters, you have to hear everybody’s opinion before you make the decision. People who actually do the voting, who make the decisions they have to do so in the conscious way and in an informed way and I think Church can contribute to that.
BNS: Thank you for the interview.