VILNIUS, Lithuania – “May we be a country that chooses to build bridges not walls, that prefers mercy not judgment.” This was the strong and clear message that Pope Francis gave the people of Lithuania when Saturday afternoon he visited the Shrine of the Mother of Mercy, in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania
“The Mother of Mercy, like every good mother, tries to bring her family together. She whispers in our ear: ‘Look for your brother, look for your sister’,” the Pope said Sept. 22.
“In this way, she opens to us the door to a new dawn, a new day. …. In the past, we built all too many fortresses, but today we feel the need to look one another in the face and acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters, to walk side by side, and to discover and experience with joy and peace the value of fraternity,” the pope said.
Encounter and solidarity
The Pope in continuation of the theme of welcome he spoke of during his first meeting with the authorities and civil society added:
“How good it would be if this ease in moving from one place to another could be accompanied by ease in establishing points of encounter and solidarity, so that we can share generously the gifts we have freely received.” Francis continued.
“So that we can go out and give ourselves to one another, receiving in turn the presence and the diversity of others as a gift and a source of enrichment in our lives.”
He warned of the ways in which an increasingly more open and globalized world can stir competition in people, and leave room “for conflict that divides us, tensions that exhaust us, hatred and enmity that get us nowhere.”
Image of the Mother of Mercies
The two-metre image of the Mother of Mercies is painted over eight 80-inch-thick oak planks. Twelve stars adorn her head, while engraved roses, tulips, carnations and daffodils tumbled over her robe.
The image is the work of an anonymous artist hailing back to 1630. In 1799, when Lithuania was invaded the city walls were razed and only one gate was left standing. This was the gate which sheltered the image of the Virgin Mary “Mother of Mercy”. It was crowned Mother of Mercy in 1927, making Vilnius the “City of Mercy.”
Francis is the second pope to visit the icon, the first being St. Pope John Paul II, who came to the sanctuary in 1993.