ROME – With a papal visit to Estonia likely on the horizon, Pope Francis on Friday met the country’s Prime Minister, Jüri Ratas, at the Vatican, discussing their good diplomatic ties and the contributions of the Catholic Church in Estonian society, despite its small minority.
According to a Feb. 9 Vatican communique, the “cordial discussions” included appreciation for the good diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Estonia, as well as “the positive contribution of the Church to Estonian society.”
Catholics make up less than one percent of the country’s population of over 1.3 million.
During their 20-minute private meeting, attention was also paid to “themes of mutual interest at a regional and supranational level, including the protection of the environment, and migration,” the communique states. They also spoke about the commitment of the international community to conflict resolution.
At the end of their discussion, Francis gave Ratas copies of his apostolic exhortations, Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia, as well as the encyclical Laudato Si’ and his message for the 2018 World Day of Peace. He also gave a medallion depicting an angel destroying a demon of war.
On his part, Ratas gave the pope two hand-crafted silver cups made in Estonia, which Francis said were “very beautiful.”
The delegation of the prime minister was made up of six people. After the meeting with Francis, Ratas went on to meet with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and with under-Secretary for Relations with States Monsignor Antoine Camilleri.
A trip last month to Lithuania by the Vatican’s “minister of foreign affairs,” Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, has raised expectations for the possibility of a papal trip to the Baltic states in September.
The trip has not yet been officially announced, but there have been signals that it will be planned between the second and the third week of September. The pope would go to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, to celebrate the 100th year of their establishment as independent states.
In a comment first offered to Catholic News Agency Dec. 15, Bishop Philippe Jourdan, the apostolic vicar of Estonia, recounted that “we are preparing with joy for Pope Francis’s visit.”
Jourdan said that there are some 6-7,000 Catholics in Estonia, “one of the smallest communities Pope Francis has ever met,” and for that reason, “the trip represents a challenge for the pope.”
Despite the “extreme religious situation of Estonia,” Jourdan added, “Pope Francis is very much awaited in the country, by Catholics and members of other Christian confessions.”
In Estonia, around 54 percent of the total population identify as non-religious. The Eastern Orthodox Church accounts for about 16 percent and Lutherans for almost 10 percent.