ROME – Despite the pain and suffering they have experienced, Catholics in the Baltic states can take hope in the steadfast care of the Virgin Mary, as depicted at the Gate of Dawn in Lithuania, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

“The years pass, the regimes pass, but above the Gate of Dawn of Vilnius, Mary, Mother of Mercy, continues to watch over her people, as a sign of sure hope and consolation,” he said Sept. 26.

The pope’s general audience catechesis was devoted to a reflection on his Sept. 22-25 visit to the three Baltic countries: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

He noted the many years of persecution the people of the three countries have faced in the last 100 years, especially during the Nazi and Soviet occupations, when priests were imprisoned and deported, and the Jewish people massacred. Visiting the various places where these injustices took place, he saw “the cruelty of humanity,” he said.

Francis gave a summary of the different aspects of his trip, including the different meetings with authorities, youth, elderly, priests, seminarians, and religious.

During the three Masses, he said, Catholics were able to renew their “yes” to Christ’s hope, through the intercession of Mary, who is a Mother to all but especially to the suffering.

He also pointed out the ways in which the countries have changed since the last papal visit to the area, which was made by Pope St. John Paul II 25 years ago – immediately following the states’ independence from the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

“My visit took place in a very changed context compared to the one that met St. John Paul II,” he said, “therefore my mission was to proclaim to those peoples the joy of the Gospel and the revolution of mercy, of tenderness, because freedom is not enough to give meaning and fullness to life without love, the love that comes from God.”

“The Gospel, which in the time of trial gives strength and soul to the struggle for liberation, in the time of freedom is light for the daily journey of people, families, societies,” he explained, “and it is salt that gives flavor to ordinary life and preserves it from corruption of mediocrity and selfishness.”

At the end of the audience, the pope announced the publication later in the day Sept. 26, of a message “of fraternal encouragement to Chinese Catholics and to the whole universal Church.”

He referenced a provisional agreement between China and the Holy See, on the appointment of bishops, which was signed Sept. 22, and said he hopes it is “the fruit of a long and thoughtful journey of dialogue.”

The agreement’s intention, he explained, is to “foster a more positive collaboration between the Holy See and the Chinese authorities for the good of the Catholic community in China and for the harmony of the whole society.”

He said he hopes his message to Chinese Catholics and the universal Church will help “to heal the wounds of the past, to restore and maintain the full communion of all Chinese Catholics and to take up the proclamation of the Gospel with renewed commitment.”

Catholics have an important task and call to accompany Chinese Catholics with prayer and friendship, he said.

“They know they are not alone. The whole Church prays with them and for them. We ask Our Lady, mother of Hope and Help of Christians, to bless and keep all Catholics in China, while for the entire Chinese people we invoke from God the gift of prosperity and peace,” he concluded.