TALLINN (Reuters) - Pope Francis said on Tuesday as he wound up a trip to the Baltic states, all nervous about what they see as a newly aggressive Russia next door, that nations should not measure their strength by their military capability to prevail over others.
“Some people speak in a loud voice, full of self-assurance – with no doubts or hesitation. Others shout and hurl threats about using weapons, deploying troops and implementing strategies...That way they appear to be stronger,” he said in a homily of a Mass in the Estonian capital Tallinn.
“But this is not about ‘seeking’ the will of God, but about gaining power so as to prevail over others,” he said near the end of a four-day swing through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The pope did not elaborate. But nearly 30 years since the three Baltics seceded from the Soviet Union, they look warily towards giant neighbour Russia. All three now belong to NATO and the European Union; standards of living have risen significantly.
Prosperity is not the be-all and end-all, however, Pope Francis suggested in his homily. “You did not gain your freedom in order to end up as slaves of consumerism, individualism or the thirst for power or domination,” he said.
The three Baltics won independence after the end of World War One only to be annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, occupied by Nazi Germany during World War Two and re-absorbed by the Soviet Union until its break-up in 1991.
Recent events in Russia, with which all three states share a land border, have brought on new jitters.
After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and fears grew Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania might be next on Moscow’s list, defence spending increased sharply and several thousand NATO soldiers were deployed in the Baltics.
The Baltics say they are victims of a sustained anti-Western disinformation campaign by Russia and subjected to regular intimidation tactics including cyber attacks - accusations which the Kremlin denies.
Earlier on Tuesday, Pope Francis said young people around the world were right to feel outrage at the Catholic Church’s handling of its sexual abuse scandals as it grapples with a wave of new cases in countries including Chile and Germany.
Francis has come under fire from victims groups and other members of the Church who say he has not done enough to make bishops accountable for mishandling or covering up abuse cases.
“They are outraged when they do not see clear condemnations of sexual and economic scandals,” he told 1,000 young people gathered in a Lutheran church in Tallinn.
He spoke hours before the Catholic Church in Germany was due to present a report on its sexual abuse record. Its findings were leaked to German magazine Der Spiegel earlier this month and showed that nearly 1,700 of its clerics and priests had sexually abused 3,677 minors over a 70-year period ending in 2014.
A similar study in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania shook the American Catholic Church in August and last week the number of Chilean bishops who have resigned over a recent sex abuse scandal rose to seven.
Francis wrote an unprecedented letter to all Catholics last month, asking each one to help root out “this culture of death” and last year said the Roman Catholic Church had “arrived late” in dealing with sexual abuse of children by priests.
Estonia, the last stop of the pope’s three-nation tour, has only about 4,500 Catholics, or about 0.4 percent of the population of 1.3 million, according to a 2011 census. A majority said they have no religious identification.
(The story has been refiled to restore dropped word ‘since’ in paragraph 4)
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich