Pope Francis greets people as he arrives to lead a Holy Mass at Freedom Square in Tallinn, Estonia, September 25 2018. Picture: VATICAN HANDOUT/REUTERS
Pope Francis greets people as he arrives to lead a Holy Mass at Freedom Square in Tallinn, Estonia, September 25 2018. Picture: VATICAN HANDOUT/REUTERS

Tallinn — 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 capital of Estonia, 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 after the three Baltics seceded from the Soviet Union, they look warily towards giant neighbour Russia.

Pope Francis speaks with the media on board a plane during his flight back from Tallinn after the final leg of his visit to the Baltic states, Estonia, September 25 2018. Picture: REUTERS/MAX ROSSI
Pope Francis speaks with the media on board a plane during his flight back from Tallinn after the final leg of his visit to the Baltic states, Estonia, September 25 2018. Picture: REUTERS/MAX ROSSI

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 1, only to be annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, occupied by Nazi Germany during the World War 2 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 that 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.

Anti-Western disinformation campaign

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 were right to feel outrage at the Catholic Church’s handling of its sexual abuse scandals.

Francis has come under fire from victim groups and other members of the church who say he has not done enough to make bishops accountable for the mishandling or covering up of 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 US 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 in 2017 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% of the population of 1.3-million, according to a 2011 census. A majority said they have no religious identification.

Reuters