VILNIUS (Reuters) – Pope Francis arrived in Lithuania on Saturday to begin a four-day visit to the Baltic states, carrying a message of solidarity as they look warily toward a newly aggressive Russia nearly 30 years after they broke away from the then-Soviet Union.
The pontiff will spend two days in predominantly Catholic Lithuania before moving on to Latvia and then Estonia.
He was greeted at Vilnius airport by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, a military brass band and a group of children waving Vatican flags and singing songs.
He then left for the presidential palace in central Vilnius to make his first address.
The trip is the first by a pope to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia since 1993. A quarter of a century later, the countries are members of NATO and the euro zone but the past still looms large in a region subject in turn to Soviet and Nazi oppression and where religious persecution left a traumatic legacy.
In Lithuania, Francis will visit the Vilnius Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, a former Soviet KGB prison where hundreds were murdered and thousands shipped off to Siberia, including many priests.
He will also pray at a monument to the victims of the Vilnius ghetto, in a country where only several hundred of over 200,000 Jews survived the Holocaust.