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VILNIUS, Lithuania – The Latest on Pope Francis' visit to the Baltic countries (all times local):
Pope Francis is urging Lithuania, which endured decades of Soviet and Nazi occupation, expulsions and executions, to be a model of solidarity in a world riven by intolerance as he began a visit to three Baltic nations.
Francis arrived in Lithuania on Saturday to encourage the faith and mark the 100th anniversary of Baltic independence, kicking off a grueling, four-day trip that will also take him to Latvia and Estonia.
Speaking outside the presidential palace in the capital Vilnius, Francis recalled that until the arrival of "totalitarian ideologies" in the 20th century, Lithuania had been a peaceful home to a variety of ethnic and religious groups.
He said the world today is marked by political forces that exploit fear and conflict to justify violence and expulsions of others — a reference to anti-immigrant populist and far-right groups in Europe and beyond.
Pope Francis has departed on a pilgrimage to all three Baltic countries.
Francis left Rome early Saturday morning on a special Alitalia flight headed to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
His four-day trip will also include Latvia and Estonia.
Francis greeted the Airbus A320's captain and two of its flight attendants at the top of the stairs to the aircraft before taking his seat inside.
Russia will be the elephant in the room as Pope Francis begins a four-day visit to the Baltics amid renewed alarm about Moscow's intentions in the region it has twice occupied.
Francis is travelling to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to mark the 100th anniversaries of their independence and to encourage the faith in the nations, which saw five decades of Soviet-imposed religious repression and state-sponsored atheism.
"Fifty years of occupation left their mark both on the church and on the people," said Monsignor Gintaras Grusas, archbishop of Vilnius. "People have deep wounds from that period that take time to heal."
Francis lands Saturday in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to begin four-day, three-country trip that will feature encounters with political leaders as well as the Catholic, Lutheran and Russian Orthodox faithful.