Date today: 20.11.2018  |  Name days: Anda, Andīna

Homilies and speeches 2016

On the Occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Restoration of the Independence of Latvia

Address by H.E. Zbigņevs Stankevičs, Archbishop Metropolitan of Riga

Riga, 21 August 2016

21 August 1991 was a turning point in the history of our country. By adopting the Constitutional Law on the Statehood of the Republic of Latvia, the Supreme Council laid the foundation for the de facto restoration of the independence of Latvia. With the adoption of the Constitutional Law, the laws of the USSR lost power within the territory of Latvia, and we began our slow, but determined journey back to the family of free and democratic states. The Constitutional Law is based on the axiom that the Republic of Latvia is a state that accepts and implements the standards of democracy governed by the rule of law – human rights, separation of powers, right to private property, and market economy. Based on the Law of 21 August other countries recognised the restoration of Latvia’s independence.

Today we mark 25 years since we began this road of independence, walking side by side with the family of countries that have chosen the model of Western democracy. During this time, we have joined NATO and the EU, the World Trade Organisation, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. We can justifiably take pride in our achievements in art, culture, sports, as well as in some areas of science and business. Thanks to the EU Structural funds, we have renovated roads, bridges and infrastructure. Participation in international structures of the Western world serves as a powerful incentive in the fight against corruption, helping to build and strengthen civil society.    

However, not everything has been and is going as effortlessly as we initially hoped. As it turns out, the road of Western democracy is not always a smooth one. It also experiences crises and upsets.

Over the past year, Western Europe has experienced three main upsets: the refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, and Brexit. Each of these highlights a different problem and presents various challenges. Our ability to see the roots of the problems and overcome the challenges hidden within will determine whether the building of our country will stand strong or begin to wobble. Latvians have a saying: a smart farmer builds his sled in the summer. Events in Western Europe clearly demonstrate that problems with legislation regarding dishonest immigrants, as well as with actual implementation of legislation in specific situations have given rise to a sense of complete permissiveness and doors wide open.

As regards the terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim fundamentalists, some are already saying that, after Nazism and Communism, Europe is now facing the third type of totalitarianism – terrorism, which uses God’s name in vain in order to kill innocent people. Of course, we hope that nothing of the kind will happen here, but we still have to be prepared for emergencies. Do we have a war hospital on reserve ready to treat patients in case of emergency? Do we have an action plan in place for the Ministries of Defence and Health to cooperate in an emergency situation?

Prior to the vote for Brexit, Europe kept moving towards ever closer unification, but now we have to start seriously taking into consideration the centrifugal forces and draw the necessary conclusions. It seems that somewhere, something was overplayed causing people to feel threatened and thus push back. It can be seen more and more clearly that people in various European countries are unwilling to give up their national identity, language, culture; they want to rule themselves in their country.

If we look at the trends prevailing in Europe today, it is painfully clear that Europeans are experiencing a demographic crisis; some even call it suicide. Latvia, too, is experiencing it harshly, and for two main reasons – the birth rate is very low, and many people are leaving the country in search of jobs or simply a better life. As concerns the reasons – here the greatest challenge lies in fair division of income and taxes that would ensure jobs for all members of our society and fair remuneration for those jobs.  Flaws in this area was the main reason for such a massive immigration of people from Latvia. Of course, disbelief that I, an individual, can make a difference in this country and that my voice counts, also should be mentioned.

As regards the low birth rate, it must be noted that the family policy implemented by our state plays a crucial role. It relies on the understanding of marriage, gender identity, and respect for sexuality. It is dangerous and destructive to remove sexuality from personal human integrity – that is, the spiritual and soulful dimension of a person and the creation of life. If the spiritual dimension is removed from sexuality, then so-called premarital and extramarital relations become the norm, respect and the awareness of marriage as sacred and sexuality as a part of marriage are thus lost. Here education, in the broadest sense of the word, plays an important role – how family and fertility is presented not only in school programmes, but also in mass media, art, literature, theatre and cinema.

What do we need for our country to stand as a rock, for our people to be able to live without insecurity and fear for tomorrow? I think all of us here today wish that we could live in a country the foundations of which are set in stone. For that to happen, there are two pillars of the foundation that are necessary. The first – to recognise that our mind is capable of capturing objective reality, to look for it jointly and then stick to it. It also means to recognize that human freed has its limits, otherwise we will experience what we already experienced in the past century – two world wars and two totalitarian regimes.

The second – to accept the truth that we have received from above, the divine revelation. The foundations of Europe are built on harmonious synthesis of faith and mind, from there comes strength of Europe.  Muslim fundamentalism is an example how the faith inhibits mind.  By contrast, aggressive and totalitarian secularism comes into play when the mind renounces faith.  

In the light of faith the root of the problem in Europe is an evil that stems from malicious or careless use of human freedom. The Bible calls it sin. The Scripture tells us that the power of sin is the Law. What does that mean? It may seem confusing at first. But the explanation is this: while man lives without laws, while they have not been shown to him, he is not aware of good and evil, and no responsibility may be expected of him. Just like with children – while they have not been told, they do not know what they are doing. God first gave man only one commandment: of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. Later this was expanded into the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai, while in the New Testament it is again merged into two commandments – love of God and thy neighbour. If we look through the prism of the initial commandment given to man in Paradise, we may reformulate it as follows: thou shalt not shift the line I have set between good and evil; thou shalt accept my authority, trust in me.

Of course, no commandments can be imposed by force. However, if a state, appealing to the majority opinion, adopts laws that explicitly trespass the line between good and evil set by God, that contradict the ten commandments and the teaching of the Church explaining the commandments, then destruction and fragility, insecurity and confusion within society aggravate rapidly. Foundations of the state begin to wobble as it lacks unifying values. How can we overcome this force of destruction, our individual and communal fragility that stirs within us? The scripture gives a short, clear, and concise answer: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.

The person of Jesus Christ is the answer to our problems, to our fragility and vulnerability. In what way? In Jesus Christ meet the visible and invisible, the divine world and earthly reality. If we come closer to him, if we get acquainted with this mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection – it has a close relationship with our vulnerability and with the power of sin in our lives. Christ’s death and resurrection, if we accept by faith that it is the link with our sin and weakness, overcome our fragility and free us from the power of sin. Then it starts to happen and have effect; the poison, the thorn is pulled out, and we are liberated. The antidote to the poison of sin that is in us and our public lives lies in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The question is how to make sure that it is a reality in our life. There are two essential prerequisites. The first step is to admit our mistakes, to make peace with God, our neighbours and ourselves, with our life story and its failures.

The second step is to welcome Jesus, who has ascended into heaven, into our hearts. So that to give ourselves at God’s disposal without fear and to be confident, to believe that it is the best choice in our life. I plead with all of you to look for your rightful place in the divine providence and devote yourselves to God. Surely, he will know what advice to give you for you to feel complete. It is a process, a path. This is well expressed in the Gospel: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it”. Then, when every day we try to hear the word of God and put it into practice, our inner self strengthens, and destruction, confusion, uncertainty, mortification, and resentfulness gradually subside. The foundations of our life, the inner pillars of our soul grow strong. Each of us needs it; our country, Latvia, needs it. God bless Latvia. Amen!