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Baltic States Say Pope Plans Visit As They Mark 100 Years Of Independence From Russia

Pope Francis

Pope Francis will visit the Baltic states in 2018 as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania mark 100 years since they gained independence from Russia, the presidents of the three countries said on November 22.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told reporters in the capital, Vilnius, that "in principle, we have the [pope’s] decision, we've heard it, officially it will be announced in December."

"The occasion is beautiful because the Baltic states will celebrate the centenary," she said.

"It will be a huge gift for Lithuania, and, I hope, also our neighbors," Grybauskaite added, indicating the visit would likely come in September 2018.

Representatives from the offices of Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis and Estonia’s Kersti Kaljulaid also confirmed the likelihood of a papal visit, the Baltic News Service reported.

Grybauskaite said she expected the Vatican to announce details of the visit shorty.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke was quoted by AFP as saying on November 22 that currently "the trip is still in the planning phase."

Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia declared independence from Russia in 1918.

They remained independent until World War II, when the Soviet Union annexed them after making a deal with Nazi Germany.

Some countries, including the United States, never officially recognized the annexation.

The countries broke free from the Soviet Union in 1990-91, eventually joining the European Union and NATO.

Based on reporting by AFP, Baltic News Service, and dpa