On the second leg of his Baltic regional tour, Pope Francis urged Latvians to cherish their hard-won freedom and praised what he said was the Christian spirit that allowed their country to endure Soviet and Nazi occupations.
In a speech shortly after his arrival in Riga on September 24, the pope said that their history should remind Latvians of the importance of treasuring freedom and independence.
"You know all too well the price of that freedom, which you have had to win over and over again," he said.
On the third day of his Baltic tour, the pontiff also laid flowers at the monument to Latvian independence in Riga -- the Monument to Freedom -- and joined Lutheran and Orthodox Christian leaders at an ecumenical prayer in the capital’s Lutheran Rigas Doms cathedral.
Earlier this week in neighboring Lithuania, Pope Francis honored Jews who were executed or sent to extermination camps during the three-year Nazi occupation and the Lithuanians who were deported to the gulag prison camps or were oppressed at home during five decades of Soviet occupation.
The pontiff’s regional tour will also bring him to Estonia, which along with Lithuania and Latvia was part of the Russian Empire and briefly Soviet Russia before it declared independence 100 years ago.
The three Baltic countries were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 and by Germany between 1941 and 1944 during World War II.
They regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.
According to the Vatican, around 80 percent of the Lithuanian population is Catholic.
Latvia is a primarily Lutheran country, while Estonia is largely nonreligious and has a small Catholic population of around 5,000.
John Paul II in 1993 was the only other pope to visit the three Baltic states.