Pope urges remembrance, forgiveness



SIAULIAI, Lithuania (AP)—Pope John Paul II stood at the foot of Lithuania’s Hill of Crosses, a symbol of hope and defiance during the Soviet era, and urged his followers on Tuesday to remember the victims of oppression.

But the pontiff also said they should let go of their hatred and forgive those who ruled over them for 50 years.

‘‘Where believers were subject to persecution and discrimination, let religious and civil peace now reign,’‘ he said. ‘‘Where hatred was nursed, let forgiveness now reign; where intolerance raged, let dialogue and mutual understanding now reign.’‘

The pope spoke to about 40,000 people—far fewer than had been expected—in a field beneath the hill. His red robe billowed in a crisp wind that swept the largely empty field. A rainbow arched overhead.

In the 50 years of Soviet rule in this predominantly Roman Catholic state, Communist authorities repeatedly removed thousands of crosses erected on the hill, harassed those who planted new ones and even tried to flood the site.

Today, a thicket of thousands of wooden and metal crosses, small and large, cover the hill. A single fir tree towers above the crosses, some of which are elaborately carved and strung with rosary beads.

‘‘We come here, to the Hill of Crosses, to remember all the sons and daughters of your land, as well as those sentenced, those sent to prison, to concentration camps, deported to Siberia or Koluma and condemned to death,’‘ the pope said.

He specifically mentioned three bishops who were persecuted by Soviet authorities. Two were arrested and died in prison.

‘‘Innocents were condemned,’‘ the pope said. ‘‘At that time in your homeland a terrible system marked by totalitarian violence raged, a system which trampled down and humiliated man.’‘

The pope was on the fourth day of his first trip to the former Soviet Union. He is scheduled to go to Latvia’s capital, Riga, on Wednesday. He will go to Estonia on Friday before returning to Rome.

He expressed hope that Europeans will overcome the hate that has gripped parts of their continent in ethnic violence and civil war.

‘‘Love surpasses deadly hate, which has violently spread to our European continent also,’‘ he said. ‘‘It is the love with which God loved the world in Christ crucified and risen.’‘