Estonia: The Ecumenical Path to Peace

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Even though there are only 5,000 Catholics living in Estonia, the local church community continues to grow thanks to the footprint left by German Jesuit Eduard Profittlich, the archbishop who promoted Catholicism in the Baltic nation before die a martyr during the Soviet persecution of the 1940s.

By Mario Galgano – Tallinn, Estonia

Even though Estonia is a small country, it is still not easy for the Catholic minority to attend mass. Many worshipers have to travel long distances by car to receive Communion or speak to a priest.

Bishop Philippe Jourdan is the apostolic administrator in Estonia. He and theologian Marge-Marie Paas are postulators of the cause for the beatification of Archbishop Eduard Profittlich, SJ, whose ministry in Estonia in the 1930s left a strong imprint on the country’s faith.

Ms. Paas was responsible for press communication on the occasion of the visit of Pope Francis in 2018; she is now responsible for the editorial office of Archbishop Profittlich position and will continue to deal with official communication on the beatification process.

Role of ecumenism in Estonia

Ecumenism plays an important role in the Baltic country.

The two Estonian Orthodox Churches – the Orthodox Church linked to Constantinople and the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate – actively participate in the talks between the different denominations.

Hot political topics are avoided, as one member of the Catholic minority told us. Catholics in Estonia are mostly foreigners or local converts.

Mrs. Paas is one of them; an Estonian converted to Catholicism. She is also involved in ecumenical work.

“Dialogue and listening,” she says, “are important factors in achieving peace.”

Growth of the Catholic Church in the country

“In Kodasema, the geographical center of the country, we have a Catholic youth center,” explains Ms. Paas.

The building stands in the middle of a forest, away from the world, and is available to young people.

It was then Father Profittlich who began its construction: the Jesuit arrived in 1931 as an apostolic administrator in Estonia and was appointed archbishop in 1936.

After the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church had been virtually eliminated.

On April 15, 1783, the Catholic community of Estonia was integrated into the archdiocese of Minsk-Mahiljou, until the creation of the diocese of Riga on September 22, 1918.

In the context of the growing commitment of the Holy See in dialogue with the Orthodox Churches of these countries, the “Commission for Russia“established Estonia as a Special Apostolic Administration on May 11, 1931, and Father Eduard Profittlich was appointed Apostolic Administrator ad nutum Sanctae Sedis.

Despite the pastoral difficulties due to the small number of Catholic faithful with their multilingualism and their dispersion throughout the territory, this new legal status has allowed a fruitful development of the Catholic Church in Estonia.

The Estonian public soon began to take an interest in the work of the new bishop: even people belonging to other denominations came to listen to his homilies.

Forced annexation

With the forced annexation of Estonia by the Soviet Union on June 17, 1940, Soviet religious laws were enforced with coercive administrative measures.

Pope Pius XII sent a letter of encouragement to Archbishop Profittlich on March 12, 1941, as the persecution in Estonia escalated into a campaign of terror, in which more than 60,000 people would be arrested, deported, tortured and killed.

Eventually, Archbishop Profittlich was expelled after being accused of spying on behalf of Germany.

Of what happened afterwards, nothing was heard for a long time.

It was only after the proclamation of Estonia’s independence on March 30, 1990 that the country’s Supreme Court notified (June 12, 1990) the Catholic community of Tallinn of the full rehabilitation of Archbishop Eduard Profittlich.

Archbishop Profittlich was sentenced to death on November 21, 1941 and died a martyr on February 22, 1942, in Kirov prison in Siberia, after being exposed, before his scheduled execution.

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