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John Paul II and the Hill Of Crosses

Pope John Paul II came to the Hill of Crosses on September 7, 1993, to pray, celebrate Holy Mass and speak to the 100,000-strong crowd. This stop on the Apostolic Journey through Lithuania had particular significance for the Holy Father. On a variety of later occasions, he would recall the Hill of Crosses as an extraordinary and unrepeatable shrine that was worth a trip from any distance. “The Cross is exaltation, a sign of God’s love and a sign of eternal life in God,” the pope said that day. The Holy Father was especially moved by the fact that a cross was placed here to pray for his recovery after the attempt on his life in 1981.

In 1994, while presiding over the Way of the Cross at the Roman Coliseum, the Holy Father drew the attention of pilgrims from around the world to the Hill of Crosses: “I was amazed by that Lithuanian Coliseum, which is not from the times of the Roman Empire but from our very own times, a Coliseum of this past century… Today I recall many other ‘coliseums’, ‘hills of crosses’, in both the European part of Russia and in Siberia.”

On September 9, 1995, some 20,000 young people gathered at the Hill of Crosses to celebrate the second anniversary of John Paul II’s visit. They joined a satellite linkup with the Pope, who was at a Youth Day celebration in the Italian city of Loreto. The Holy Father addressed the Lithuanians, saying it was a joy for him to recall his visit to the Hill of Crosses. He urged the young Catholics to remain “faithful to the Cross of Christ, the source of love and of hope.”

The 10th anniversary of John Paul II’s apostolic journey to Lithuania was commemorated in 2003. On that occasion, the Pope sent a letter to Cardinal A. J. Bačkis in which he recalled various moments from his trip. “Could I remember the Hill of Crosses without feeling moved?” the Holy Father wrote, adding: “This evocative place reminds Lithuania’s Christians of the burning witness to faith of the entire nation, a nation that relied on the main symbol of God’s love for humanity – the love that Jesus Christ showed to the end by his suffering, death and resurrection.”