The new leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Latvia has said "exemplary ties" between churches are strengthening Christian witness in a society still suffering from communist rule, materialism and corruption - writes Jonathan Luxmoore.
"Our society caught the virus of communism and fell ill with it, losing its immunity to the disease which has come from the West since communism collapsed," said Archbishop Zbignevs Stankevics in an October interview with Poland's Catholic information agency, KAI.
The 55-year-old archbishop was speaking two months after succeeding Cardinal Janis Pujats as the head of the Catholic Church in Latvia. The country joined the European Union in 2004, 13 years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union.
In his interview Stankevics said "Homo Sovieticus," or the Soviet human being, had been replaced by "Homo Capitalisticus", and this had undermined the enthusiasm for religious faith which was widespread after the 1991 restoration of democracy in the Baltic nation.
"The communist regime badly weakened what was best in our nation, and it all still lingers on," said Archbishop Stankevics, who was ordained a priest in 1996 after working as an engineer in a Latvian shipyard and for a bank.
"This is why we need spiritual renewal, to make people aware of their own dignity and to regain a sense of their own value, as well as a spirit of initiative and feeling of co-responsibility for the country and its much weakened social life," he stated.
According to the government-linked Latvian Institute, Catholics, Lutherans and Russian Orthodox each account for between 20 and 25 percent of Latvia's 2.2 million inhabitants.
Church leaders have jointly criticised moral and social attitudes in Latvia, Stankevics noted.
In his KAI interview, he said Latvia had been badly affected by the global economic downturn, but the ability of Christians to "lobby for better living standards" and encourage "spiritual-psychological renewal" had been helped by good ecumenical relations, especially between Catholics and Lutherans.
"There are some difficulties, and even opposition in both the Catholic and Lutheran churches," said Stankevics. "But I think the majority are for closer ties and unity."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]