VILNIUS: Pope Francis will pay his first visit to the Baltic states next year, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania mark 100 years since they gained independence from Russia, the region's three presidents said Wednesday.
"In principle, we have the decision, we've heard it, officially it will be announced in December," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told reporters in the country's capital Vilnius.
"The occasion is beautiful because the Baltic states will celebrate the centenary," she said, adding that the visit will take place in the autumn.
"It will be a huge gift for Lithuania, and, I hope, also our neighbours," Grybauskaite added.
She was echoed by representatives of Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis and his Estonian counterpart Kersti Kaljulaid, according to the BNS Baltic News Service (BNS).
A spokesman for Kaljulaid told BNS on Wednesday that "the (papal) visit to the Baltic states should take place on September 16-18".
But a spokesman for the Vatican, Greg Burke, told AFP that for the moment "the trip is still in the planning phase".
In February, heavily Catholic Lithuania will mark a century since it declared independence from Russia in 1918, after spending more than a century under its thumb.
Majority Lutheran Latvia and largely secular Estonia also declared independence later that year.
The trio remained independent until World War II, when the Soviet Union annexed them under a deal with Nazi Germany.
They broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1990-1991, before joining the EU and NATO in 2004.
The late Polish-born Pope John Paul II visited all three Baltic states in 1993.