Provincial House (Holland, Ireland, Iceland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Belgium)
Community Maria Sterre der Zee in Limburg, Netherlands
Community María, Puerta de la Aurora in Panevėžys
The Land of Crosses
It’s been 20 years since the fall of Communism in Lithuania, and despite the persecution they suffered, the people have kept the faith and currently 90 % of the population is Christian.
Lithuania has a long Catholic tradition, though its conversion to Christianity took place a few centuries later than most of its neighbors in old Europe. In 1251 the Grand Duke Mendog (or Mindowe), decided to accept the Catholic faith and placed himself under the special protection of the Holy See—even receiving from Pope Innocent IV the royal crown.
But the conversion of Mendog, which had not been prepared for in an adequate way, provoked great resistance among the people. A little before 1260 the bishop had to flee and the tragic death of Mendog, which occurred in 1263, put an end to this ephemeral springtime of the faith.
The luminous day of “baptism” would have to wait more than a century to once more shine forth. Eventually this day came through the work and merit of a remarkable son of Lithuania, the Grand Duke Jagello. He accepted baptism in the year 1386 together with his subjects, and received the crown of Poland along with the hand in marriage of the Blessed Queen Hedwig, a pure figure of Christian womanhood venerated even today in Krakow.
In 1413, Jagello dedicated himself to the evangelization of the Lithuanian people. He adopted wise measures with the end of favoring a free diffusion and embrace of the Christian faith in all the territories of the Grand Duchy. A short time later the diocese of Medininkai was established with Matthias of Trok as its first bishop.
The first religious orders to arrive in these lands were the Dominicans and the Franciscans, later followed by the Benedictines, Bernardines and Basilians. In the year 1570, the Jesuits opened a famous school in Vilnius, which became the first national university nine years later and which provided a center of study bringing forth priests and men of culture.
And now God in His designs has chosen us with our few years coming from different cultures (Brazil and Ukraine) in order to collaborate in the continuation of this great work of evangelization begun 620 years ago.
The people are very patient and kind with us, especially the children, our first teachers of the language who accompany and care for us unconditionally. One example will suffice to show their tremendous kindness. Upon returning from the parish on one of the many winter days, we found our driveway—which we had left blocked by the copious snow of the week—perfectly shoveled. And not only the driveway, but also the little path that leads to our wood shed which supplies the stove had been cleaned. We immediately thought of a man who has become a friend of ours, and we thanked him. But it turned out that it wasn’t him. The following day, returning home before the usual hour, we discovered our little benefactor anxiously shoveling the part of the driveway that still had snow. It was Teisutis, a nine-year old boy, an altar boy from the parish who didn’t want the “seseris” (sisters) to fall in the snow.
Our apostolate with children includes an oratory twice a week at the Parish house, as well as Sunday afternoons when they come to our convent. We play games with them, prepare a little tea time snack with cake made by the “seseris,” and teach them how to pray in our chapel. They go home from this so happy.
Our little town has two schools where there are often cultural activities. We take advantage of these moments to accompany our children and to learn a little more about Lithuanian culture.
Even thought the children are invited to our house on Sundays, they actually come by almost every day after leaving school to greet us and ask if we are well. They also come by to look for us so as to accompany us to Mass in the Parish. Needless to say, our birthdays are a big deal to them, and all of them come bringing little gifts to congratulate us.
Another apostolate of ours is the oratory with youth every Friday evening at the Parish house. The patron of the group is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. A strong moment in this apostolate is the “heroic night” (all night vigil) First Fridays with Eucharistic Adoration. The youth organize themselves in half-hour turns and it is very edifying to see how nearly all of them remain in Adoration beyond their assigned time. It is never necessary to remind them when their turn is, they each know that this is the night to accompany Jesus. This time of prayer attracts many young people, in fact it has grown to include 39 “young Adorers.” They have begun to come also from a neighboring village called Pasvalis. During the night there are games, and short points of formation given by the fathers, as well as on-going instruction through the informal conversations that naturally come up. The attendance is high regardless of the temperatures below zero on the roads. Adoration begins at 9 PM on Friday and ends at 7 AM on Saturday with Holy Mass. On Saturdays the teenage girls are also invited to our convent to share our home-made pizza which they enjoy so much.
Many adults also visit us and help us by donating produce from the fields where they themselves work. Vladislava was the first to knock on our door with three liters of fresh milk, and the promise to bring the same donation every day—even now, she has never missed a day. This gave us the opportunity to talk to her about God and about the necessity of going to Sunday Mass, a custom she had lost during Communism. At Christmas the greatest gift we received was her return to Confession and Communion after thirty years. Now she never misses a Sunday Mass.
We are also the sacristans of the Parish, and “observers” in the classes of catechism in order to learn the vocabulary necessary to teach.
We give thanks to our superiors for having given us the possibility to mission in this beautiful land where Christianity has truly been an evangelical leaven in the depths of daily life. We give thanks to God that two of us could renew our vows using the formula translated into Lithuanian for the first time. We give thanks to the IVE missionary priests who have been working here for five years and who have guided our first steps here with great generosity and consideration.
Together with Pope John Paul II we admire the Lithuanian faith which he described in 1990 saying: “The Lord has already granted Lithuania a great grace by the fact that the voice of this small but noble nation can now be heard everywhere. Let us implore the Crucified One that Lithuanian Catholics, together with the other Church communities of Central Europe, may be able to follow Jesus on the Via Crucis ready to serve the Church.” May God continue to bless this beautiful country which has merited to be called the Land of Crosses.
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All the sisters thank you for your prayers and support!