Present at the papal Mass in Kaunas on Sunday morning was Deacon Benas Ulevicius, who joined four other married men in 2017 as the first permanent deacons ordained in Lithuania for the Archdiocese of Kaunas.
He told us that Lithuanian Catholics have a special place in their heart for Saint Pope John Paul II who visited them at a time of great suffering for the Church and the nation.
But, he pointed out, it is precisely because of that time of trial and isolation that Catholics in his country feel a particular bond with the Universal Church and its Pontiff.
Speaking to Vatican News’ Gudrun Sailer, Deacon Ulevicius, the Dean of the Faculty of Theology in Kaunas – a subunit of Vilnius University – explains who his students are today.
Lithuanians: “Catechism Catholics”
Deacon Ulevicious says more and more mature students are expressing interest in the Faculty as they are increasingly interested in the Teaching of the Church.
He explains that Soviet repression in Lithuania is still very vivid in minds of the people and describes Lithuanian Catholics as “Catechism Catholics: we really value the Teaching of the Church and try to be in tune with the Teaching of the Church and want to study it”.
Permanent Deacons in Lithuania
The Deaconate is taking its first steps in the nation, but Ulevicius explains the idea is that those men who are actively involved in the activities of the Church may become deacons, and in the future be given specific roles and responsibilities.
Role of laypeople
Deacon Ulevicius notes the attitude of the bishops is such that Catholic laypeople feel very comfortable with them. He explains that most bishops experienced Soviet oppression or the huge conversion that took place during the 90s and today they are working with Catholic laypeople who were their colleagues in catholic camps and institutions.
So, he says “It is a small country” and it is easy to call our bishop and ask for some advice: “we can meet them, we can celebrate with them” and laypeople feel at home with our bishops and priests.
“Our bishops are very close to the community and this is very good” he says.
He also points out that many Lithuanian Catholics choose to live their spiritual lives within one of the many monastic communities or charismatic movements.
Lithuanians really love Popes
Ulevicious notes that – as everywhere – some Catholics are very conscious and aware of developments in Church theology or in the pastoral ministry and notice the difference between the Popes.
He says Lithuanians are very happy to be able to welcome Pope Francis “because in Soviet times to know that we were part of the Universal Church with the Pope in Rome – not in Moscow – was a very, very inspiring and uplifting understanding, so we really value this faithfulness to the Church and our connection to the Universal Church”.