Beatification of Teofilius Matulionis in Baltic capital draws crowds of young people.
Vilnius, Lithuania – June 25, 2017
Teofilius Matulionis, a Lithuanian priest and archbishop who spent more than 15 years in Soviet prisons and forced labor camps and was ultimately poisoned by the communist regime, was declared a Blessed Martyr today in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, at a Mass led by Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Matulionis, who died in 1962, thus became the first Lithuanian victim of Soviet oppression to be beatified by the Catholic Church, the last step before his possible declaration as a saint.
Teofilius Matulionis was “a Shepherd according to the heart of Christ, a heroic witness to the Gospel, a courageous defender of the Church and of human dignity,” Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Letter for the occasion which Cardinal Amato read to the roughly 30,000 participants of the outdoor Mass of Beatification.
Several thousands of the participants were young Lithuanians gathered for a local version of the international World Youth Day events which the Catholic Church regularly organizes. Also on hand were some 50 cardinals, archbishops and bishops, 500 priests, civil authorities, and groups of pilgrims from the Lithuanian diaspora around the world, including the U.S.A., Canada and Australia, and from nearby Belarus, Russia, Latvia and Poland.
In his homily, Cardinal Amato noted that the new Blessed’s martyrdom “was drawn out over years and years” while he ministered in Lithuania and Russia, enduring persecution motivated by irrational hatred of religion and contempt for freedom of conscience. Teofilius Matulionis, he said, never gave in to hatred, but “managed to see God’s goodness and Providence even in people in whom others saw only hatred and evil” and should remind people today “about the duty to forgive, about respect and prayer for our neighbor, including our enemy.”
“There are martyrs still today,” Cardinal Amato said, mentioning as an example a slaughter of innocent Christian Egyptians earlier this year. “The Church, looking to the Risen Christ, responded by expressing aloud its pardon and its prayer for the conversion of the assassins. To hate would be to betray the blood of the martyrs,” he said.
Vilnius Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, President of the Lithuanian Bishops Conference, called on the many young people present to take Blessed Teofilius as an example of love for truth and belief in the victory of good over evil.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, speaking after the Mass of Beatification, also noted the “especially large number of young people in the square,” calling them “people of the freedom generation.” She expressed hope that the new Blessed would “serve as a moral support and source of strength for every person of Lithuania.”
Following his beatification, the annual liturgical memorial of Blessed Teofilius Matulionis will be on June 14, the anniversary of the day in 1941 when the Soviet Union began mass deportations from Lithuania to Siberia.
Lithuania, a country of 2.9 million people which was occupied by the Soviet Union during World War II, became the first Soviet Republic to declare the restoration of its independence in 1990. The country has been a member of the European Union since 2004. About 75% of Lithuanian residents identify themselves as Catholic.
Photos of the Mass of Beatification: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vilnensis/albums
Details of the life of Blessed Teofilius: http://www.teofilius.lt/personality/biography/?lang=en