Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 2, 2007
Lithuanians fight for their NY church
Edmonton student witnesses an ethnic congregation's solidarity with its tempered faith
- photo supplied
Locked-out parishioners of Our Lady of Vilnius Church protest the closing of their church.
By TADDES KORRIS
Special to the WCR
New York City
I arrived in New York City on Feb. 28 for an audition at the Juilliard School of Music. When we were driving into Manhattan, I received a call from an old friend, Darius Laucius, whom I had met at the World Lithuanian Congress last summer.
He told me about a situation brewing at a Lithuanian church and informed my mom and I about some Lithuanian events going on in New York during our stay.
We scheduled a time to meet that week and were to be able to catch up, but little did I know I would come to be part of the New York Lithuanian community fighting to maintain part of its history and legacy.
On Feb. 26, Lithuanians and parishioners of Our Lady of Vilnius Church in New York City were shocked to hear the Archdiocese of New York had changed the locks on their church.
On that day, Father Eugene Sawicki was called to a meeting with the Archdiocese of New York. Cardinal Edward Egan informed Sawicki the locks of the church were being changed and the church seized.
Father Eugene Sawicki is currently unable to take possession of his personal items as well as cherished items in the church. Without a priest and without a home, many Lithuanians feel as if part of their history and community was quickly vanishing before their eyes.
On the morning of March 3, around 75 Lithuanians and parishioners gathered to pray outside their beloved church at the usual time for Sunday Mass, and I was lucky to be among them.
The church's exterior suddenly transformed as signs and crosses were attached and laid at every corner of the entrance. Many prayers for intervention and guidance were read followed by the singing of Maria Maria.
Not only is there worry for the parishioners not having Mass, but there is also a worry for the objects locked inside the church. Inside are several panes of stained glass windows from Lithuania that were salvaged from another closed Lithuanian church in New York.
Also, countless items of historic significance are still in the church, such as the chalices and books from the days of the church's construction. The church was constructed in 1905 by Lithuanian immigrants and provided a sanctuary to generations of Lithuanians fleeing Soviet persecution in their homeland.
The archdiocese has stipulated there will be no opportunity for consultation, discussion or appeal. Letters from Lithuania in opposition have been sent, including a personal letter from President Valdas Adamkus.
Lithuanians in New York are anticipating news on the fate of their church. Being present gave me the insight into how important faith and community is to Lithuanians all around the world. I felt overwelmed by the overpowering will of those there to get their home back.
Just like during Soviet times, faith is what helped guide Lithuanians through the darkness of that evil regime. That is why such a place needs to be maintained and remain in the hands of Lithuanians in New York. Now, that faith still exists, but it is all around the world.
I hope that if I am accepted to the Juilliard School, I can become an active member of maintaining Lithuanian culture in New York and being part of the rich cultural diversity that city possesses.
For those reasons, I understand why such places of worship serve not only as religious institutions, but as community institutions that gather people under a common interest.
Lithuania truly exists outside of Lithuania, and this church is a testament to that.
(Taddes Korris is a Grade 12 student at Archbishop MacDonald High School in Edmonton.)