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Archbishop Metropolit – Sigitas TAMKEVIČIUS SJ


The establishment of the Archdiocese of Kaunas coincided with the creation of Lithuanian ecclesiastical province by the Holy See. On April 4, 1926 Pope Pius XI issued the apostolic constitution Lituanorum Gente (The People of Lithuania). This act intended to structure the diocesan territories in accordance with the actual boundaries of Lithuanian Republic after the Declaration of Independence in 1918. Despite the fact that the Archdiocese of Kaunas was the metropolitan center, the ecclesiastical province was named "Lithuanian", thus emphasizing the tradition of the State of Lithuania with the capital city Vilnius. The Archdiocese of Kaunas was formed by dividing the diocese of Medininkai (Samogitian), established in 1417 into three bodies: the Archdiocese of Kaunas and the Dioceses of Panevėžys and Telšiai. The southern part of the Archdiocese of Kaunas was adjoined to the diocese of Vilkaviškis, which was formed by encompassing the part of former Diocese of Seinai (Sejny). The part of the city Kaunas on the southern bank of the river Nemunas belongs to the diocese of Vilkaviškis. The metropolitan center of the province, Kaunas was the temporary capital of the Republic of Lithuania in 1919-1940.

The decades of independence in the first half of 20th century were marked with an intense cultural, economic and social development accompanied by social and educational activity of the Church. In 1922 the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy was established in the Lithuanian University of Kaunas, in 1930 called Universitas Vytauti Magni. The Faculty was joined with the Seminary (which was called Samogitian Seminary until 1926, later the Interdiocesan Seminary of Kaunas) thereby rallying the considerable intellectual potential. Numerous religious congregations of women and men, which were founded in various places of the archdiocese, worked in educational, social and cultural areas. The activity of Catholic lay organizations and associations was coordinated by the Catholic Action Center, founded in 1919. One of the events of national importance of the period was the First Eucharistic Congress of Lithuania, which was held in Kaunas in 1934. In the same year the Synod of the Kaunas archdiocese took place.

The Second World War, the Nazi and Soviet occupations brought destruction to the development of the Archdiocese of Kaunas as well as the whole country. In 1944, threatened by Soviet regime, Archbishop Juozapas Skvireckas, the head of the archdiocese since its establishment in 1926, was forced to go into exile. After his departure the archdiocese was governed not by ordinary bishops with proper ecclesiastical authority, but by capitular vicars and apostolic administrators who experienced continuous restrictions and persecutions of Soviet authorities. During the decades of the Soviet occupation the single seminary was left in Kaunas. Its administration as well as the majority of the clergy and the faithful went through unrelenting restrictions, persecutions and violations of human rights. The public activity of the Church in educational, social and charity areas was cancelled. All religious congregations were disbanded and declared illegal; countless priests and lay faithful were murdered, imprisoned or deported. Numerous church buildings were forcibly shut down, especially during a severely intense period of persecution (1944-1953). In spite of these persecutions and in the face of terror, the believers attempted to defend their rights through the published word of truth by use of the 'underground' press, joining illegal communities and movements, organizing pilgrimages, etc.

In the context of the liberation process in the Soviet Union during the late eighties the Catholic Church made a marked contribution to the development of a democratic society. In 1989 Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius became the Archbishop of Kaunas. After the reestablishment of Lithuanian political independence in 1990, various Catholic institutions and organizations were founded or renewed their activities. In the first years of the independence a considerable amount of interdiocesan Church institutions or coordination centers of national outreach were located in Kaunas. In 1990 the Faculty of Catholic Theology was reestablished at the University of Vytautas Magnus.

In the end of the year 1991 the Holy See reformed the Lithuanian ecclesiastical province by establishing two metropolitan archdioceses, those of Kaunas and Vilnius. Furthermore, In 1997 the new Diocese of Šiauliai was formed which incorporated some parishes from the northern part of Kaunas archdiocese. Since then the ecclesiastical province of Kaunas consists of the archdiocese of Kaunas and the dioceses of Šiauliai, Telšiai and Vilkaviškis. 123 priests were ministering in 92 parishes and 8 rectory churches of the archdiocese during the year 2000. In the meantime ca. 760.000 people live in the territory of Kaunas archdiocese, ca. 500.000 are Catholics.

During his apostolic trip to the Baltic States in 1993, Pope John Paul II visited Kaunas and Šiluva, the famous Marian sanctuary of the archdiocese. The visit of the Holy Father provided important impulses that inspired the life of Lithuanian faithful. In 1996 Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevičius SJ was appointed the head the Archdiocese of Kaunas . Archbishop Tamkevičius managed to integrate his experience of spiritual resistance and underground activities during the Soviet regime into the post-Vatican II process of Church renewal.

The preparation of the Great Jubilee of Christianity and occasional celebrations helped to rally the faithful of the archdiocese. To emphasize the extension of traditions, the main celebration of Lithuanian Catholics during the Jubilee year, the Second Eucharistic Congress was organized in Kaunas.

Among the 20th century witnesses of faith, who were solemnly commemorated in Rome in the context of the Great Jubilee, 14 persons were from the archdiocese of Kaunas. The beatification process of two lay women, Adelė Dirsytė and Elena Spirgevičiūtė has started and is still going on.

The focus spiritual attraction of the Archdiocese of Kaunas is the Shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Šiluva. Among the numerous monuments of architecture and art the monastery of Pažaislis is worth of special mentioning. The monumental church of Resurrection, being gradually, although slowly, reconstructed, symbolizes the epoch of spiritual and religious renewal. The guidelines of the Gospel often resound beneath the vaults of archcathedral basilica of St. St. Peter and Paul. The archcathedral of Kaunas provides the burial place for the venerable Lithuanian shepherds: Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius (1920-2000), Archbishop Juozapas Skvireckas (1873-1959), Bishop Motiejus Valančius (1801-1875). The relics of blessed Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis (1871-1927), who died in Kaunas, were previously also buried there.



© Kauno arkivyskupijos kurija
Atnaujinta 2002 05 10

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