THE ARCHDIOCESE OF KAUNAS
Archbishop Metropolit Sigitas
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,
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.