The Diocese of Vilkaviškis: Past and Present

The Diocese of Vilkaviškis includes the territory of the Lithuanian Republic situated on the left bank of the Nemunas River and is bordered by the Archdioceses of Kaunas and Vilnius, as well as by the Dioceses of Kaišiadorys, Ełk (Poland), Grodno (Byelorussia), and the Kaliningrad region (Russia). It belongs to the Metropolis of Kaunas.

The pastor of the Diocese of Vilkaviškis is Bishop Rimantas Norvila, accompanied by Retired Bishop Juozas Žemaitis, MIC. The Diocesan Curia is located in the city of Marijampolė.

The area of the diocese is 6,280 km2 and is divided into six Deaneries: Aleksotas, Alytus, Lazdijai, Marijampolė, Šakiai and Vilkaviškis. There are one hundred and three active parishes and forty-two chapels in the diocese, with over one hundred diocesan priests and a like number of members of religious orders/congregations.

The Diocese of Vilkaviškis was founded on April 4, 1926, according to the Apostolic Constitution “Lituanorum Gente” by Pope Pius XI, which proclaimed the establishment of the Lithuanian ecclesiastical province. St. Anthony was chosen to be patron of the diocese.

The Diocese of Vilkaviškis suffered greatly from the Soviet occupation and World War II, during which thirty-two churches were completely destroyed or ravaged. As the second Soviet occupation approached, about one hundred priests retreated to the West, while about seventy of those remaining were imprisoned, exiled, or assassinated. The greatest harm was inflicted by the forceful propaganda of atheism. The Soviets suppressed all religious organizations, Catholic press, religious orders and congregations, and forbade catechesis in schools and churches. Priests were forbidden to teach Catholic doctrine to children.

The underground publication, Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, was published periodically as a response of believers against atheistic propaganda. Its editor-in-chief was a priest of the Vilkaviškis diocese, Rev. Sigitas Tamkevičius, S.J., the present Archbishop of Kaunas.

In 1990, after the restoration of Lithuanian independence, pastoral and charitable activity became increasingly intensive in the Vilkaviškis diocese and throughout the entire Catholic Church in Lithuania. Catholic organizations, religious orders and congregations that had been active before the war were reorganized and new ones were established. About ten churches were rebuilt, the Vilkaviškis Cathedral among them. The Dominican monastic complex in Liškiava, a late baroque architectural masterpiece, was restored.

In 2002, about 91% of the population of the Vilkaviškis diocese declared themselves to be Catholic, and were served by one hundred and twenty priests, including seven monks.

Today, in 2003, the Caritas diocesan organization is responsible for five rest homes, ten activity centres for children and youth, and two cafeterias for the poor. Caritas helps disabled people receive nursing supplies, medicine, and provides care for the helpless. It also distributes religious literature, communicates with prisoners and allocates charity.

The Diocesan Youth Centre supports and coordinates the activities of parish youth organizations, facilitates cooperation among them, and organizes a variety of workshops, discussions, meetings and retreats.

The Catechetical Centre coordinates the religious instruction in schools and is responsible for the qualification of the catechists. It helps the catechists with teaching methods, textbooks, sharing of pedagogical experience, and also organizes pilgrimages for teachers and students. During the 2002–2003 school year, 63.8% of all diocesan pupils attended classes of catechetics.

There is a private Marianist Secondary School in Marijampolė and St. Benedict Secondary School established by the Alytus municipality and the Vilkaviškis diocese.

The Family Centre prepares engaged couples for the Sacrament of Matrimony and gives consultations on married life, helps in the education of Christian families, and takes an active role in the pro-life movement.

The Christian Culture Centre fosters Christian culture and education. Young talents are trained in the centre’s secondary school. Č. Sasnauskas’ international prize-winning choir, along with the Museum of Sacred art and History of diocese are also part of the centre.

The Ardor Publishing Company publishes various Catholic and Christian books.

Stable contacts are established between the Diocese of Vilkaviškis and the Dioceses of Ełk, Białystok, Olsztyn, Warszawa Praga in Poland and the Paderborn Archdiocese in Germany. Several communities of the diocese have close contacts with the German Catholics. The Caritas organization and the parishes of Alvitas, Kazlų Rūda, St. Michael the Archangel in Marijampolė, Miroslavas communicate with the Oldenburg region; the Curia and the parishes of Skardupiai, Sasnava, Kalvarija with Bergish Gladbach; St. Vincent parish in Marijampolė with the Altenberg Catholics. The Catechetical Centre maintains friendly relations with the Salzburg Catholics in Austria.

Blessed George Matulaitis is buried in the Minor Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel in Marijampolė. The annual commemoration of his beatification is celebrated during the second week of July.

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