In 2018, the Redemptorists in Slovakia made a significant and courageous decision. They responded to the invitation of the bishops of Lithuania and sent two of their fathers to serve in this Baltic country. In September, it will be four years since Fr. Rastislav Dluhý CSsR and Fr. Peter Hertel CSsR have decided to fully dedicate themselves to the pastoral ministry in Lithuania.
One of the main ministries of the Redemptorists in Slovakia is popular missions. It is therefore not surprising that a couple of religious fathers tried to organize missions in Lithuania as well. They had to wait almost four years for the first missions because of the difficult Lithuanian language and other circumstances.
“The two years were limited by the pandemic related to the Covid-19”, explains Fr. Rastislav, the reason for the change of date. In the end, the missions were rescheduled not only in terms of dates but also geographically. Because of the conflict in Ukraine, the Ukrainian population had to seek refuge in different parts of Europe. The refugees were also given a helping hand by the original location of the missions, Elektrėnai. “We said to ourselves that this is probably the mission of this parish for this time,” says Fr. Rastislav. When the local archbishop found out about the situation, he offered Kaunas as a mission place.
The story of the first popular missions began in 2018 and was fulfilled on May 28, 2022, with the first mission day. The mission program was covered by the Redemptorists working in Lithuania, Fr. Rastislav Dluhý CSsR and Fr. Peter Hertel CSsR, assisted by fathers Václav Hypius CSsR, Michal Zamkovský CSsR, Patrik Grotkovský CSsR and Ján Andrejov CSsR. The partners in the mission were the lay community of Rieka Života (The River of Life) and the community of Christians in Kaunas.
During the program, the participants in Lithuania could listen to catechesis for men, women and young people, had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and renew their baptismal promises and marriage vows. In five schools, the Redemptorists were extended a hand by lay people who proclaimed the truth about God in the form of testimonies. Because of the language barrier, pantomimes and other forms of dramatization without words were a special bridge to people. “I consider the missions very good, even though there is a great difference in language. However, the interaction is amazing,” sums up Sara, the youngest member of the mission team. Encouragements from the missions were also heard in the prison and the center for the homeless.
The Archbishop of Kaunas, Lithuania, Msgr. Kestutis Kėvalas spoke to the entire team during the missions, using the words of Pope Francis that we are called to enter the peripheries. He also expressed the idea that for the missionaries from Slovakia, distant Lithuania, with its different language and culture, is certainly a form of the periphery.
The first Redemptorist missions in Lithuania were a time of building bridges between Lithuania and Slovakia, between religious and laity, and between communities and generations. The missions were a special time of grace and joy in being able to do things together because we are united by Him. The conclusion of the missions on June 5, 2022, was accompanied by the traditional blessing of the missionary cross.
Patrik Bendík, lay missionary, Slovakia