Regina Statkuvienė


Lithuanian Christian believers pray for a fighting war-torn Ukraine and its people. This year, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, we remember and honor those who have fought against oppression and communicated to the world news about the persecution of believers in the USSR. Also, we show solidarity with those who today suffer discrimination because of their faith and religious conviction.

The Apostolic Nuncio the archbishop dr. Petar Antun RAJIČ has kindly agreed to share his thoughts on the contemporary challenges to Christianity and its importance for the future of Europe.


Your Excellency,

Thank you for finding time for this conversation.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. Do you recall the first time that you heard about the Chronicle? Did the news about the persecution of Christians in Lithuania or the Soviet Union in general, reach the free Western world? How was it received? How did people view the situation?


In the past, news about the persecution of Christians in the European States that fell under communist rule was sporadic in the mainstream media, but regularly present in the Catholic press. I became aware of the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania when I first came to the country twenty-six years ago to work as the Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature. The news that a Chronicle existed was consoling and inspiring at the same time, for it presented to the free world the reality of the status of the Catholic Church in the Soviet Union. All believers in God received the news with great concern, for they knew that the atheistic regimes of the time were relentless and inhumane in their efforts to eradicate all belief in God and the influence of the Catholic Church amongst these nations. The people of the world who believe in freedom and justice, and who hold dear to the values of love of God, people and country, were therefore united with Lithuanians and their brothers and sisters of other faiths, in prayer, sacrifice and moral support for their cause and that of the Church in their countries.


Representatives of Lithuanian Christian denominations recently announced an ecumenical appeal to pray for persecuted Christians all around the world. At the beginning of the year Pope Francis invited people to pray for the same intention. Having regained independence, we believed that Christians were only persecuted in war-torn regions like Africa or in communist China. But now we are observing similar tendencies with growing concern. For example, every year in France there are hundreds of attacks against churches, priests and common Christians. In Finland a Lutheran bishop and a former minister of interior affairs are put on trial for citing the bible. Why do you think these trends are gaining ground in the free Western world? And where do you think they might lead us?


Indeed, it is a sad truth that Christians are now being discriminated against and at times even persecuted not only in countries that do not accept Christianity but also in the free and democratic states of the world. The Western world enjoys freedom of speech, which allows people the liberty to freely express religious beliefs and political positions as well as to oppose them. At times, opposition   escalates to violence and destruction, as witnessed with the murder in northern France of Fr. Jacques Hamel in 2016, and then with the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, in April of 2019, which are only two examples of the many atrocities against Christians in recent years. For roughly the last fifty years, the West has been moving towards what may be considered a more secularized society, which has strategically eliminated almost all references to God and religious belief, by introducing relativistic rhetoric and philosophies into the public sphere. There are those that hold the belief that society is self-sufficient and any reference to God or higher moral values for any decision making is unnecessary. The fact that these progressive ideologies have been able to flourish is also fueled by the apathy and reluctance of some to participate in political debate and social issues. Indeed, it is quite concerning to witness the level of intolerance shown by people who are in opposition to those who still believe and hold dearly to their faith in God. These trends could result in an even greater polarization of society between believers and non-believers, with even further discrimination and violence. We should all strive therefore, to maintain in our democratic and free countries, our fundamental human rights, which include the freedom to believe in God or not to believe, and to never be discriminated for our choices.


The history of Lithuania has developed thanks to the Catholic Church which has always supported the people to achieve freedom, statehood, and which supported the spirit and morality of the people. But now that we are free, we increasingly hear speeches, even from politicians who present themselves as Christians, from various public figures, that the Church should not interfere in politics, in public affairs, and remain solely a private matter. Often, politicians accuse the Church of interfering in public life, but they themselves do not shy away from commenting on the statements of clergy who do not like them, and affix clerical and other labels to them. And that kind of thinking is prevalent in the Western world. As far back as 2019, Cardinal Parolin warned that freedom of religion cannot be confined to the private sphere. Do you think that freedom of religion can and should be restricted to private life?


One must keep in mind always that both believers and non-believers are citizens of the country they belong to, and that in democratic states they have a right to fully participate in the economic, social, cultural, administrative, and legislative arenas of society, thereby contributing to the common good of all. When referring to the Church, we must also remember that it is a community of people who share a common faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ and who strive to witness their faith in their daily lives. Hence, as members of the Church and citizens of their country, each and every Christian is called to participate in the promotion and defense of public order and peace, freedom and equality, respect for human life and for the environment, justice and solidarity.

Having said this, in quoting the teachings of the Magisterium, the Church as an institution does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics. Instead, its proper function is to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good. Therefore, lay Catholics have the duty to be morally coherent in following their own conscience enlightened by faith and God’s grace. The Church teaches in fact, that there cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other, yet both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same people. The more that both foster sounder cooperation between themselves with due consideration for the circumstances of time and place, the more effective will their service be exercised for the good of all.


Last year the declaration of Šiluva was signed in Lithuania, Christian workers began to unite under a labor union. What is your view on the process? Is something similar happening in other countries as well?


The Declaration of Šiluva was prepared and proclaimed to the faithful of Lithuania as a reminder to all, of the preeminence of God’s laws and his creative work. Due to the current secularization of the Western world and the threats posed by modern ideologies to the millennial truths and values of the Christian faith, (that have withstood the test of time, despite many persecutions), the local Church in Lithuania senses and understands the current dangers to faith. She wishes to encourage all believers to remain vigilant in prayer and strive towards maintaining the Christian values that are not only good for the individual, but also collectively good for families and the nation.

Other local Churches in various countries are experiencing similar processes of renewal of faith, re-evangelization, and the rediscovery of the beauty of the Christian way of life. They too are engaging themselves in renewed study of the content of our faith, all aimed towards their own good and the good of all.


A Synod on Synodality is currently being held in the Church. What problems of the Catholic community do you think it will reveal? Why are there even among Catholics so many divisions on fundamental questions such as the family, marriage and celibacy?


Pope Francis is encouraging everyone to be involved in the current Synod on Synodality and he has especially invited those who consider themselves on the periphery or marginalized in the Church and/or society, to participate, in their own parishes and dioceses, which is the first phase of the Synod. To prognosticate what observations and problems will be revealed locally is difficult. Some of the topics that will be discussed will certainly include the involvement of the laity in the Church; supporting effective communication between the laity and the clergy; activities and programs of formation for young people, married couples, families and adults; sacramental marriage for young men and women, as well as spiritual vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Why there are many divisions among Catholics on these fundamental questions can be an important topic of discussion for those participating in the synodal process. Common prayer, coupled with education on the issues, can bring clarity to these important matters and provide inspiration for better witnessing and charitable activities in the future. An open and respectful dialogue can also aid in the healing of spiritual wounds. My hope and prayer is that the faithful will be willing and open to participate actively in the synodal process in their own parishes and dioceses. This could be a meaningful experience of a renewal of faith accompanied by special graces.


What possibilities do you see for Europe to remain Christian? Why is it important?


If each individual Christian of Europe who truly believes in Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world remains faithful to God, despite all possible ridicule, discrimination and even persecutions, and yet strives to live his/her life according to the Gospels and the teachings of the Church, temperately, justly, and devoutly, Europe will remain Christian.

This is important for the future survival of Europe as a continent of rational, free and civilized peoples that must respect and defend above everything else, the precious value of every human life.


Lithuania is commonly called the land of Mary, and the land of crosses. How does Lithuania look to you? What would you wish to the faithful Christians of Lithuania?


My impressions of Lithuania are that of a nation that is proud of their history, devoted to God, their fellow man and their country. I truly admire the people’s resolve of courageous resistance against all foreign invaders and am inspired by the witnessing of many Lithuanian men and women of faith, who have suffered terrible persecutions and imprisonments, all for love of God, their people, and their country, and yet do not hold animosity toward their enemies. Lithuanians understand the significance of the cross and what it means to deny oneself, take up one’s cross, and follow Christ. Through their great devotion and love of Mary, the Mother of God, Lithuanians have been able to remain strong in adversity, clear-minded in times of confusion and faithful to their ideals.

My hope and prayer is that Lithuanian Christians will continue on this noble path and be an example to other nations of Europe and the world.


Thank you for this great conversation!