The 800-year Jubilee Celebration of Latvian Christianity

This year, the Catholics of Latvia commemorate the 800-year jubilee of the consecration of Latvia's first bishop. In 1180, the Augustinian monk Meinhardt came to what is today Latvia, together with German merchants, and began the work of proclaiming the Gospel. Here, among Lyves and Curlanders living here on the right bank of the Dauguva River in Ikškilė (now the Rayon of Uogre, not far from Riga), he erected the first Catholic church in the Baltic region. In 1186, Bishop Hartwig II of Bremen, Hamburg, con­secrated Meinhardt the first Bishop of Latvia. Pope Clement III, in a letter written 1188, described Meinhardt as a devout and wise man, endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He succeeded in planting the seed of God's word among the Lyves, and in spite of the refined efforts of the current atheistic regime, Catholicism has not been destroyed.

The 800-year jubilee celebration by the Catholics of Lat­via is a glimmer of hope, encouraging them to persevere during these difficult times of government atheism. In preparation for celebrating the 600 anniversary of the conversion of Lithuania next year, let us see how the atheistic government has allowed our brothers the Latvians to celebrate a similar jubilee. Anyone visiting a Catholic church in Latvia can see hanging in the announcement cases a brief history of the introduction of Christianity into Latvia, in which the Venedic, that is Slavic, origin of Meinhardt is em­phasized, and the peaceful nature of his missionary activities is brought out. Among other things, in the Baltic region, he is con­sidered a saint, although according to present norms of the Church, devotion to him is not officially sanctioned. (Just as in the case of our Blessed Mykolas Giedraitis.)

In the publicity, a history of the Church of Ikškilė is given. This church stood until World War I, when it was demolished. Its ruins have survived to the present day on the premises of a bus storage depot.

Celebration of the jubilee began May 25, the Feast of the Holy Trinity, with a Mass celebrated by the now deceased Bishop Valerian Zondak in Riga's Catholic Cathedral of Saint James, after which a commemoration of the jubilee was arranged for a hand-picked audience at the seminary. Rank-and-file Catholics were un­able to participate in this commemoration, while the Commissioner for Religious Affairs sat in the place of honor.

In the beginning of June, a group of bishops and priests visiting from Western Germany with Cardinal Archbishop Veter of Munich and Preising made the Catholics of Latvia very happy. On June 5, with the guests concelebrating Holy Mass, the Catholic Cathedral of Riga was filled beyond capacity, even though it was a regular workday, a Thursday. The Catholics of Latvia were over­joyed by the gift of the Catholics of Germany: a statue of Meinhardt, the first bishop of Latvia. The guests visited the desecrated tomb of Bishop Meinhardt in the Cathedral of the Mother of God in Riga, which has been converted into a concert hall. Here, a concert of religious music was presented for the guests from Germany. In the "concert hall", the guests had the opportunity of placing flowers on the tomb of the baptizer of Latvia, and to pray there. If the ordinary Catholic of Latvia tried to do so, he would be penalized for disor­derly conduct, for hooliganism. It would be interesting to know whom the atheists will allow next year to place a bouquet on the tomb of one of the baptizers of Lithuania — Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania — in the desecrated Cathedral of Vilnius.

The atheistic government made one other concession to the clergy from Western Germany allowing them to offer Mass on the ruins of the first church erected by Bishop Meinhardt in Ikškilė, in the yard of the bus depot. Rank-and-file Catholics were not told of these services. The only participants at the Mass were a few diocesan chancery staff. A delegation of Catholic bishops from Viet­nam was allowed to come to Latvia for the jubilee.

The main celebration of the jubilee took place in the famous Latvian shrine of Agluona, where there is a miraculous pic­ture of the Mother of God, similar to that of the venerable picture in Trakiai. The Catholics of Latvia assert that the authentic picture given by the Emperor of Byzantium to Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania on the occasion of his baptism is really in Agluona, and that the one at Trakiai is just a copy. We Lithuanians maintain just the opposite. But this is of no importance. The Catholics of the two sister nations are bound by a common love for Mary, the Mother of God. Ordinarily, the principal festival at Agluona takes place in con­nection with the Feast of the Assumption. It lasts for one day; this is all the atheists will allow.

This year, the atheists allowed the principal festival to be celebrated for three days, August 15,16 and 17.

The principal jubilee sermon was preached by Father Lukšas, pastor of the Church of Saint Albert in Riga, while at the end, Cardinal Vaivods spoke. He rejoiced that apparently the most dif­ficult times of persecution have passed. Twenty years ago, when Bishop Struodas tried to come from Riga for the festival in Agluona, the militia stopped his car and turned it around, whereas now, they do not dare to prevent him from coming to this shrine.

Participating in the celebration were more worshippers than in other years. A whole list of groups of worshippers, espe­cially converts from Lutheranism, came to Agluona on foot from as far away as Riga. The militia did not stop them, even though par­ticipants silently recited the rosary and otherwise prayed.

These are very uncertain signs of the easing up on the part of the atheistic government. In the Catholic churches of Riga, the atheists now tolerate children serving at Mass and participat­ing in processions. In the provinces where foreigners rarely go, this is still strictly forbidden.

At the Feast of the Ascención during this jubilee year, the atheists perpetrated a very unpleasant insult against the Catholics of Riga: when the Ascencion procession came out of the Church of Saint Francis into the churchyard, even though it was 12:00 noon of a Sunday, loud dance music was broadcast from the nearby dance pavilion erected on the site of the former cemetery...

On August 1, the four bishops of Lithuania: Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius the Apostolic Administrator of Vilnius; Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius, Apostolic Administrator of Kaišiadorys; Bishop Antanas Vaičius, Apostolic Administrator of Telšiai and Bishop Juozas Preikšas, Auxiliary to the Apostolic Ad­ministrator of Kaunas and Vilkaviškis, participated in the funeral services for His Excellency, Bishop Zondak. The Catholics of Lat­via expressed regret that the atheistic government allows the bishops from neighboring Lithuania to take part only in the sad celebration of funerals while they would have wished to see the bishops of Lithuania also at the jubilee celebration in Agluona

We wonder whether the atheists will allow the bishops of Latvia to take part in the 600-year jubilee of the baptism of Lithuania. Let us wait and see!