Lithuania: Protecting the Holy Spirit church in Grigiskes against the winter cold
The winters in Lithuania can be bitterly cold. Temperatures as low as -30°C are by no means unusual. When it gets this cold, the children of the Holy Spirit Parish in Grigiskes, not far from the capital Vilnius, cannot come to church. "We would so love to come to church, but our parents won't let us, when it is so cold", they write to us.
The fact is that the church has no insulation, and neither does the pastoral centre in the parish, where the religious instruction is held. "We dress up as warmly as possible for the religion lessons and drink hot tea to warm us up", the children continue. With thick scarves around their necks and woolly hats on their heads, they bravely try to follow the lessons given by the sisters. They also like to come to the parish centre in their spare time and help to decorate the church, do other little jobs and simply meet together to play, paint and do handicrafts. At the same time they are thinking of other people who have bigger problems than they do. Just recently they went with the sisters to visit the local children's home, where they met children who were orphans or for other reasons unable to live with their parents. There are a great many broken families around here. Unemployment is high and very often one of the parents goes abroad to find work and send money home. They call them "Euro orphans", a term one hears increasingly frequently in Eastern Europe. Poverty is tearing families apart, and many children are unsupervised and left to their own devices as a result. Sporting activities in local clubs and the like cost money, which these families simply do not have. This is where the parishes play a vital role in caring for these children, giving them a sense of belonging and security along with the opportunity to spend their free time in a constructive way. At the same time the Holy Spirit Parish offers a range of activities and also organises summer camps in the mountains, where the children can relax and grow, both humanly and spiritually.
(Children of the Holy Spirit Parish in Grigiskes outside the parish pastoral centre)
Alcoholism is another result of the high unemployment. The parish has also established an Alcoholics Anonymous group for such people. "Many intelligent people, aged between 30 and 45, who have become alcoholics, come to this group in the hope of combating their addiction", writes the parish priest, Father Andzej Andzejevski.
Around 8,000 of the 12,000 inhabitants of the small town of Grigiskes are Catholics. In fact Lithuania is the only majority Catholic country of the former Soviet Union. However, after the many long years of communist rule, the Catholic Church still faces many challenges. Much has yet to be rebuilt or restored.
Unfortunately, joining the EU has brought no benefits to the Church in this Baltic nation. Instead - as in most countries of the so-called "free world" - those who espouse Christian values and a Christian worldview have to contend with a fiercely hostile secularist headwind. Hence it is all the more beautiful that these children choose freely and voluntarily to come to church and to religious instruction and that so many adults should also wish to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They should not be prevented from doing so by the fact that in winter time the church and parish centre feel like the inside of a freezer. People who stay away because of the cold may perhaps not come back again later and may lose touch with the Church as a result.
"We want to be able to pray in the church. Perhaps you could help us and send us some money to make our church a bit warmer", the children write trustingly. We cannot disappoint them, so the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has promised a grant of $30,000 to help this cause.
The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Ph: (02) 9679-1929
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