Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Archdiocese of New York posts press release regarding Our Lady of Vilnius, February 27, 2007

This Archdiocesan statement regarding our closure has just come to my attention. Those who want to read it unimpeded by my elucidation can find it on the official website of the Archdioces, titled STATEMENT OF JOSEPH ZWILLING, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONSON THE CLOSING OF OUR LADY OF VILNIUS CHURCH. Otherwise, I have copied it below, interspersing correction of misinformation and pointing out epistemological lapses.

Statement on Our Lady of Vilnius

February 27, 2007

The parish of Our Lady of Vilnius was closed today. Father Eugene Sawicki, Administrator of the parish, was informed at a meeting that the closure is effective immediately. [While, unbeknownst to him, locksmiths were changing the locks on the church and parish hall. A letter dated 2/21/07 also authorized them to change the locks on the rectory, which they did not do after the secretary informed them that Father Eugene resided there.] Although not a part of the recent Archdiocesan realignment process, [Again, we ask “why not?”. The realignment had a publicized protocol and appeal process associated with it] the decision to close Our Lady of Vilnius was announced on January 19, 2007.

Our Lady of Vilnius, located at 32 Dominick Street across from the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, was a "national parish" founded in 1905 to serve Lithuanian Catholics then living in the New York metropolitan area. National parishes were originally established to serve large numbers of immigrants from a particular country, for instance Germany or Italy, by providing services in their native language and preserving their cultural and religious celebrations. [True and informative, but what is the implication? What inference, favorable to them, would they like the public to make? Our Lady of Vilnius is the only Lithuanian church in the Archdiocese. There are enough Lithuanians and Lithuanians in the tri-state area to require this ministry]

Sunday and Holy Day Masses were regularly attended by six to thirty persons. [Three years ago signs of damage were noted in the ceiling. Subsequent investigation led to the finding that there was some shifting in the beams. The Archdiocese investigated and placed scaffolds in the sanctuary, obstructing it and rendering it unusable. The Archdiocese has not approved repairs, nor approved the release of insurance funds for the repairs. I think attendance is pretty good for a no-frills liturgy in a basement.] They were in English, inasmuch as the priest serving the parish for many years does not understand, read, or speak Lithuanian. [The priest is not fluent in Lithuanian. He has a liturgical knowledge of Lithuanian and says or chants the prayers in Lithuanian on most occasions. The readings are done in Lithuanian by a native speaker. Father reads the gospel and delivers the homily in English. This has been the practice for many years and has only become an issue since the Archdiocese needs to find justification for closing the church.] There have been virtually no weddings or funerals in the church for years. [For the past 3 years the sanctuary has been unusable. Most people want to be married in a church, not a basement hall. Father Sawicki has performed many weddings, baptisms and funerals of Our Lady of Vilnius parishioners in other churches. Regarding funerals, due to the structure of the building, I am not sure that it is possible to maneuver a casket into the basement.] Moreover, persons wishing to participate in Mass and parish activities in Lithuanian are informed of Lithuanian parishes in the neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn and Archdiocese of Newark. [Unless one lives in the Archdiocese of Brooklyn or Newark, or mid to downtown Manhattan, these other options are inconvenient to the point of hardship. Public transportation service is nil or greatly diminished on Sunday. Maspeth, Queens, home to Transfiguration parish has been called “the place that public transportation forgot”.]

Monsignor Edmond Putrimas, Delegate for the Apostolate for Lithuanian Catholics living outside of Lithuania, was informed months ago of the situation of the parish and agreed that it should be closed. [This point of information is controversial. The original claim is equivocal and open to interpretation. More recent correspondence from Msgr. Putrimas seems to contradict this claim.] Similarly, the priest who has been serving the parish for many years was informed of the decision to close the parish also months ago and did not object until recently. [The priest is on record in the press in August stating his opinion that the closure would be a mistake. See Lady of Vilnius and ‘Pretzels’and ‘Provolone’ may lose home]

Appropriate steps have been taken to secure and safeguard the church and other parish buildings. [From the priest, the lay trustees, the parish council and the parishioners.] All items of liturgical or historical value will be removed and stored for future use in other churches. [I am definitely biased, so I would say "Plundered"]

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Our Lady of Vilnius: Personal Vignette

I should be asleep now, but I took one more look at media coverage of our parish. I was struck by the clip on My Fox, Archdiocese Locks Out Distraught Parishioners. It shows a young woman with her daughter, a toddler outside of Our Lady of Vilnius. She speaks of coming to the church on 9/11, of her wedding 9 years ago and her hopes of having Father Eugene be her daughter's priest. Another facet of this very important place.

Jellybean Speaks Out of Turn

Ahem! Ahem! These linguistic transitions are always rough. I haven't spoken English since Kucios. OK. Here goes. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking...too stuffy. OK. Something has been going on around here, but I don't know what it is. Joy has put me on a diet, but that is only part of it. There's a change in the atmosphere around here, a deviation from the routine that's made me uneasy. My meal schedule has been out of kilter, and the phone is ringing off the hook. Regular visitors to the rectory know me well, but when I am not noisily sharpening my claws on whatever, I generally retreat to my cozy corner. I just wanted to remind the wider world that I am here.

Joy, please give me an extra couple of tablespoons of wet food please! I'm only a little bit fat!

Last Evening's Candlelight Vigil

When they heard the news, the Lithuanian American community quickly mobilized to conduct a candle light vigil. The video says it all. I am honored to be a member of this parish.

Monday, February 26, 2007

No Matter How Bad Things Are, It's A Comfort to Be There

I found out the the church had been locked and occupied when I arrived to attend Mass. I was joined on the sidewalk outside the church by Joe, Joy, Bobbie, Provolone, Francis and others whose faces were familiar, but who I did not know by name.

People stopped to ask what was going on and shared their feelings about why this church and Father Sawicki are so special. After having the church devalued by the Archdiocese, it was wonderful to hear these testimonials.

One young man had tears running down his face. He spoke of how he and his daughter came to see Father Eugene and were never turned away. He spoke about how Father helped him, and others chimed in. The man couldn't understand how the Archdiocese could close a place of such goodness and help to the people.

We all felt the same way.

Despite the events of the day, it was a pleasure, a comfort and a privilege to be among the people who have been drawn to this parish.

So I will say thanks and goodnight to Our Lady, retire and prepare to continue fighting the good fight.

Archdiocese of New York Creates Opportunity to Lock and Occupy Our Lady of Vilnius Church by Summoning Pastor to A Meeting With the Cardinal

Yesterday, after Mass, Father Sawicki announced that he had been summoned to meet with the Cardinal at 9:00 AM Monday morning.

After he left, Father's volunteer secretary was greeted by the Archdiocese Commisioner of Buildings and men from the Absolute Security Company. She was given a letter informing her of their intent to change the locks on the church and the rectory. She informed them that Father lived in the Rectory, wherein they proceeded to change the locks on the church.

Four men from Absolute Security remained behind in the church hall after the locks were changed.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Our Lady of Vilnius Press Watch

The Associated Press item published in the New York Post earlier today ("Hail Mary Pass") is appearing in an increasing number of outlets, which I will continue to update here:

Lithuanian pres. asks NY not to close church,, Eyewitness News

President of Lithuania Makes Plea to Keep Manhattan Church Open my Fox, New York

President of Lithuania Asks N.Y. Archdiocese Not to Close Church 1010WINS

The item contains the customary misleading information provided ad nauseam to the media:

"But the archdiocese says that the parish only draws 100 or so parishioners and that there have been no weddings or baptisms there in years. "

It omits the fact that the parish is self-sustaining, debt free and takes no money from the Archdiocese. Regarding the weddings and baptisms, the Archdiocese does not freely make known that all services have been held in the basement dancehall for 3 years. The Archdiocese has not approved necessary repairs to the sanctuary's roof beams despite repeated requests from the parish. Most people like to celebrate momentous sacraments in an actual church. The Archdiocese has actually cultivated the supposedly bleak statistics that they now quote in argument for the church's closure.

CANCELLED ! March 2, 2007: Birbyne and Organ Concert at Calvary Baptist Church


The concert organizer informed us this morning that the concert is cancelled. We are sorry for the inconvenience.

Joy from Our Lady of Vilnius was nice enough to alert me to this event, which is taking place at (Gasp!) another church. The text of the notice is as follows:

"Please join with the Nyack College School of Music - New York City at Calvary Baptist Church, Friday, March 2, 2007 as we celebrate with an exciting group from Lithuania. Watch as they perform authentic Lithuanian music on the bribyne, a Lithuanian horn and organ. Bring your families and friends.

Date: March 2, 2007
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: Calvary Baptist Church 123 W. 57th Street
The concert is free of charge

The concert organizer offers a link to the artist's, Vytautas Tetenskas', web site, Curonian Lagoon, which has information about the artist in English and Lithuanian. There are also two audio files available for listening. The organizer describes them:

" might want to hear both recordings -- the first is slow and lyrical and the second is faster and more sprightly."

"It's an interesting sound, I think, sometimes oboe-like and sometimes more like a sweet trumpet."

Hail Mary Pass


Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known
That any one who fled to your protection, implored your help
Or sought your intercession, was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother.
To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful;
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, But in your clemency hear and answer me.


The New York Post Finds Our Lady of Vilnius

In an article titled HAIL MARY PASS - LITHUANIA PREZ BEGS EGAN TO SPARE CHURCH, "The New York Post" briefly puts our plight before the public.

Pray to Our Lady for the preservation of our church and community, and drop a "Letter to the Editor" of the New York Post to say some of what was left unsaid.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday at Our Lady of Vilnius

Elaine had the good fortune to attend Mass at Our Lady of Vilnius today. She described the basement hall as filled to capacity, with people overflowing into the vestibule and up the stairwell. She said that as many as 150 people came to receive ashes from Father Sawicki, who made himself available until 2:00 PM. Elaine felt moved by the sight of so many people who had made this small pilgrimage on this day, remarking that they seemed to feel comfortable and welcome and wondering where they would go if the church were not here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The State of the Catholic Church in America, Diocese by Diocese

Rocco Palma's "Whispers in the Loggia" post, titled Crisis Ranks the Church, alerted me to Crisis Magazine's decennial report on the Catholic Church in America. Mr. Palma evaluates the report as "...eye-opening -- and, most importantly (and gratefully), not ideologically skewed."

Archdiocese of New York:

Ranks 140 of 176 in "vibrancy."

It ranks 170 of 176 in adult receptions into the Church, "a measure of the local church's investment in and success at evangelization activities."

Friday, February 16, 2007


Celebrating Lithuanian Independence at Our Lady of Vilnius

And the flag was still there...

Last evening a small celebration of Lithuanian independence took place in the basement hall of Our Lady of Vinius. The fluorescents were dimmed and the colored party lights gleamed. Father Eugene forsook his usual wardrobe and appeared priestly and handsome in a cassock. Lithuanian Consul General Mindaugaus Butkus and his wife arrived, then all stood as Gintare led the singing of the Lithuanian national anthem.

Consul Butkus made a speech in Lithuanian as a distant radiator made noises like a distressed kitten. My bilingual friends told me that the Consul had expressed sympathy for our plight and encouragement in our cause.

Champagne was poured and we toasted Independence. We sipped and chatted around bistro tables on which candles flickered and guttered. Two short films were shown. The first was a silent film that began with a shot of the printed words "...Brooklyn before it became an artist's utopia." The first part showed a series of vignettes from life in the Lithuanian community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 1950. The image that remains in my mind this morning is the flock of little girls in their white Communion dresses and veils scurrying into formation to process up the steps of Annunciation church. It looked like a "Swan Lake" of the streets. The second part of the film displayed vignettes of the same area revisited in 1972. Throughout this silent film a man played an evocative syncopated accompaniment on our yellow-toothed old piano in a corner of the room with no view of the screen. The second film had sound and chronicled the activities of a chauffeur in Lithuania in the 1940's. The film had English subtitles and a wonderful soundtrack of the florid dance music of the day. Everyone swayed as they watched.

On a table off to the side Laima had placed a large square cake decorated with the Lithuanian flag. People came over and helped themselves. As I unsuccessfully fought temptation, I was one of the last to cut a piece. As the evening wore on the cake shrank around the flag, which, at the end of the evening, prevailed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Consultation With Parishioners Took Place After Decision Was Made to Close the Parish

In the Journal News article Men who refused to leave Yonkers church due in court, Joseph Zwilling affirms the fairness of the realignment process:

"Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the archdiocese, said all parishes were given an opportunity to express themselves. He said archdiocese officials consulted Holy Rosary clergy, laity and parishioners after making the decision to close the church in March 2006."

Good timing, Joe.

Good Shepherd: Bad Press

We are still under the protection of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd

Monday, February 12, 2007

Litany of the Faithful

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Message from the Office of President Adamkus of Lithuania: Our Lady of Vilnius parish in New York

~ 2007-02-09 (press release)
President Adamkus asks the Archbishop of New York to preserve Our Lady of Vilnius Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan for the generations of tomorrow

Friday, February 9. (Washington). President Valdas Adamkus sent a letter to Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York, asking him to give special attention to the role played by the Parish of Our Lady of Vilnius in fostering national identity and spirituality and to preserve the Church for the society of today and the generations of tomorrow.

In his letter President Adamkus writes that upsetting news reached Lithuania in January that the Archdiocese of New York intends to close Our Lady of Vilnius Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan.

“Recalling the history of Our Lady of Vilnius since its founding on 10 December 1909 and knowing the religious and cultural significance it bears for the Lithuanian American Catholic community of New York and its vicinities, such an intention concerns me greatly,” writes President Adamkus.

Valdas Adamkus underlines that tolerance and respect for the heritage and religious traditions of ethnic minorities with whom we have lived together throughout the history of our countries are among the values that are followed and cherished by both of our societies.

“Almost a century ago Lithuanian immigrants in America built, using their own funds, the Church of Our Lady of Vilnius to have a place for worship and witness their love and faith in God. With time the church acquired yet another mission: it became a center fostering not only religious belief but also Lithuanian culture and national identity. People rallied around their church to maintain community bonds and remain close to their homeland.”

President Adamkus further writes that extraordinary Lithuanian American cultural treasures have been assembled in the church. Because of its architectural and artistic value, the church building has been included in the “List of U.S. Heritage Objects Important for Lithuania” compiled in accordance with the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Lithuania on the Protection and Preservation of Certain Cultural Properties, which came into force on 3 August of 2006.

Valdas Adamkus points out that now many young people from Lithuania arrive to live, work and study in the United States of America, Our Lady of Vilnius in Manhattan is gaining an ever more important role.

“It has become a growing house of spiritual guidance and ethnic culture, giving generous spiritual and moral support. Its activities could strongly contribute to the process of evangelization of the young generation. Being greatly concerned about the preservation of the Lithuanian national identity and the devotion of the Lithuanian people to Christian values, I appeal to you, Your Eminence, to give special attention to the role played by the Parish of Our Lady of Vilnius in fostering national identity and spirituality and to preserve the Church for the society of today and the generations of tomorrow,” writes President Adamkus.

Press Service of the President

© Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania

Friday, February 09, 2007

Butter 'em up! Hannibal's On Our Side!

"How He Arrived at That Acquired Taste"

Jeannette Catsoulis' review of the new Hannibal Lecter movie, "Hannibal Rising," reveals that Hannibal is Lithuanian:

"Like Leatherface and Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter is a monster who thrives in the dark; probe his past, and there’s a danger of finding only banality.

But this is America, where all pathologies must be excavated and neutralized, so we’re off to 1944 Lithuania, where the Lecter family is facing down Nazis, Russians, Vichy French and wild boars."


Monday, February 05, 2007

"Lithuanian bishops pledge to work to keep American ethnic parishes open"

Encouraging words from a Catholic Online story by Ruta Tumenaite and Regina Linskey. A quote specific to Our Lady of Vilnius from this piece:

"They expressed concern over the future of Our Lady of Vilnius Church in New York City and other Lithuanian-American churches in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, told Catholic News Service Jan. 30 that Our Lady of Vilnius Church in New York City was closing because of "the physical condition of the church," decrease in attendance and decrease in the church's services.

However, Father Eugene Sawicki, pastor of the church, said the parish is active and has minimal structural damage, but that the archdiocese wants to sell the property for money."

Enough Sniping and Vituperation: Now for some prayer

Ever since he broke news of "the letter", I have been scanning Rocco Palmo's blog, Whispers in the Loggia, daily.

There hasn't been any whispering about the "realignment" of the Archdiocese of New York, but in today's post, "Deus, in adiutorium meum (et suum) intende....," Mr. Palmo discusses his regard for the Liturgy of the Hours and his history (erratic) of keeping it.

I procrastinated from this practice because it seemed more complex than the human genome project. I got so bogged down in what to read when, that I left the volumes, which I, too, received as a gift, in the box.

Mr. Palmo's post contains a link to This site presents the day's readings in a forthright, "read this now" manner that eliminates all laborious preliminaries. It is a work in progress, so it does not yet contain all of the readings, but it contains all of the readings for which I have time. The on-line presentation also makes it easy to access the readings inconspicuously at one's desk.

Thank you, Rocco Palmo.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"In A Separate Development..."

In the latest edition of "Catholic New York", the archdiocese congratulates itself on the success of the "realignment" in an article titled 'The Process Worked'.

The piece trails off with a mention of Our Lady of Vilnius:

"In a separate development, the archdiocese announced that Our Lady of Vilnius parish in Manhattan, which was founded in 1905 to serve Lithuanian immigrants, also will close. Discussions concerning that parish were taking place before the realignment process began. (Story, Page 9.)"

The "page 9" story did not make it to the online edition.

Why a "separate development" for our parish? Maybe the operative word is "development".

Thursday, February 01, 2007

From the Baltic Blog: Letter from Jonas Jucas to Cardinal Egan

In his Baltic Blog, Tony Mazeika publishes the entire text of a letter from Lithuania's Minister of Culture, Jonas Jucas to Cardinal Egan emphasizing the cultural importance of the church in the Lithuanian community and making a case for its survival. The title of the post is "Dramatic faceoff of the New York Archdiocese and the little people...Latest update: letter to Cardinal Egan."

This development was also noted in the Lietuva in Brief report in the "Baltic Times."

Please Pray for Frankie Pretzels

Pretzels of Pretzels and Provolone fame is in need of prayers. As I don't usually attend Mass on the weekdays when he is around, I haven't had the pleasure of getting to know him, but he is an integral part of the community with a reputation for kindness and humor, and I hear that Jellybean loves him.

We prayed for him at Mass today, and I figured I'd appeal to all who read my blog to keep him in your thoughts and prayers.