Monday, April 30, 2007

Recent Events: Media Update

dotCommonweal weighs in with a post by Grant Gallicho entitled Cardinal Egan & parish closings redux. The post synthesizes information from a variety of sources. Posts are often followed by a lively forum of regulars.

Catholic News Service online has picked up the story of President Adamkus' meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

Video of President Adamkus' meeting with the Pope excerpted from Lithuanian television and captioned in English:

Press release about the meeting between President Adamkus and Pope Benedict XVI from the Lithuanian government web site. Re Our Lady of Vilnius, NYC:

"President Adamkus also spoke to Pope Benedict XVI about the decision to close the Our Lady of Vilnius Roman Catholic Church in New York – a decision that was very upsetting for the whole of Lithuania since it raised a wave of disappointment among the faithful.

Valdas Adamkus pointed out that 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.

The Holy Father said that he knew about this problem and promised to discuss it with American bishops."

Our Lady of Vilnius: After

Raimundas, Save Our Lady of Vilnius webmaster has updated the site to include video from Lithuanian television of President Adamkus' audience with Pope Benedict XVI, the press release from the Lithuanian government and other pertinent news. Most striking, however, is the newly updated gallery of photos that contrast the sanctuary that we knew and loved with what the Archdiocese of New York has wrought.

Another Voice is Raised in "The Villager"

The April 25 - May 1 edition of The Villager presents a letter to the editor that presents previously unpublished detail regarding the closure of Our Lady of Vilnius from very close to home. The writer sums up his experience:

"Back in the summer of 2004, when the cardinal visited, I should have answered him by saying the property line of the Catholic Church extends well beyond the fence. It extends around the globe. It is universal, apostolic and holy, no matter how some of its present-day shepherds lead."

Visit the Letters to the Editor and scroll down to "Cardinal showed his colors" to read the letter in its entirety.

Yesterday at Our Lady of Vilnius...


Yesterday, after educating the faithful as they emerged from St. Patrick's Cathedral, I had the opportunity to enter Our Lady of Vilnius for the first time since its closure.

The church was an empty shell. The Jonynas windows were gone and the church was dimly illuminated by the bare fluorescents that had backlit them. Where the altar had been, chalices were arrayed on a folding table. The icon of Our Lady that had gazed down upon us from above the altar was no longer there. As I turned to my right, I saw her face gazing dimly out from under a film of plastic wrap. The icon sat on the floor in the rear of the church, propped up against a wall.

The statues were lying on the floor like fatalities, tightly shrouded in shrink wrap and labeled with "OLV" followed by what was most likely a catalog number. They were surrounded by smaller numbered parcels, the wrap obscuring the contents.

Our beloved sanctuary looked like it had been sacked by barbarians: a heinous hybrid of a battlefield, an archaeological dig and a yard sale.

It was my understanding that, once a canonical appeal is lodged, all activities related to the disposition of properties should cease.

Our Lady is still present to us, no matter where Her image resides and we should pray now, more than ever, for Her intercession.

New York Post Captures Valdus Adamkus-Pope Benedict XIV Audience

Today's New York Post carries a brief item by Dan Mangan: "POPE WANTS TO SAVE N.Y. CHURCH: LITHUANIA PREZ." The item begins:

"Pope Benedict XVI wants to see a lower Manhattan church shuttered by Edward Cardinal Egan reopened, according to a European head of state."

The last time I had hoped to see the cavalry ride over the mountain to save us, Cardinal Egan headed them off at the pass. I hope that this news does not occasion a fast and brutal pre-emptive strike.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Good News from "Lietuvos Rytas"

Saulius Simoliunas has been taking up the cudgels for Our Lady of Vilnius in at least 2 languages in many online forums. When I feel most punch-drunk from the closure of the parish, his comments invigorate me and I go forth to blog again. This morning his comment on a previous post drew my attention to an article in the the Lithuanian daily "Lietuvos Rytas," V.Adamkui popiežius žadėjo padėti išsaugoti lietuvių bažnyčią Niujorke (papildyta, nuotraukos) .

According to Saulius, "President Adamkus met the Pope this morning and the Pope promised to save our Lady of Vilnius Church in New York". Unfortunately, I cannot read Lithuanian to corroborate this. Another Saulius closer to home left a message on my answering machine paraphrasing the article as follows:

"The Pope promised to try to save the Lithuanian church in Manhattan. President Adamkus is happy that the Pope has shown so much interest in Lithuanian parishes overseas."

Pray to Our Lady, John Paul II, the Holy Spirit, St. Jude and anyone else you can think of that this news is true and that we are closer to having our spiritual home restored to us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Too Good To Be Buried Among the Comments

In response to this statement from Cardinal Egan quoted in yesterday's New York Times:

'"They average around six people at the early Mass.”

He slapped the arm of his chair. “Is there any person in the world who has sanity who would keep open deserted churches?” he said. “I made a good move.”

A reader asks:

"What is the matter with this man? He thinks six attendees at morning Mass constitutes a deserted church. Doesn't he realize that a religion of over a billion people began with 12 men huddled in a room? "

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Cardinal Egan quoted on Our Lady of Vilnius in "The New York Times"

April 23's "New York Times" piece,
At 75, a Battle-Tested but Unwavering Cardinal
by Michael Powell presents a thoughtful and comprehensive portrait of Cardinal Egan, quietly raising some questions that have arisen in my mind. He quotes Cardinal Egan on Our Lady of Vilnius as follows:

"But when the archdiocese released the final list of 21 parish closings and a furor arose, Cardinal Egan viewed discussion as closed. (He opened his press conference by talking of finances restored and parishes saved, saying: “I’m delighted to be able to share with you a lot of good news.”) When parishioners loudly protested at Our Lady of Vilnius, a Lithuanian national parish in Manhattan, the cardinal invited the administrator to his office. He had the church doors padlocked while they talked.

“We sent people to attend Mass there: Not a word of Lithuanian,” Cardinal Egan said, explaining why he closed the church. “The pastor speaks not a word, can’t read it, can’t write it. They average around six people at the early Mass.”

He slapped the arm of his chair. “Is there any person in the world who has sanity who would keep open deserted churches?” he said. “I made a good move.”

.The archdiocese deserted the church, not the parishioners. The same inaccuracies and misleading information, this time directly attributable to the Cardinal.

Letters to the editor, anyone?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hear "Marija, Marija" Sung Really Well!

Angelica Women Chamber Singers will sing it on Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29, 2007. Marie Caruso, my fellow St. Stanislaus Kostka chorister emeritus and artistic director of this group, has arranged this hymn for her small ensemble of beautiful voices and put it on their Spring concert program. Details below:

Saturday, April 28, 2007 · 7:30 pm
South Presbyterian Church, 343 Broadway, Dobbs Ferry, NY

Sunday, April 29, 2007 · 3:00 pm
Fourth Universalist Society, 160 Central Park West at 76th St., NYC

Songs of Adoration,
Earthly & Divine

Medieval Chant & Polyphony
Renaissance Motets & English Madrigals
Modern works by Kodály, Gustav Holst, Randall Thompson, & Julie Dolphin (special commission)

Suggested Donation: $12 ($8 seniors/students/children)

Our Lady of Vilnius Contents Appraised

This was such a jolt to me that I am blogging this "The Villager" item in its entirety. From Volume 76, Number 47 April 18 - 24, 2007, Scoopy's Notebook:

"Church pickings: We happened to chat with a private appraiser waiting to go into Our Lady of Vilnius Church on Broome St. on Monday who told us that he was going to do a “quick walk-through” of the shuttered church with someone from the archdiocese. As for what the archdiocese will do with the church’s contents, as well as the church itself, he had no idea."

Someone told me that, under canon law, that it was illegal to remove contents of a closed church once an appeal has been submitted. What are they planning, and when do they propose to do it? I hope that Scoopy is around when it happens.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cardinal Egan's Successor?

This morning's post from Rocco Palma's Whispers in the Loggia intimates that changes in the Curia could result in Cardinal William Levada succeeding Cardinal Egan as Archbishop in New York. Read The Inquisition Comes Home

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Invitation to a Recital, April 23, 2007

Edvinas Minkstimas, who played the yellow-keyed old piano in the basement dancehall for our Sunday Mass has invited us to a recital. Skaidra Jancaite will also perform. Last year Skaidra sang at our Mass, gave a brief concert afterward and showed us photographs of "Forbidden and Dangerous Art," which includes politically dangerous content shot from physically precarious angles. It will be a pleasure to hear these two artists in a more accoustically hospitable setting.

Monday, April 23, 2007
6:00 PM

Paul Hall
The Juillard School
60 Lincoln Center Plaza
(West 65th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue)

You are very welcome to attend the recital of Edvinas Minkstimas (piano)
and Skaidra Jancaite (voice). The programme will consist of the following pieces:

Poulenc, Francis "La voix humaine" tragedie lyrique


Alkan, Charles "Le Festin d'Esope" , for solo piano

Messiaen, Olivier "Poemes pour Mi", a cycle of 9 songs

See you there!

4/23,pirmadieni, 6:00PM kvieciame i Skaidros Jancaites ir Edvino Minkstimo koncertaProgramoje: Poulenc "Voix humaine" ("Zmogaus balsas") vieno veiksmo opera.Alkan - solo virtuozine muzika fortepijonui.O. Messiaen "9 poems for Mi"Koncertas vyks: Paul Hall, The Juilliard School, 60 Lincoln Center Plaza, 10028, NYC.

Hope and Pray

On April 27-28, Lithuanian president Valdus Adamkus will visit the Vatican for a working meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. (see press release).

The following is from a press release regarding President Adamkus'recent birthday greeting to the Pope:

"The Head of State noted that the Roman Catholic Church had always brought the faithful and the secular together for joint work and had promoted an active civil society. “It is a great joy to see Lithuanian churches filled with so many young people and families sharing their belief in the culture of life,” said the President expressing his confidence that the ongoing creative cooperation between the State and the Church will grow and develop and that together we will bring up a strong generation, building their life path on goodness and decency."

President Adamkus added that he was looking forward with great impatience to the meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican.

Let us hope and pray that President Adamkus will bring the Pope's awareness to the importance of Our Lady of Vilnius church to fulfilling that agenda in New York.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bicentennial Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral

Today at 2:00 PM the Archdiocese began its bicentennial year with a special Mass. At least 2 Lithuanians were in attendance. I struck up a conversation with a chorister, mentioning that I was usually singing "Marija, Marija" across the street from the cathedral. He mentioned that he was half Lithuanian, so between the two of us, we added up to one. The other known Lithuanian was Bishop Baltakis, who sat among the other bishops on the altar and was acknowledged by Cardinal Egan before the final blessing.

Intentions were offered in various languages representing the different ethnic groups of New York. None were offered in Lithuanian.

A special edition of Catholic New York was available to those who attended this liturgy. It was almost like a souvenir journal, with many ads of congratulation. It featured a thoughtful history by Msgr. Thomas J. Shelley and a time line featuring events and people important to the archdiocese.

In this look back at 200 years of history, there was no mention of the founding nor the contributions of any of the recently closed parishes. The closings and mergers, certainly unprecedented in their magnitude, did not merit inclusion in the timeline.

"In the Holiness of Truth" seems to be a slogan or motto associated with the bicentennial. In my mind, it is followed by a fine print "but not the whole truth."

Friday, April 13, 2007

Why Our Lady of Vilnius Matters to Victoria Bugbee

"In the 1980's, this was where many innovative theater projects happened. One of the vibrant new plays that was staged was my play "Life and Death With Business In Between." It was a great place to do theater and Linda Pakri and her husband had set it up as an intimate cabaret. The energy in the room was contagious.

It is also a church that has served many different nationalities for over 100 years. Today, Lithuanians call it their church but it really is a neighborhood church.

The yellow brick, red doored building is always so welcoming in the light. It is a friendly building and would be sorely missed if it is torn down. The sanctuary has been closed due to major roof repairs, and the Archdioese is thinking of closing the church.

The congregation is trying to save the church and needs help in preserving it so a major building does not take up valuable airspace as well as taking a spiritual and cultural landmark from the city." (December 2006)

This is excerpted from Ms. Bugbee's nomination of Our Lady of Vilnius to the Census of Places That Matter. Place Matters is a collaborative effort of City Lore and The Municipal Art Society formed out of shared concerns about the places of value disappearing around them in New York City. Their goal is to foster conservation of New York City's historically and culturally significant places. The "Census of Places that Matter" was conceived as a means of learning how and why "place" is meaningful to people.

A place can receive any number of nominations. Visit the site and add yours!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Our Lady of Vilnius Gets a Bouquet From a Secret Admirer

WhizKidForte posted this video, "A Call for Restoration" to YouTube, asking the video community to write to the National Trust For Historic Preservation on our behalf. Please watch the video. The exact reason for our closure is not quite correct, but it is a beautiful piece. Thanks to WhizKidForte for the thought, the labor and the beauty of the work.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Some Free Associations About Nourishment...

When my Lithuanian grandmother, who attended Our Lady of Vilnius, first came to this country someone gave her a banana. She bit the skin and thought that it was a weird and not especially good fruit until someone showed her how to eat it.

When Grant Gallicho blogged the closure of Our Lady of Vilnius in dotCommonweal, I jumped into the on-line forum. One participant argued that the Real Presence was of supreme importance and would still be available at "St. Whitebread down the street."

After the recent loss of my two parishes, reading and reflection, I don't think that all parishes are created equal in how they prepare people to receive nourishment from the Eucharist. Also, people differ in culture, experience and temperament. What works best for one person may not work for another, so there needs to be some diversity among parishes. The history of the Church is old enough and rich enough to provide this within the scope of its doctrine.

At Our Lady of Vilnius and Saint Stanislaus Kostka we always had coffee social after Mass. This allowed the priest to move among the people. The priest and people became acquainted with each other in a context that is not restricted by an exclusively spiritual agenda. Likewise, the secular breaking of bread after receiving the Eucharist seemed to help forge distinct, even discordant, personalities into cohesive communities. Within these communities we supported each other, even inspired each other . It happened without thought or effort.

At St. Stanislaus Kostka the lineage of pastors and priests were responsible for contributing to this culture. The most recent Pastor exclusive to St. Stanislaus Kostka was Father Ed Fabisinski, who reluctantly retired in the late 1980's due to ill health. When I joined St. Stanislaus in 1993 Father Fabisinski was very much present in the parish despite his absence and remained so until the closure of the church this year, several years after his death. His name came up so often in stories and reminiscences that I felt like I knew him. Parishioners would often look to advice given by him in the past to help them with present issues.

Likewise, Our Lady of Vilnius. The founding priest worked as a longshoreman while engaged in his ministry. More recently, Father Sawicki perpetuated this ethos as a dispatcher for the FDNY, a Registered Nurse and a teacher. I think that his shared experience of the workplace has enriched his ability to present the gospel and has contributed to the unique and beneficial character of the parish.

While there is nourishment available at all parishes, some are better than others at preparing us to receive it. This does not appear to have been given due consideration by the Archdiocese of New York in choosing parishes to shutter.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Nourishing the People of the Archdiocese of New York

Russell Shorto's New York Times Magazine cover story, "Keeping the Faith" explores Pope Benedict XVI's belief that that "the Catholic Church in Europe faces a dire threat in secularism and that re-Christianizing the Continent [Europe] is critical not only to the fate of the church but to the fate of Europe itself."

The article is long, informative and addresses complex issues, but the following paragraph leapt out at me because it described experiences that I've had close to home. The article contrasts a poorly attended Mass at with a well- attended lay service, both in Rome. The author shares the following analysis:

"The secret of the lay movements, Pecklers, the liturgical history professor, says, is that “they have a language that reaches people. Look at the average European parish, where there aren’t many people in church for Mass. They don’t know one another, the priest comes out of the sacristy and begins Mass. There’s no contact between the priest and the people. The homily may be quite abstract. What would attract a young Italian or Spaniard to go to church, except obligation? The individual is not being nourished. That’s why you find people shopping around.”

The "average European parish" described above is very similar to parishes that I have visited in the U.S, some in the Archdiocese of New York. My experience of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Our Lady of Vilnius was the exact opposite. The churches are small and the congregations small enough to encourage community and discipleship among parishioners. When I sang Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus" and looked down from the loft of St. Stanislaus Kostka at the parishioners, all personally known to me, I felt a sense of participating with them in the Mystical Body of Christ. When I went down the steps to the basement dancehall of Our Lady of Vilnius for Mass I enjoyed the feeling of belonging to a community of believers much like the early Christians. Father Eugene's homilies reminded us of the mysterious presence of God in our daily lives and underscored our basic value as God's creations. He reminded us to take care of ourselves and each other in a world too often focused on externals.

The Archdiocese of New York has closed parishes that provide the very nourishment that is key to maintaining the vitality of the Church. Who is going to protect the archdiocese from the threat of secularism?

Sunday, April 08, 2007


"All the fair beauties of earth
from the death of the winter arising;
Every good gift of the year waits for its Master's return."

-Easter verse of "Hail Thee, Festival Day"

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

"Through the Cross he brought an end in himself to the hostility which divides people and keeps them apart (cf. Eph 2:16). "

-Excerpted from POPE JOHN PAUL'S ECCLESIA IN AFRICA, 14 September, 1995

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Pastoral Care of the Lithuanian People, Archdiocese of New York-style

" Arrangements have been made with the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Archdiocese of Newark for the pastoral care of the Lithuanian people. Both dioceses have parishes in which Mass is offered in the Lithuanian language."
-from Archdiocese of New York press release announcing future closure of Our Lady of Vilnius Church, January 19, 2007

"Sad to say, there will be NO Holy Week services in Lithuanian in the Diocese of Brooklyn or the Archdiocese of New York. For information about the outdoor Stations of the Cross in Maspeth on Good Friday (one station is usually said in Lithuanian) ..."
-from Annunciation parish newsletter, April 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

Happy Birthday to Cardinal Egan

Even though I act in opposition to Cardinal Egan's decision to close my two churches (Our Lady of Vilnius and St. Stanislaus Kostka), I bear no personal animus towards him.

Rita, one of our Lithuanian parishioners,called me to say that we should pray for Cardinal Egan; that we should look within ourselves and pray until we can see him enveloped in a warm, embracing, white fog of our own forgiveness. She went on to say that we ourselves are harmed by negative energy, and that we should fill ourselves with positive energy while actively pursuing what we regard as right.

So Happy Birthday and "Sto Lat," Cardinal Egan, despite our differences. But if you are going to spend the remainder of your "Lat" (years) in the Archdiocese of New York, we are going to sing "Marija, Marija" outside of your cathedral until we can once more sing it inside of our church.

Cardinal Egan's Media Presence Still Strongly Linked to 200 Lbs. of Milk Chocolate

I'm still combing the media for articles about Cardinal Egan's tenure in the Archdiocese of New York, but I find myself bogged down in chocolate again. A plethora of new stories are emerging about prospective buyers for the chocolate figure, which, because of its notoriety, is now described as resting in a refrigerated truck in an undisclosed location. Because of his initial commentary on the "statue", Cardinal Egan is now also quoted in this second generation of media coverage.

Too bad Graham Greene and Alec Guiness can't be resurrected. There is one hell of an entertainment somewhere in all of this!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

7 Online and NY1 Capture Today's Protest Outside the Cathedral

7 Online was on hand for what could have been Cardinal Egan's last Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. While they were there, they caught our demonstration on video.

A sound byte from Ramute: "We'd like him to go," said Ramute Zukas from St. Vilnius. "We would hope that the next cardinal coming in would be much more receptive to our cause and receptive to the Lithuanian national church."

Likewise, NY1 was there for similar reasons. Read their piece, Christians, Jews Prepare for Holy Week, Passover. NY1's video can be seen below:

St. Stanislaus Kostka Denuded of Stained Glass Windows

While at today's Palm Sunday brunch, I learned that the stained glass windows of St. Stanislaus Kostka, donated by parishioners in memory of deceased loved ones, had been removed from the church. Because I am such a bad photographer, I came away with only this shot from the south side of the building next to the Ladder Company. I will read the booklet and come back, hoping to document how one can see clear through the church to the bare lightbulb adorning the eaves and the remaining stained glass window over the former altar. They didn't waste any time. I wonder if the Administrator has received the decree of suppression yet?

Palm Sunday -VERBŲ SEKMADIENIS and Cardinal Egan's birthday eve

Today is Palm Sunday. Both of my churches are closed. I know where I am going to brunch but I do not yet know where I will go to Mass because, spiritually, I am wandering like a ghost.

Today I have no church, but my two parish communities, St. Stanislaus Kostka and Our Lady of Vilnius, are both active at the same time. The Administrator of St. Stanislaus, as of two weeks ago, described the parish as "officially closed, but we do not have a date yet." What is the canonical status of that?

Though the church of St. Stan's has been locked since September of 2005 ," the community lives on. The coffee social unique to St. Stanislaus is now being held in the rectory meeting room of St. Matthew's after the 9:00 AM family Mass. The Holy Rosary Society persists and at noon today will hold its annual Palm Sunday brunch at Rudy's Beau Rivage in Dobbs Ferry. I will not stand next to Polly Ciborowski in the alto section of the St. Stanislaus loft and sing Faure's "The Palms" and "Adoramus Te Christe." Perhaps Polly will have already attended Mass and will bring her palms to the brunch and gently lash me with them as she delivers her annual Polish blessing. When we assemble, the irrepresible humor will arise, glasses will be raised and there will be some occasion for singing "Sto Lat." It's always a great honor and pleasure for me to be among these people.

Meanwhile,the people of Our Lady of Vilnius will be assembling with their signs, icons and flags across the street from the main entrance of St. Patrick's Cathedral, for today is not only Palm Sunday, but the eve of Cardinal Egan's 75th birthday. Reporters will be inside, examining the Cardinal's homily for auguries of his future and that of the archdiocese as well. As the Passion is read and the homily follows, the parishioners of Our Lady of Vilnius will be across the street living the passion of the parish, which began to unfold on Ash Wednesday, and praying for a future. I hope that some of the reporters will cross to the other side of the street after the Mass and hear our story.

After leaving St. Patrick's, the OLV parishioners will gather again in front of the church on Broome Street to petition Our Lady's intercession, then mingle and enjoy each other's company.

It is an embarassment of riches to have to choose between these two communities today, yet I am sad.

Why can't the archdiocese recognize these riches and allow them to grow?