Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Concert Tomorrow at Paul Hall

One of the joys of Our Lady of Vilnius, even though we worshipped in the basement dancehall, was the presence of Edvinas Minkstimas. He shepherded the ad hoc choir through the Lithuanian liturgy and coaxed a beautiful Communion meditation out of our battered and yellow-toothed grand piano every week.

It was marvelously incongruous to have a musician of his calibre creating beauty for our liturgy in a barroom that time forgot.

We no longer have our retro dancehall, but you can hear Edvinas play tomorrow:

Paul Hall, Juilliard School of Music
144 W. 66 Street, West of Broadway
6:00 PM

Follow Edvinas' career on his new website, complete with blog, www.minkstimas.com

Today we have been closed for one year

Above is a video of the candle light vigil that took place on the evening of our closure last year. Please watch, remember, pray and offer your help and support to our cause.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Sad Anniversary Approaches

Our church was abruptly locked on Monday, February 26, 2007. When I heard that Father Eugene was scheduled to meet with the Cardinal on that morning, I suspected that the archdiocese would lock the church after the noon Mass, so I took the day off and went down there. I had the privilege of being among the first worshippers locked out of the building.

The following was presented in the Sunday bulletin of February, 25, 2007, the last Sunday bulletin. Father Eugene put this verse before us in the spirit of "a thought, a prayer for Lent:"

"Don't tire of your world, Master.
Don't wash your hands of your children,
shaking us off as hopeless,
Give us one more chance,
and yet another,
and another.

How your heart must sorrow as you see our need:
our selfishness and sinfulness,
cruelty and degradation,
indifference to your commands,
contempt of your love.
If our hearts sicken over the daily news,
what must you feel?
You who hold the world in your cupped hands,
bending over it lovingly:
listening, yearning,
challenging to better ways...

Yet spiteful arrows pierce your heart daily;
your malicious children spit up in your face...
Father-God, forgive your world:
go on forgiving your children.
Don't leave us to your own devices,
to our self-made hell,
don't cast us away,
flinging us like unwanted playthings
into the chill of outer space.
We have no merits to plead;
our very wickedness must speak for us.
We need you.

O God, forgive your world:
give us one more chance.

Flora Larsson
The Hodder Book of Christian Prayers
(Hodder and Stoughton, 1986)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Send me your "Gippers"!

The picture above was taken at a family wedding in upstate New York in 1985. From left to right are my father, my aunt Ann and my aunt Helen. They were all born in Manhattan to Lithuanian immigrants who were among the first parishioners of Our Lady of Vilnius.

Among my proudest possessions is my father's First Holy Communion prayerbook. Stuck inside of it is a holy picture with Lithuanian text on the back. It tells of a parish mission conducted at Our Lady of Vilnius in 1926.

People who love football, or the movies, or both remember Ronald Reagan as the dying Gipper, sending Pat O'Brien as Knute Rockne out to "do it for the Gipper."

Well, my father, who played semi-pro football in a leather helmet, is one of my Gippers. He died in 1992 at the age of 78. His two sisters, pictured with him, died within months of him and are also my Gippers.

My heart tells me to fight for this cause that sophisticates categorize as lost. I pray and work for the survival of this parish in the name of those who sacrificed to create it in a spirit of innocent faith, hoping to create a spiritual home for their descendants.

Who are my other Gippers? Blessed George Matulaitis, the parishioners of Our Lady of Vilnius, living and dead, and their descendants, some as yet unborn.

Fellow parishioners, please send me your Gippers!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Our Church and Parish in Need of Prayers

Please pray to Our Lady for her intercession in saving our church, in restoring our parish and in healing our sorrows and wounds.

We can unite in prayer and petition Our Lady to help and protect us. Every day at noon and every evening at 9:00 PM, wherever you are, please keep our intention in mind, say a "Hail Mary" and thank Our Lady for all the help that she has already given us.

Also, remember Blessed George Matulaitis who said Mass in Our Lady of Vilnius in 1926. Ask him for his guidance and protection as well.

Ash Wednesday, 2008

The picture above shows exactly what we are giving up for Lent. Our beloved basement hall was still open and Father Eugene Sawicki was saying Mass in his inimitable way on Ash Wednesday of last year. Elaine D. was there that day and she told me how moved she was to see the line of people spilling out of the hall onto the steps that lead to the side entrance.

Normally an attendee at the Sunday Lithuanian/English bilingual Mass, she was struck by the character and diversity of the people assembled. She described most of them as working people of the less affluent kind. Because the Lithuanians and Lithuanian-Americans have been most vocal, it is easy to forget the others now that the church has closed and they have sadly receded, resigning themselves to worship in other places, or perhaps, no place.

In addition to Lithuanian heritage, this church was a living monument to working class heritage. Longshoremen of the "On the Waterfront" era worshipped here with their descendants. Employees of the diminishing number of printing houses came here for lunch hour Mass. The little neighborhing tenements and brownstones all sheltered families who came to the little church next door or around the corner, regardless of their ethnicity.

What they came to was a small church as comfortable and modest as their own homes. They came to worship in a church founded by Father Shestokas, who was a longshoreman before he was a priest, and, I hear, while he was Pastor, as well. Father Eugene Sawicki continued the legacy of the working priest until his retirement from the FDNY. He remained "down to earth", easy to talk to and with a wicked sense of humor. From his un-pulpit under the dancehall's disco ball he emphasized the mysterious presence of God in our daily lives and the dignity and value of our souls, of us.

This is something that no one should have to give up.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Exile On Fifth Avenue

Against all odds, we continue to gather across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral to pray, to commune, to make our presence known and to cast our story, like a message in a bottle, across the street before the faithful that stream out of the cathedral.

There is disagreement among us about doing this. Will we make the Cardinal angry? What good will it do? Those of us who gather do it because it does good for us.

We gather with each other and strengthen a bond. The vast bronze door opens and we can see straight down the center aisle to the altar. We know that the Lady Chapel lies beyond, a modest alcove in the grandeur where people bring the pain and questions in their hearts before Marija. Our voices, such as they are, mingle, rise in singing "Marija, Marija" and travel down that aisle towards Our Lady, joining those of the many who kneel, and have knelt, before Her.

People look up at us, startled. Some of them come over to talk and accept our brochure. For nearly a year we have gathered before the colossal Atlas, who, with inanimate patience, bears the world on his shoulders as his unseeing eyes gaze down the aisle with us.

We are exiles, marooned across the gulf of Fifth Avenue. We wave our flags with pride in our heritage, but also in distress:

"Please look at us! Hear us! Understand us and help us!"

There are many hearts that resonate with these feelings. Please join us.