Author’s note: After the Sunday Angelus on September 1st, Pope Francis announced that he will create 13 new Cardinals at a consistory to be held on October 5th. Ten of the Cardinal-elects are of voting age in the next conclave. But Pope Francis named three Cardinals beyond the maximum voting age of 80, an honor conferred when the Holy Father wishes to recognize the cleric’s extraordinary witness to Christ, or his outstanding contribution to the Church in his life of ministry.
Among the three clerics above age 80 is Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevičius, Archbishop Emeritus of Kaunas, Lithuania. His ministry has been a confession of faith as cleric and bishop, a tremendous witness to Christ and his Church, especially during the Communist occupation of Lithuania. I had the privilege of having an extended, exclusive interview with Archbishop Tamkevičius on a rare visit to Chicago years ago. We are reprinting the interview, originally published by Voices in 2010, to share the story of a newly elevated Prelate with relevance to the universal Church.
The one thing oppressors cannot control is the human spirit. The Church has survived in times and places of persecution on the backs of those individuals, collectively and individually, who refused to give up either faith or hope. We’ll never know the names or numbers of heroic Christians who saved even the smallest remnant of the faith in countries around the world, but a few easily come to mind: Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Blessed Titus Brandsma, both martyred in Nazi concentration camps; Cardinal Ignatius Kung, Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, and Father Jerzy Popieluszko, who heroically upheld the Catholic faith against Communism.
Father Popieluszko was martyred in 1984 in Communist-occupied Poland for speaking out boldly and upholding human dignity and “internal freedom even in conditions of enslavement,” as he once said in a homily. Similar conditions existed nearby in Lithuania with similar heroic resistance to Communist oppression of the Roman Catholic Church.
Father Sigitas Tamkevicius, a Lithuanian Jesuit, had been arrested one year earlier, in 1983, convicted of publishing an underground news journal detailing accounts of Communist persecution of the Church in Lithuania, and sentenced to years of exile and hard labor in Siberia.
As providence would have it, on the 25th anniversary of Father Popieluszko’s martyrdom for the faith, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, of Kaunas, Lithuania, was visiting the US to celebrate the millennium of Christianity in Lithuania and the faith for which he risked his life. He is one of the chief shepherds of Lithuania, and is chancellor of Vytautas Magnus University in Kauns.
During Archbishop Tamkevicius’s Chicago visit to the largest Lithuanian community outside that small Baltic nation, I was given a rare and privileged opportunity to discuss with him the plight of the persecuted Church, and his role in keeping it alive.
Read more at Catholic World Report