Lithuanian Franciscans´ Chapter Is First in 140 Years

Last Meeting Held Prior to Anti-Czarist Rebellion of 1863-64

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 16, 2001 ( The St. Casimir Provincial Chapter meeting of Lithuania´s Franciscans began Monday in Kretinga, the first such gathering in 140 years.

Chapters were interrupted after a popular rebellion against the Russian czar in 1863-64, which ended with the closure of Franciscan monasteries.

The province´s rebirth, which began in 1989, is the symbol of the heroism of Lithuanian Christians during the Soviet domination and of their vitality following their recovered liberty. After decades of clandestineness and exile, the ecclesial fabric and community life are slowly being restored in the country of 3.6 million people.

The Franciscans arrived in Lithuania around 1240. Their first province was established in 1387; it was suppressed July 30, 1864. The Franciscans were accused of taking part in a rebellion against the czar. Dominykas Sukevicius, the last provincial minister, died in exile in 1876.

However, since the early 20th century, youths attracted to the Franciscan ideal met clandestinely. The life of St. Francis´ followers was invigorated with the rebirth of the Lithuanian state in 1918, but no provincial chapter was held.

In time, religious life was prohibited in Lithuania, and some of the Franciscans were obliged to go into exile in the United States. In 1988, a «Lithuanian vice-province in exile» was established.

The thaw began the following year. The religious brothers who remained underground renewed their community life. The last chapter in exile was held in 1997, and the province´s seat was moved to Kretinga.

Since then, the number of Franciscans has grown to 45 from five. They are housed in four monasteries, one of which is like a hermitage, and is located near the Hill of the Crosses. It was established by express wish of John Paul II, with the help of the Franciscans of Tuscany, Italy, in the same line as the «La Verna Shrine,» where St. Francis received the stigmata. There are about 20 religious brothers in the United States and Canada.

During their chapter, the Lithuanian Franciscans will outline their future plan of action and elect a new provincial government.

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