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A Pastoral Letter on the Šiluva Jubilee Year

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is with great joy that we begin the Jubilee Year of the Apparition of Our Lady at Šiluva.

We understand very well the precious gift we have received from God – this is the only apparition in Lithuania recognized by the Church and one of the earliest in Europe.

The Mother of Our Lord shines as a bright Star during those 400 years of our nation’s turbulent hisotry. Her graceful glance sees her children in the Marian shrines of Trakai, Aušros Vartai, Žemaičių Kalvarija, Pivašiūnai, Krekenava, Pažaislis, at the altars of village churches and in the homes of faithful. Her motherly love helped to safeguard the faith, love for country, unity in familes, strength to raise and educate children. She comforted us in times of suffering and loss, and was the star of hope of return to their homeland for exiles in the distant gulags. Conscious of the value of such a gift and as members of the Catholic Church, we share faith and joy with all the pilgrims to Šiluva and desire to celebrate the Jubilee Year together.

In the encyclical Spe salvi, Pope Benedict XVI calls the Blessed Virgin Mary the Star of Hope. “Life seems like a journey on a dark and stormy sea of history as we search for stars to indicate direction. True stars in our lives are persons who lived justly.... And who better than Mary could be a star of hope for us – she who opened up the doors to our world by her “Yes” to God, she who became the living Ark of the Covenant in which God became flesh and one of us, and pitched his tent among us. (cf. John 1:14)?” (Spe salvi, 49).

In today’s turbulent sea of history and life a wondrous Star shines for us – Mary, Mother of our hope. Preparations for the Jubilee and the celebrations themselves are as a new apparition of Our Lady in Lithuania, a new sign that there is hope of resurrection, of discovering God anew, a hope to build a solid future of our free Homeland with all people of good will. Mary’s request at the apparition to honor the Son of the Eternal God at Šiluva is an invitation to live by faith, to announce and witness the Good News, to be strengthened by the Eucharistic bread, and respond with Gospel courage to today’s challenges.

How can we respond to the message of Our Lady of Šiluva? The answer comes in the words of the Mother of the Son of God herself, spoken to the angel: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be according to your word.” (Lk 1:38). We shall make Mary’s words come alive as we respond to her invitation to honor the Son of God by seeking God’s will always and everywhere, seeing that God’s Word guide our life, our goals and our actions. God’s Word is written in the Gospels and speaks in our consciences. As we let God act in and through us, we allow him to change us and to prepare to celebrate the Jubilee in earnest. All the solemnities such as pilgrimages, Eucharistic congresses and other events are very necessary, but they are means to help us live closer to God and to foster the Kingdom of Heaven around us.

A detailed program has been in place in preparation for the Jubilee. Its purpose was to indicate another Program – that which Jesus Christ announced on the Mount of the Beatitudes: blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for justice and the Name of Jesus. We shall truly worship Mary’s Son Jesus Christ by keeping to this Program. Mary herself said “Yes” to this program at the Incarnation of Jesus and carried out this resolve to the death of her divine Son on the cross.

The Jubilee celebrations coincide with the anniversary of the apostolic visit of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II to Lithuania. On September 7, exactly fifteen years ago the Holy Father prayed as a pilgrim at the site of the apparition of Our Lady of Šiluva. We know very well how much this Pope helped so many people regain hope, the freedom they sought and faith in the future. As other European nations, we are free and have the opportunity to create a meaningful future.

We celebrate the Jubilee with great respect for the present Holy Father, Benedict XVI, as we welcome the representative of His Holiness to lead the Jubilee solemnities.

Last year the German magazine “The Church Today” published an extensive editorial on the Šiluva Jubilee. The author called this special event “Hope for Europe.”

And so we await pilgrims from Lithuania and neighboring countries as well as from distant lands. We shall welcome Lithuanians from other countries with traditional hospitality. And as children of one family, returning home to their Mother, we shall sing the beloved hymn, “Marija, Marija,” together in honor of the Mother of God.

According to an ancient tradition, Our Lady of Šiluva is invoked as Health of the Sick. I invite all to pray for the sick, the suffering, those who have lost hope and the joy of life, those experiencing any need. May our prayers be accompanied by the Mother of Mercy as she takes them to heart.

I invite all to continue the preparations for the Jubilee Year with courageous and joyful hope, and to celebrate the solemnity of Our Lady’s apparition as a festival of Christian faith.

I thank all who have supported and will support the Jubilee preparations with prayers and offerings.

Our Lady of Šiluva, the Star of our Hope, “teach us to believe with you, to hope and to love. Show us the way to his kingdom. Star of the Sea, shine on us and lead us on our way!” (Spe salvi, 50) Amen.

+ Sigitas TAMKEVIČIUS
Archbishop of Kaunas

February 3, 2008