First Martyr Beatified From Lithuania’s Communist Era

by David Hejza  •  •  June 29, 2017   

Abp. Teofilius Matulionis endured beatings, imprisonments and ultimately martyrdom for the Faith

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VILNIUS, Lithuania ( - Thousands gathered in Lithuania on Sunday to attend the official beatification ceremony of Abp. Teofilius Matulionis (1873–1962).

After suffering persecution and numerous stretches of detainment throughout his life, Matulionis was martyred in 1962. At that time, Lithuania was still part of the Soviet Union and primarily ruled by atheist leaders in Moscow. At nearly 90 years of age, Matulionis endured beatings and was executed by an injection of poison administered by a police nurse of the KGB.

At the weekend ceremony, the faithful sang and prayed as they remembered the suffering and virtue of a man who spent years in labor camps and prisons owing to his public dedication to Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church. Pope Francis relayed a special message to Lithuanian Catholics who watched from their homeland while the Holy Father spoke to pilgrims gathering in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus.

Today in Vilnius, Bp. Teofilius Matulionis, who was murdered because of hatred towards the Faith in 1962 when he was almost 90 years old, will be beatified. Let us give thanks to the Lord for the witness of this courageous defender of the Faith and of human dignity. Let us pay our respects to him and to the entire Lithuanian people with applause.

Blessed Teofilius with his brother Juozas, 1895

Teofilius Matulionis was a priest and bishop who led his people by example and continually defied communist rule, withstanding repeated hardship and imprisonment by Soviet Communists.

While in St. Petersburg in 1917, he witnessed the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1923, he endured three years' imprisonment for refusing to cooperate with communist authorities.

Then, in 1929, Bp. Anton Maleckis secretly consecrated Matulionis , making him a bishop. Consequently, he was arrested again and sent to a concentration camp in the Solovetsky Islands, Russia for 10 years.

After four years of hard labor and near-starvation, Matulionis was released in an agreement between the Republic of Lithuania and Russia. After regaining his strength, he was appointed as the ordinary of the diocese of Kaisiadorys. Soon after, he visited Rome, where he took part in the canonization of St. John Bosco and met with Pope Pius XI, who praised him for his strength and resolve. From that period in 1933, he was able to travel abroad, visiting the Holy Land and several Lithuanian parishes in America.

With World War II around the corner, Lithuania was being occupied by Soviet and opposing German forces. He defended the Catholic Church during the German occupation and encouraged his priests to remain in Lithuania and help the people despite oppression. In 1943, when Soviet forces assumed control, he again had to prevent the new inhabitants from dismantling his responsibility to the Church and the faithful.

Lithuania was one of the first countries to fall to Soviet rule, but there was such a strong Catholic identity it was not possible to destroy it altogether. The Soviets kept one Catholic seminary open, infiltrated it with KGB agents, recruited seminarians, and put mandatory Soviet education in place, attempting to use the Church to become a means of spreading its anti-religious policy.

By 1946, then-bishop Matulionis was arrested and sent to the dreaded Vladimir Prison. He spent the next 10 years of his life in Soviet detainment.

On being released, he continued to minister to the diocese of Kaisiadorys. With the blessing of the Holy Father but against the will of the Soviet government, on Christmas day, 1957, Matulionis consecrated Vincentas Sladkevicius bishop.

For this he was persecuted by the Soviet government and forced to Seduva. He was raised to archbishop by Pope John XXIII in 1962 but the Soviet Union would not grant him permission to go to Rome or attend the Second Vatican Council. On August 20, 1962, the occasion ensued when he would become a martyr for the Faith.

An exhibit reflecting the holiness of Abp. Matulionis called "Unarmed Truth" in Kaunas, Lithuania contains several testimonies of the life of prayer and sacrifice he led. Whether he was in Russia, Rome, America or the Holy Land, free or imprisoned, his spiritual children would pray for him. They would send him notes, ribbons and holy cards dedicated to his well-being — 548 Mass intentions, 33 novenas of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, 167 good deeds and even more acts of faith and love — and he would write back when he could. He also received prayer packages from the Benedictine Sisters of Kaunas and even from students of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Casimir.

His cause for sainthood was begun in 1990 after Lithuania became independent of Soviet rule.

Numerous writings, prayer intentions and Catholic relics are proof of the love the Lithuanian people had for their bishop, as well as the love he held for them and for God.


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