August 20 – Bishop Matulionis’ life: a true Shepherd

August 17, 2017

By Plinio Correa de Oliveira

When I received the exciting biography of Lithuanian Bishop Matulionis, opportunely translated into Brazilian Portuguese by the zealous initiative of my friend, Father Francisco Gavenas, I went through it in a different way than I usually do when looking at a new book.

Book that Dr. Plinio is referring to. This book is in Portuguese.

Indeed –except for very special circumstances – it always seemed a bit disorderly to first look at the pictures illustrating a work and only then go on to read it. But that was precisely what I did as soon as I had in my hands El hombre de Dios [The Man of God], authored by Fr. Pranas Gaida, postulator of the cause of beatification of Bishop Matulionis. Looking at the cover, I came across a photograph of the great Lithuanian bishop. And his face immediately caused such a profound impression on me that I went on flipping through the book looking for other photographs of his. Since they were copious, and each was more expressive than the next, I analyzed them one by one. This is tantamount to saying that I went on collecting successive impressions of respect and, dare I say, of profound empathy, analyzing them closely, all the way to the last.

Indeed, throughout my whole existence I found few faces as profound and lucid, and yet so imbued with kindness as that of the late bishop of Kaisiadorys, Lithuania. So I avidly went on to read the concise, substantial and attractive narration of his life.

At the beginning of this reading, I was split between two feelings. One was a desire to know at least the main episodes of Bishop Matulionis’ history, in which he formed his noble and resolute personality. The other, which is explicable in a man as experienced as I am, was the fear of finding something in the book that, however small and light, might take away from the luster of his outstanding personality. Yet, even before I got to the end of the story of his arduous and heroic existence I no longer feared any disappointment at all. For I quickly ascertained that the soul of the great bishop and martyr was made of one piece, and that it either it remained standing amid the din of all the battles or, were it to stagger and lose balance, it would plunge to the ground in its entirety. And at every step it became more likely that Bishop Matulionis preserved his soul in its fullness and purity until the glorious day when, heeding the call of God, it took flight from this earth to heaven.

The bishop-martyr reminds me of the famous motto glorifying the Holy Cross in which the Son of God, with His redeeming sacrifice, opened the gates of heaven to men: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis: “The Cross stands still while the world turns.”

This motto recalls Bishop Matulionis’ life as a true Shepherd. And while in the international arena, Nazism and communism incessantly danced their criminal and macabre farandole around him and his work in his beloved diocese and country, Bishop Matulionis stood like a tower, always faithful to the Church of Christ, whose Holy Cross he grasped with his right hand and raised up high from his early life to the very end. Bishop Matulionis was always the same whether as a seminarian, parish priest and finally bishop, under the tsarist regime and later under the cruel boot of the communist regime, which persecuted him relentlessly and pitilessly and dragged him to prison more than once. He remained the same in the splendors of Catholic temples and liturgy, and finally in the magnificent Apostolic Palace of the Vatican where he visited the then reigning Pope, Pius XI. And he remains the same in the heavenly heights, at the foot of the Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son, where he always will be praying for his compatriots in Lithuania and around the world.

As I finish reading this remarkable biography I think especially about the moving scene of his meeting with Pius XI, the Pope of the two great encyclicals, Divini Redemptoris, against communism, and Mit brennender Sorge, against Nazism. As he approached the Vicar of Christ, Bishop Matulionis knelt. The Holy Father raised him up, knelt himself, and said, “You are a martyr: you are the one that should bless me first.”

Bishop Matulionis’ admirers will certainly lament not finding in his biography a detailed narration of his many acts of heroism facing communism, which earned him from the Vicar of Christ a tribute the Popes have seldom rendered to a mere mortal. We all would like to know in great detail, not just some, but all the successive confrontations he had with his Communist “judges” and torturers. We would want to be edified by watching him unshaken, day after day, under the whip of executioners and humiliation by prison guards, much like the events known about the life of the great Cardinal Mindszenty, Archbishop-Prince of Esztergom, Hungary, and the immortal Cardinal Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb, Yugoslavia.

But this limitation imposed on the author appears easy to explain. When Father Pranas Gaida’s work was written, neither had the Iron Curtain fallen nor the slight breeze of freedom now blowing in Soviet Russia had began, nor indeed had the subsequent transformation of the so-called USSR led to a loose confederation of quasi independent states. Nor – especially – had Lithuania won her glorious independence now recognized by nearly 60 States.

Presumably, the author of the book (first published in Rome in 1981) feared that, were he to include a detailed narration of the above facts the inexorable KGB would focus attention on the intense anticommunist sentiment already spreading in Lithuanian circles in Rome and would redouble its pressure, further aggravating tensions between the Holy See and Moscow. That would create obstacles to the sneaky Ostpolitik the Kremlin wanted to establish with the Vatican at all costs. The author may have, therefore, supposed it preferable to omit the narration of everything that the communist censorship would not tolerate: a heavy price to pay so this biography, though reduced, could circulate from hand to hand among the oppressed Lithuanian population, giving it the encouragement of the spiritual perfume of at least some of the major aspects of the life of the bishop before whom Pius XI bent his knees.

Be it as it may, we hereby express our deep wishes that the next edition of this work may appear enriched with everything that communist tyranny may have forced it to pass over in silence.

Preface to the Book, Bishop, Prisoner, and Martyr of Communism, a Biography of Bishop Theophilus Matulionis, by Father Pranas Gaida

More Pictures and information on his life click here.

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