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Lithuanian bishops: skipping fasting on February 16 this year is not a sin

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

In an unprecedented move, the Conference of Lithuanian Bishops, the governing body of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, said that meat dishes okay for the people of faith on February 16, which marks the 100-year anniversary of Lithuania’s statehood and the Lent Friday, which is traditionally a day of fasting for religious Catholic people.

«Indeed, the decision has been a first one of the kind in the history of the Lithuanian Catholic Church. It was passed heeding the extraordinary event of our state – the centennial anniversary of Lithuania. The bishops believe that it is an occasion for mirthful celebrations and the fasting can be omitted on the day,» Marius Venskus, the reverend of the Palanga Catholic parish, told BNN.

Lithuanian news anchors and TV hosts bantered that Aurelijus Veryga, the minister of health, who masterminded a set of alcohol sale and advertising restrictions from the new year, should follow into the footsteps of the bishops and allow fellow Lithuanian to carouse on February 16.

The minister did not respond to the ridiculing, but the bishops were very serious regarding their decision.

«This year, we will celebrate the first Lent Friday on February 16, the centennial of Lithuania’s independence. The anniversary of our statehood is very important to the Church, as well. Independent Lithuania was built by free and believing people. In light of the festive and significant anniversary of our state, bishops of Lithuania invite all people to join the prayer of gratitude for the gift of freedom, dismissing religious people from the duty to refrain from meat on the first Lent Friday, February 16,»  the secretariat of the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference said in a statement.

Echoing, Venskus, who shepherds the faithful in the Most Holy Virgin Mary’s Ascension Church in the Baltic resort of Palanga in Lithuania, expounded that the Canon Law of the Catholic Church allows its authority to do make such exceptions.

«As a matter of fact, special instructions were issued by our bishops in December, as this year Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday. Believers were invited to not eat meat on that day, although meat is usually allowed on Sundays,» Venskus said.

Acknowledging the extraordinary importance of February 16 this year, all the Catholic churches will be ringing their bells at 12.30 pm in the country.

«I hope no one will be upset by the bell ringing,» the priest said jokingly.

According to the communiqué by the Conference of Lithuanian bishops published earlier this week, the duty to refrain from meat remains on all other Fridays of the year, especially during Lent.

According to the latest census of 2011, 77 percent of Lithuania’s population are Roman Catholic, however, only roughly 6-8 per cent sit in the pews on a regular basis.

In another joyful development, Germany’s representatives have officially handed over the February 16 of 1918 Independence Act on restoration of Lithuania’s statehood to Lithuania this week.

The solemn handover protocol was signed by Lithuania’s chief archivist Ramojus Kraujelis and Professor Elke von Boeselager, the head of the political archive of the German Foreign Ministry, at a ceremony at the President’s Office on Tuesday, January 16.

Among participants of the event was Lithuania’s President, Germany’s Ambassador Angelika Viets and families of the signatories of the historic Independence Act.

«This is our pride in our nation, our history, guarantee of our unity and our future,»  said the president.

After the ceremony, the document will be delivered to the House of Signatories in Vilnius old town before going on public display on Sunday.

The Independence Act will be exhibited in the same room where 20 members of the Council of Lithuania, presided by Jonas Basanavičius, signed it back on Feb. 16 of 1918.

In preparation for receipt of the document, the House of Signatories updated the exhibition.

Lithuania and Germany last year signed an agreement on handover of the act to Lithuania for five years, at the most, with storage of the document updated on an annual basis. Under the deal, the document could be exhibited in Kaunas in 2022, when the Lithuanian second city becomes the European Capital of Culture.

The handwritten Act of Independence of Feb. 16, 1918 in the Lithuanian and the German languages with signatures of 20 signatories was discovered in the Berlin diplomatic archives by Liudas Mažylis , professor of the Vytautas Magnus University, last March.

In the beginning of the year, top-echelon Lithuanian leaders haveencouraged nation to pursue ambitious goals in its centenary year.

«We are at a historic junction of two centuries! On one side, there is a long road of trials on which our nation twice gained its independence. On the other side, there is a new century and immense opportunities for Lithuania. It is our common creation, our life and our future,»  President Dalia Grybauskaitė said as she congratulated the nation on the New Year.

«Let us not be afraid to dream and set the most ambitious goals for ourselves. We will have the strength to achieve them. Let the coming century be a century of uninterrupted freedom and prosperity!», she said.

In his New Year’s message, Viktoras Pranckietis, the speaker of the Seimas, also emphasized that 2018 will be «historic for our country».

Pope Francis is expected to pay visit to the Baltics, and Lithuania, in the summer.

Interestingly, a recent poll asking respondents to say who of the historic and/or contemporary figures have contributed to the restoration of statehood most, turned up the names of Basanavičius, Smetona and Landsbergis.

Jonas Basanavičius is the father of national rebirth, Antanas Smetona is an interwar president and Vytautas Landsbergis is the former chairman of the Restorative Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania.

According to the poll, the list is continued by former president Valdas Adamkus who made a major contribution to Lithuania’s membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO, followed by guerrilla chief Jonas Žemaitis – Vytautas, a fighter against the Soviet occupation.  The sixth position is occupied by former president Algirdas Brazauskas, ahead of Mykolas Krupavičius, a priest, the leader of Christian Democrats and the author of the land reform of the 1920s, followed by interwar presidents Aleksandras Stulginskis and Kazys Grinius, while dissident bishop Sigitas Tamkevičius completes the list in 10th.

Of the list, only Landsbergis, Adamkus and Tamkevičius are still alive.  Among them, especially Landsbergis stands out for having chaired the 1990 session of the Supreme Council that passed the March 11 Act on Restoration of Lithuania’s Statehood and resisted Moscow pressure in following years.

However, he is the most controversial one among the three for his candid and vitriolic remarks that have angered many Lithuanians.

Ref: 111.111.111.5515


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