I well remember 1978, when Cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected Pope and announced that half his heart was in Lithuania, and that from now on he would be the voice of the “silenced” Church. Until that moment, we were not only a silenced Church, but also a silenced country, Lithuania, whose fate and misfortunes the world largely ignored. Then the Pope spoke out, and his words, as it were, turned a new page in the struggle for freedom and encouraged those who had not resigned themselves to the enslavement of the Church and their homeland. A month later, Lithuanian priests founded the Catholic Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights and began openly to defend people who were being discriminated for their faith and for living in accord with their conscience.
John Paul II lost no opportunity to speak about those who were imprisoned by the Soviet system, and he showed particular attention to Lithuania. He began planning his trip to Lithuania at a time when Soviet tanks still stood on our soil, understanding just how much Lithuania needed the support of the Universal Church. The visit of Pope John Paul II, his prayer in our most important sanctuaries – the Gate of Dawn, Šiluva, the Hill of Crosses –, the Masses he offered before crowds of hundreds of thousands, and his words of encouragement, all these things moved many people to rise up and start building a new Lithuania.
The people of Lithuania will always be thankful to this great Pastor of the Universal Church. One distinctive manifestation of this gratitude is the Pilgrim Route of John Paul II, which over time will link all the main shrines in Lithuania. This initiative of the bishops of Lithuania received approval and financial support from the government. The work of a joint commission of representatives of the government and the bishops is already bearing fruit, as could be seen during the events that marked the 400-year jubilee of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s apparition at Šiluva. Growing numbers of pilgrims from so many countries are discovering Lithuania’s ever more beautiful, and more hospitable, holy places.
This site and Guide are among of the fruits of the common efforts of the Church and the government. They introduce Lithuanians and foreign visitors alike to those highly cherished and sacred places which are inseparable from our identity as a Christian nation. To the many persons who have contributed in one way or another to the preparation of this site and Guide I express my esteem and heartfelt thanks.
My desire is that this site and Guide might find their way into the hands of everyone who undertakes, in a spirit of pilgrimage, to visit the places which for centuries now have been enlivening the faith of succeeding generations. May our hope take root in these places, may our love grow, and may our faith mature. May the Gospel be preached and Christian life witnessed with increasing strength, so that we “build the house of our future not on the sand of ideologies but on the rock of the Gospel.” That is what John Paul II asked of God, with tears in his eyes, for us and all the generations to come.
Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevičius