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POPE-LITHUANIA Apr-30-2007 (350 words) xxxi

Lithuanian president says he asked pope to intervene for N.Y. parish

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Lithuania's president said he personally asked Pope Benedict XVI to intervene to keep a Lithuanian parish in New York open.

President Valdas Adamkus met the pope April 28 at the Vatican.

A Vatican statement said the pope and president discussed the importance of Vatican-Lithuanian relations, the contributions of the church to Lithuanian society and the role of Lithuania within the European Union.

But the president's office, in an April 28 statement, said, "President Adamkus also spoke to Pope Benedict XVI about the decision to close Our Lady of Vilnius Roman Catholic Church in New York -- a decision that was very upsetting for the whole of Lithuania since it raised a wave of disappointment among the faithful."

The statement said the president explained to the pope how Lithuanian immigrants had built the church with their own money "to have a place for worship and witness their love and faith in God. With time the church acquired yet another mission: It became a center fostering not only religious belief but also Lithuanian culture and national identity."

"The Holy Father said that he knew about this problem and promised to discuss it with American bishops," the president's statement said.

Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, told Catholic News Service in late January that Our Lady of Vilnius Church was closing because of "the physical condition of the church," a decrease in attendance and a decrease in the church's services.

However, Father Eugene Sawicki, pastor of the church, had said the parish was active and had minimal structural damage, but that the archdiocese wanted to sell the property for money.

Lithuania's Catholic bishops had asked the U.S. bishops to help keep Lithuanian parishes open in the New York and Boston archdioceses and, in early February, Adamkus wrote to New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan asking him to save Our Lady of Vilnius.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Ruta Tumenaite in Vilnius.


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