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 CNS Story:

GRUSAS Aug-9-2010 With photo posted July 26. (930 words) xxxi

Multicultural, business background come in handy for bishop-designate

Bishop-designate Gintaras Grusas, a U.S.-born priest and secretary general of the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference, has been appointed by the pope to head the Lithuanian diocese for military services. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- A stint as a technical consultant for marketing at a major international corporation has come in handy for U.S.-born Lithuanian Bishop-designate Gintaras Grusas.

"I'm not sure if the marketing world took it from Jesus," he said, "but there are some basic principles that apply like: People buy from people they like."

"When you evangelize, you don't want to come around with a stick and beat it into people. It just doesn't work," he told Catholic News Service during a visit to Rome and the Vatican in late July in preparation for his new assignment.

Bishop-designate Grusas said everything he has done in his past "is preparing me for what's coming next." And what's coming next is being ordained the new military bishop of Lithuania Sept. 4 in Vilnius.

The 48-year-old bishop-designate has a wide and varied background. He was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in the Los Angeles area.

His parents were separated by World War II and, after 16 years of being caught behind the Iron Curtain, his mother and 17-year-old sister were among just 200 families allowed to leave the Soviet Union to be reunited with family in the United States. His mom and sister joined his father in 1960, and in 1961, the blond, blue-eyed bishop-designate was born.

He grew up in the tight-knit Lithuanian community and was very active in church life.

He received a degree in mathematics and computer science at the University of California at Los Angeles and spent five years working as a technical consultant of marketing for IBM, which, he said, helped prepare him for the management and project-planning skills that are necessary as a pastor.

When, at the age of 28, he told people he was going to leave IBM and pursue the priesthood, "half of my friends said, 'Of course, we always knew it,' and the other half said, 'You? A priest!'"

While he was at IBM, Bishop-designate Grusas spent four years as president of the Lithuanian World Youth Association and, when he entered the seminary, he studied to serve the Lithuanian diaspora.

He studied at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio; then moved to Rome, where he studied at the Pontifical Beda College, the Pontifical Lithuanian College and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. He was ordained and incardinated for the Archdiocese of Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1994 when he was 32.

As a seminarian, he went to Lithuania in 1992 for what was to have been a brief summer pastoral program.

Instead, Cardinal Audrys Backis of Vilnius asked him to interrupt his studies and stay on to help them prepare for Pope John Paul II's historic visit in September 1993. It was the first time a pope ever visited the country, and Bishop-designate Grusas' experience organizing major events with the world youth association was an asset.

After the seminarian returned to Rome for a brief time, Cardinal Backis wanted him back in Lithuania to help organize the transfer of the bishops' conference headquarters from Kaunas to Vilnius. His first job after ordination was as general secretary of the Lithuanian bishops' conference -- a position he still holds.

"God's got stuff planned, things you could never plan or expect," he said. But every event and experience is God reminding people "that it's not you doing this. Just say, 'Yes,' and let him do it."

Some people may call them coincidences, but Bishop-designate Grusas knows God is leaving him signs along the path he has been called to follow.

For example, when he first came to Rome as a student, it was a scorching hot summer day at the end of June 1990. Personal items had been stolen from his luggage at the airport in New York, and Rome was in chaos as Italy hosted the World Cup soccer tournament that year.

He went straight to the Lithuanian college, which was also in a mild panic since Pope John Paul had just announced he was going to visit the college that Sunday. The college was nearly empty of students because of the summer break, so Bishop-designate Grusas got to serve Mass with the pope in the college's very small chapel. The pope also stayed and had breakfast with the men.

"That was my first weekend when I arrived in Rome for my studies as a seminarian," he said with a hearty laugh, "You can't plan that."

His varied life is part of what he calls "The Great Adventure," that is, "just seeing what God is going to do with you next."

It's a lesson for everyone, he said, "just keeping your eyes open to see the little signs that God gives you along the way."

His new role as head the Lithuanian diocese for military services will mean overseeing the small and relatively young ordinariate. Because military service is no longer compulsory for men and it is reorganizing the way it works, the military ordinariate will be adapting, too, and will need to change its statutes, rules and how it functions, he said.

He expects to be visiting troops stationed in Afghanistan and also, possibly, Iraq.

Bishop-designate Grusas will be ordained at the Cathedral of Sts. Stanislaus and Vladislaus in Vilnius Sept. 4, a date chosen in part to mark the day Pope John Paul first stepped foot in Lithuania and prayed with clergy at the cathedral.

His father, 92, and mother, 91, unfortunately will not be able to make the ceremony, he said, but he hopes they will be able to watch it broadcast over the Internet from their home in Fairfax, Va.


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