LITHUANIA – First Soviet-era martyr to be beatified
Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis, a Soviet-era Lithuanian priest and bishop who continually defied Communist rule and spent much of his ministry in prison, will be beatified later this month in the country’s capital, Vilnius. Archbishop Matulionis was known throughout his life for his heroism and strong faith despite the hardships that he endured during the harsh atheistic Soviet regimes which ruled the countries in which he served.
Archbishop Matulionis was declared a martyr by Pope Francis on 16 Dec last year, clearing the way for his beatification. The beatification will take place in the Cathedral Square in Vilnius on 25 June by Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The Archbishop was born of a farming family in Kudoriškis, Lithuania, in 1873. From an early age he was drawn to the religious life and in 1900 he was ordained a priest in what is now Belarus. Matulionis zeal for the faith immediately raised the suspicions of the authorities of the Russian Empire, which was closely aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1909, he was sentenced by a court for baptizing a child from a mixed Orthodox and Catholic family, a sentence he served in a Dominican convent.
After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution the violent persecution of the Church began. In 1923, Matulionis was sentenced to three years in Moscow prison for refusing to sign an act on the appropriation of church property and buildings. Released a year ahead of time, the priest chose to go back to his parish in St. Petersburg, where he was secretly ordained a bishop in 1929 instead of returning to Lithuania.
During the Soviet era the bishop ended up in prison again in 1929. Solitary confinement, hard labor and malnourishment badly affected his health. He was eventually released in 1933 as part of an exchange of prisoners between Lithuania and the Soviet Union. Pope Pius XI praised Bishop Teofilius Matulionis’ heroism, telling a group of Lithuanian pilgrims to Rome in 1936: “Glory be to the Lithuanian nation that gave us a hero like him!”
After being released, Bishop Teofilius travelled to the US, Rome, the Holy Land, and the Sinai Peninsula before returning to Kaunas, Lithuania. Here he spoke out boldly against the Soviet and Nazi regimes, their destruction of churches and religious persecution. He was arrested again in 1946.
Ten years later, the undefeated bishop secretly ordained another bishop in Birštonas. He was subsequently punished for this by being sent to Šeduva, where his communications were tapped and his room regularly searched by Soviet authorities. In 1962, he was made an archbishop and invited to participate in the Second Vatican Council. Sadly, he was unable to attend. During a “search”, the archbishop was given a lethal injection under the pretense of sedatives. He died three days later on 20 August 1962.