- Title: LITHUANIA: Tiny chapel brings Catholics and Orthodox to worship under one roof
- Date: 7th December 2009
- Summary: CONGREGATION SINGING
- Embargoed: 22nd December 2009 12:00
- Location: Lithuania
- Country: Lithuania
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA9FD7LW6Y7VUT0W5B33CVS7BL1
- Story Text: Residents of the small Lithuanian village of Rakai, by the Belarus border, have an unusual chapel with two altars: Catholic and Orthodox side by side.
Both religions are well represented in terms of religious paraphernalia in this tiny building.
There are apparently no religious tensions and both denominations are keen to play their part according to one resident.
"We live in accord here, when our Pope comes here, we do the cleaning, and when the Catholic priest comes, they clean the chapel. We do not argue about it. We have very good relations," said Maria Hudoch as she played her part in the cleaning schedule.
The village of Rakai is split in terms of its faithful. Generally the religios affiliations reflect the ethnic origin of the residents. Many still feel themselves to be Polish because at one time this region fell within the borders of Poland. On the other hand many members of the Orthodox community were originally from Belarus.
Leaders of the two churches both attend the chapel to conduct their respective masses.
"About 150 residents live in Rakai village now, 70 percent of them are Catholics and about 30 percent are Orthodox. In 1996 the chapel opened and the two altars, Catholic and Orthodox, were built here. The Catholic priest comes here every Sunday for the Mass, meanwhile the Orthodox Pope comes here during big church celebrations and funerals," explained village elder Janina Paviloniene.
Priest Elijas Markauskas holds mass in several churches around the region and comes to Rokai every Sunday. He gives his sermon in a mixture of Polish and Belarussian languages.
Talking to local practitioners it seems that any differences between the two congregations are of little importance. Worshipping is what unites them.
"We are happy, of course. We are all friendly people and it is necessary for all of us to pray. It is not important who we are, Polish or Orthodox, because there is one God for all of us. And we go to Catholic and Orthodox mass, that is the shared thing in our village," said Galina Lanewska.
The existence of this harmonious little church is a Godsend for the practitioners and for some is the only possibility of worship.
"It is very good, that we have two altars here, because the Pope and our priest both come here and that is very helpful for us. There are a lot of old people and for them to make a long journey is impossible. They visited Belarussia in the past, but now we have a border with Belarussia and they need visas and visas are expensive, and for the old people it is complicated to go there," said village elder Teresa Sved.
Priest Elijas Markauskas exemplifies this sense of cooperation and shared needs.
"God is one and that is the most important thing. In this town there are Poles who want to pray in Polish and in the Catholic faith and also the Orthodox who want to pray in their faith and in their own language. The presence of two altars in this church satisfies both and most importantly it is true to the Gospel that God sent us out to spread," said Markauskas after his mass.
This district is very mixed in terms of nationalities, they feel they have different identities even though they have lived together in what is now Lithuania since around the end of WWII.
Lithuania has a population of about 3.2 million and of these some 6.7 percent are Polish and 1.2 percent Belarussian. The biggest church in Lithuania is Catholicism.
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