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Lithuanian Lutheran Pastors Visit Rome

Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis and pastors in the St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican.

28/03/2015

Several Lithuanian pastors and Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis spent the first week of Passiontide visiting the City of Rome, where they toured many of its historical sights, such as the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s Basilica, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (burial place of the Apostle Paul), the ancient Roman Pantheon (a church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs”), and other Christians sights.

The bishop and pastors met in the Vatican by Lithuanian Monsignor Dr. Visvaldas Kulbokas of the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State. The clergy listened with interest as he related the story of the growth of Vatican City, and in particular St. Peter’s Square, the Basilica, and the grave of St. Peter. The Pastors also visited the Ambassador of Lithuania to the Holy See, Dr. Irena Vaišvilaitė. She reminded the pastors that during the Soviet era, when all other Lithuanian embassies were closed by Moscow, the Lithuanian Embassy in Vatican City continued in operation, much to the chagrin of the Soviets. At the present time the Embassy plays an important role in maintaining relations between the Lithuanian Republic and Vatican State. As a historian, Dr. Vaišvilaitė also spoke of the places which Dr. Martin Luther had visited in Rome and the Vatican, and declared that if the pastors wished to do so, there was a historical route mapped out, showing the particular places that Luther had visited.

What was particularly interesting to the clergy, was the stark contrast between the agelessness of the City of Rome and the startling modernity of Roman life. There is so much of historic value and interest, that little special provision is made to protect it from tourists, excepting certain very special places. In Lithuania all such historic monuments would be protected from the hands of tourists by fences or glass. In some poor neighborhoods in Rome, the pastors were shocked to see ancient buildings, on which those parts which were with an easy reach, were decorated with graffiti.

During their stay in Rome, the pastors resided at the pilgrim facilities of the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, one of seven pilgrim churches in Rome. The church is the site of several reputed relicts, such as a portion of the cross of Christ, a nail from the cross, a portion of a thorn from the crown of thorns, and a finger of St. Thomas, the apostle. These relicts are highly regarded and venerated by Roman Catholics. Lutherans, however, understand that they are even closer to their Lord in a saving way, when they hear his word and receive his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

The five day visit, which was a gift from the territorial church of Lippe (Germ. Lippische Landeskirche), Germany, ended on Friday with a visit to the thumb to the St. Paul, the apostle, in Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. This was particularly significant, because it is one of the few burial places in Rome from early Christian times which has been expertly authenticated and does not depend upon legend and tradition. It was very moving to be at the burial place of the apostle who was so instrumental in preaching justification by grace through faith in Christ, and taking that Gospel to far flung places from Damascus and Jerusalem, to Colossia and Thessalonica, to Crete and Rome, and even Spain. Although Paul never came personally to Lithuania, his preaching, as recorded in Book of Acts and his Apostolic Letters, stands as bold witness of one who was “not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

 

The Rev. Dr. Darius Petkūnas