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400th Anniversary of Our Lady of Šiluva Celebration

September 21, 2008

The Tablet Newspaper has a wonderful story about the Our Lady of Siluva celebration at Annunciation. Since the article is not available anymore at the Tablet website, it is reprinted below.

Lithuanians Mark Jubilee

By Stephanie Gutierrez

Lithuanians from near and far came to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Our Lady of Siluva, the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Europe, at a 10 a.m. bilingual Lithuanian and English Mass on Sunday, Sept. 21, at Annunciation, Williamsburg.

Clothed in traditional dress and carrying fresh chrysanthemums, many mothers and their children processed into the Lithuanian parish behind retired Auxiliary Bishop Rene Valero, main celebrant, and Father Vytautas Volertas, parochial vicar at Transfiguration, Maspeth, and the homilist for Sunday’s anniversary Mass. Knight and Lady Commanders of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem were also in attendance, as well as Ambassador Jonas Paslauskas, consul general of Lithuania, who attended the celebration with his wife.

Our Lady of Siluva, the first widely known apparition of the Mother of God in Europe, took place in 1608 in the small village of Siluva, 250 years before the apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima. She appeared to a group of children who were tending their sheep in a field on the outskirts of the village. On a large rock, she held the infant Jesus and wept. As quickly as she appeared, she vanished. The children, startled, ran to tell their parents and their Calvinist pastor.

Catholicism had not been a part of the people of Siluva for almost 80 years, after the Protestant Reformation swept over Europe and the Calvinist governor ordered all Church property seized in 1532. As word of the apparition spread among the village, a crowd gathered at the rock. Some scoffed, others were curious. The pastor came to the crowd and assured them that this was the work of Satan. Shortly after, sounds of weeping were heard and the Blessed Mother appeared again; it was the same image that the children had seen and described. The pastor asked her,

“Why are you weeping?”

She replied, “There was a time when my beloved Son was worshipped by my people on this very spot. But now they have given this sacred soil over to the plowman and the tiller and to the animals for grazing.”

The news spread to nearby villages and reached an elderly man who was almost blind. He vaguely remembered burying a box near the rock the people spoke of with the parish priest of the Catholic Church in Siluva before the Calvinists confiscated it. The man returned to the field and his sight was miraculously restored. He pointed to the area where the box was buried. In it, the people found the painting of Our Lady of Siluva, which was a gift from Vytautas the Great in 1457, along with other Church treasures and documents.

The painting was enshrined permanently in the Basilica of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is venerated as the Miraculous Image of Siluva.

Vida Jaukauskas, a parishioner at Annunciation for 43 years and member of the organizing committee for Sunday’s celebration, explained that every year the parish celebrates Our Lady of Siluva’s anniversary, but this year was different. Annunciation was part of a global call to celebrate the anniversary and share with people the events that happened in Siluva.

“Because Lithuania was under Communist rule for so long, no one knew about Our Lady of Siluva,” said Ramute Zukas, president of the Lithuanian-American Community in New York. “Communist rule and religious persecution was lifted in 1991, but while we were occupied by the Soviets, the painting of Our Lady of Siluva was hidden.”

Many of the Lithuanian-Americans spoke of a deep need to address the new arrivals from Lithuania, who grew up under Communist rule. “We are hoping that the new arrivals from Lithuania will come join our Church,” said Joseph Rudis, a Knight Commander of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. “Many of them grew up under Communism and we want them to come to their home, their Church, to practice Catholicism and hear Mass in their native language.”

Annunciation is “very much the Cathedral of the Lithuanian people here,” said Walter Sidas, president of Lithuanian Affairs at the parish.

After Bishop Valero asked the Lord to bless Lithuania and her people, he was given an amber rosary, a bouquet of roses and a stole that was woven in Lithuania with traditional motif.

Many in the congregation wore necklaces made of amber because it is the only precious stone found in their homeland.

As the Mass ended and everyone processed out of the Church to gather for closing prayers, Consul General Paslauskas addressed the congregation. “It is so important and significant that people in Lithuania alongside the Catholic Church and all the Lithuanians of the world celebrate the 400th anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Siluva. This is the first apparition in Europe, second in the world, and the only instance when the Virgin Mary talked not only to shepherds but also a Calvinist priest,” he said.

“This miracle in Siluva is one of an important foundation for spiritual strength of the Lithuanian nation and its ties with the Catholic Church. This spiritual strength and unity which (the) Lithuanian nation has needed for ages, needs today and will need in the future. Your close ties and active cooperation with priests and the Church committees in every Lithuanian parish in the U.S. will serve to maintain patriotism, national sentiments, spiritual and cultural ties with your Mother Lithuania.”

The celebration ended with the crowd of over 200 people reciting the prayer to Our Lady of Siluva, and fellowship continued at a picnic afterward.


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