Venerable Teofilius Matulionis – Unarmed Truth: enlarged photographs, personal letters and items from Soviet prisons, thousands of prayer testimonies.
Small wooden eggs brought by Bishop Matulionis to his nieces as souvenirs from abroad, Christmas decorations cut out from paper by him, an intricate double altar also made by the bishop, his embroidered initials on the surplices and the jacket lining.
These items will be on display in the exhibition Blessed Teofilius Matulionis – Unarmed Truth, which opens on Thursday, May 4 at 4.30 PM. The exhibition, held at the Life and Faith Institute’s House of Perkūnas in Kaunas (Aleksoto Str. 6), is a continuation of the series of exhibitions dedicated to the beatification of the martyred bishop Teofilius Matulionis. Two more exhibitions were organized at the Seimas and Gallery of the Lithuanian Artists’ Association.
The exhibition at the spectacular Gothic House of Perkūnas also contains the baptism certificate of the bishop’s father, the marriage certificate of the bishop’s parents Jurgis and Ona (née Juočepytė), and the birth certificate of Teofilius Matulionis from the Alanta church archives. It also features 30 stands with photographs of the bishop and his numerous family members – brothers, sisters, their spouses and children.
The photos are courtesy of Prof. Stanislovas Sajauskas and Eugenijus Peikštenis, the closest relatives of Blessed Teofilius Matulionis, and the Lithuanian Central State Archives (LCSA). For example, there is a large photograph from the LCSA, in which all the Lithuanian political and church elite of the time inspects the Eucharistic Congress parade in Kaunas on July 1, 1934 from the stairs of St. Michael the Archangel Church. Everybody with a little knowledge of the inter-war history and the ability to decode the arrangement of people in the photograph, will see how poor were the relations between President Antanas Smetona and the Lithuanian Church, between the Lithuanian State and the Holy See, as Nuncio Antonio Arata was seated farthest from the president and the archbishop of Kaunas – next to Bishop Matulionis who had just returned from his imprisonment in Soviet Russia.
The exhibit also features inter-war postcards sent by Teofilius Matulionis to his relatives from Berlin, Alexandria, Rome, letters he sent from the prisons of Orsha and Vladimir (1947-1953) with many cross-outs by the prison censors, letters written in Lithuanian at the Special purpose institution – Potma Home for the Disabled in Mordovia ASSR (1953-1956), after the death of Stalin and the bishop’s amnesty.
Teofilius Matulionis did not write his letters in standard Lithuanian (and it is amazing!). He wrote in the Aukštaitian dialect and included many words borrowed from Latvian and Russian. Errors of a holy man are just as holy and should by no means be corrected.
The exhibition Unarmed Truth features a few small but fancy exhibits, given to Bishop Teofilius Matulionis after his return to Lithuania from imprisonment in Soviet prisons and labor camps in 1933 or brought back from his trip to America in 1934-1936.
What are those narrow rose decorated ribbons and thin prayer notes? They are documentary testimonies of prayers with intentions and spiritual sacrifice very popular in the Church environment of the time. For example, on September 22, 1934, on the eve of the bishop’s trip to the United States of America, he received a “modest prayer crown” from students of the Kaunas Metropolitan seminary: 548 Mass intentions, 33 novenas of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and 167 of good deeds. He also received a similar prayer testimony from the Benedictine Sisters of Kaunas and students of the Girls Gymnasium of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Casimir. In 1937, the Benedictine Sisters of Kaunas gave Bishop. T. Matulionis a written document of their 2000 “zealous acts of love”.
Nowadays these statistics may elicit a smile, but they are proof that people cared for their beloved bishop and prayed for him during his imprisonment. Who knows if the “zealous acts of love” played any part in the legal case of the martyred bishop and the “divine book-keeping” on the whole, but the approaching beatification is proof that they were of great value.
The exhibition in the House of Perkūnas contains a letter from the Sisters of Jesus Crucified with “spiritual flowers” given to the bishop in 1935 during his visit in the US: Mass, Communion, Stations of the Cross, rosaries, litanies – 138 of each, as well as 138 000 short prayers. The spiritual gift from the orphans fostered by the sisters: 100 Masses, Communions, Stations of the Cross, and 1000 children’s prayers.
Even during the war, on May 2, 1943, in Kaunas, participants of Eucharistic Adoration handed their spiritual greeting and a prayer testimony to Bishop Teofilius: 350 Masses, 168 adoration hours, 293 resolves and 243 days of fasting.
All these prayer notes and ribbons travelled in the bishop’s luggage around United States and across the Atlantic Ocean, were brought back to Kaunas in 1937 and remained there during the first Soviet occupation. Finally, when Teofilius became bishop of the diocese, they were taken to Kaišiadorys where they stayed until his return from deportation in 1956. They were not found during the KGB searches in Birštonas and Šeduva after bishop Matulionis’ death in 1962, and spent another 55 years in the private archive of his niece Marija Bendoraitiene. Until this year.
The sponsors-benefactors of the exhibition dedicated to Bishop T. Matulionis in Kaunas are: Marija ir Vitas Bendoraičiai, Asta Piktužienė, Algirdas Saudargas, Paulius Martinaitis, Vaidotas Vaičaitis, Žilvinas Petrauskas, Agnė Širinskienė, Audrius Mikitiukas, Darius Auglys, Zenius Mištautas, Evaldas Darškus, Eglė Stašienė, Vytautas Jankauskas, Caritas Lithuania, Paulius Ratė, Rimantas Jonas Dagys, and Arimantas Raškinis.
The exhibition Blessed Teofilius Matulionis – Unarmed Truth at the LFI’s House of Perkūnas in Kaunas will be open from May 4 until the beatification ceremony on June 25.
Translation by Judita Gliauberzonaitė