Date today: 22.08.2017  |  Name days: Rudīte, Everts

Witnesses of Faith

(1893-1981)

Boļeslavs Sloskāns was born on 31 August 1893 near Stirniene. He was ordained as priest on 21 January 1917. On 10 May 1926, on behalf of pope Pius XI, bishop Michel d’Herbigny in St. Ludwig’s church, Moscow, secretly consecrated him as bishop. On 13 August 1926 bishop Sloskāns was appointed apostolic administrator of Mogilev and Minsk. In September 1927 he was arrested and sent to forced labor on the Solovetsky islands in the White Sea. Later he was sent to Siberia. Falsely accused, the bishop was tortured in 17 Soviet prisons, brutally humiliated and beaten until bleeding. He was lying bound in a dark chamber for weeks, exposed to brutal cruelty of the guards, hunger and thirst. Deep faith helped him to endure his Way of the Cross. He was repatriated to Latvia on 22 January 1933 in exchange for an accused Soviet spy in the custody of the Latvian government. The bishop arrived in Riga Central Station where he was greeted by the apostolic nuncio Antonino Zecchini, government representatives, deputies of Saeima, students and others.

After his release bishop Sloskāns worked at the Seminary of Riga, later the faculty of Theology of the University of Latvia, as professor. People who met the bishop were deeply impressed by his true holiness. He emanated peace, humility, simplicity and deep love. At the end of the Second World War the Germans took Boļeslavs Sloskāns, together with the bishops Jāzeps Rancāns and Antonijs Urbšs, to Germany. Thanks to the care of the German bishops, all three Latvian bishops were released and arrived in Bavaria where they stayed until the end of the war. At the end of 1946 bishop Sloskāns moved to Schilde, Belgium, where he took the leadership of the newly formed Latvian Seminary. There he had to care for about 40 students who studied at the Catholic University of Leuven. After that the bishop lived in Mont-Cesar monastery in Leuven where he took care about the spiritual and material well-being of the local Latvians. His deep piety, sincerity and humility surprised many people. Every meeting with him was like a special spiritual adventure. He was an example of patience and readiness to endure suffering. Furthermore, he was able to forgive his persecutors and pray for them.

Bishop Sloskāns died on the Holy Saturday, 18 April 1981, at the age of 87. At the hour of his death he witnessed the Divine Mercy when his face, during the singing of the Salve Regina, suddenly was transformed as if it was glowing and brightly shining. He raised his eyes to heaven. The witnesses compared it to the Transfiguration of Jesus. At the last words “…post hoc exilium… O Clemens” he departed this life.

On 10 October 1993 his relics were brought to Latvia and reburied in the crypt of the Basilica of the Assumption in Aglona. The Holy Mass was celebrated by the bishop Jānis Pujats in the presence of all Latvian bishops and official representatives of Latvia and Belgium.

On 14 April 2000 Rome agreed to start the process of his beatification. The collected materials were sent to Rome where a special commission, consisting of 9 theologians, examined them. On 8 November 2004 they unanimously voted for the Latvian bishop’s admirable life and works. On 14 December 2004 the voting was approved by a special commission consisting of 24 cardinals and the bishop was made a Servant of God.

On 20 December 2004 by a decree Decretum super heroicitate virtutum pope John Paul II officially declared that Boļeslavs Sloskāns is heroic in virtue. By this the bishop Sloskāns was declared Venerable.

This is the first step in the investigation process leading to possible canonization as a saint. The next steps are beatification from which point the person is referred to as “The Blessed”, and finally canonization, from which point he is referred to as “Saint”. To declare the person “The Blessed”, the Church requires one miracle that has happened thanks to the prayer directly to the person. In bishop Sloskān’s case that miracle has happened and the commission of 3 Belgian doctors have declared that the cure is scientifically incomprehensible. Currently commission that consists of 5 doctors investigates the bishop’s case in Rome. As there are many other cases of beatification, investigation process takes time. 

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(1909-1941)

Vladislavs Litaunieks was born on 28 August 1909 in Bernāni, Rezekne municipality, as the eldest child in the family. He graduated Nagļi Primary School and began to study in Aglona Catholic Gymnasium in 1926. In 1928 he entered the Seminary of Riga. In 1933 archbishop Antonijs Springovičs ordained him as priest in St. James’s cathedral. He was appointed vicar in Rezekne but soon after he started to serve as parish priest in Jaunborne, and later in Sprukti where he completed building the church. From 1938 to 1941 he served in Indra where he also took care of construction works. In winter 1941 he was sent to Višķi. Vladislavs Litaunieks was very active priest who continuously worked on building churches, he loved children and took care of their Catholic upbringing.

On 23 March 1941 Vladislavs Litaunieks took the train to the Feimaņi parish to help the priest Kazimirs Strods with leading the fasting retreat (according to the parishioners of Višķi). During his trip on a train, he was arrested and forced to leave the train at the next stop by the KGB officers. They had followed him since he boarded the train. Several persons who took the same train witnessed how the priest is hustled and beaten.

He was delivered to Daugavpils prison. His relatives and parishioners attempted to meet the priest there but without success. Some parishioners who dared to request his release were arrested and had to pay with their lives themselves.

On 21 June 1941 Vladislavs Litaunieks was sentenced to death with the confiscation of property accusing him in “treason against the state” and “counter-revolutionary activities”. Though there were 5 days for the death penalty appeal, the priest was shot on 24 June 1941. He was buried with other prisoners in the prison yard.

Before his death Vladislavs Litaunieks was brutally tortured to get him sign the false confession. His arms were broken, the cross was burnt on his chest, the nails were nailed under his fingernails, his throat was cut, and a barbed wire crown was put on his head. After Germans entered Daugavpils at the end of June 1941, the grave of 11 victims was found in the prison yard, including the priest Vladislavs Litaunieks.

His relics were reburied in the church garden in Višķi. Almost for a half year the Višķi parish stayed without a priest as the faithful were mourning: they put the priest’s ornate on the altar and prayed together.

Vladislavs Litaunieks was rehabilitated only on 11 September 1991. 

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(1867-1923)

After the initiative of Bishops’ Conference of Russia, Rome in 2003 started beatification process of 16 Soviet martyrs, including priest Konstantīns Romualds Butkevičs (Konstanty Romuald Budkiewicz).

Butkevičs became quite known in the world because of his death penalty in March 1923. Despite protests of pope Pius XI, Poland, England, Czechoslovakia and some other countries, he was the only one of 16 arrested priests who was shot as especially dangerous “counter-revolutionary”. The others were imprisoned. This event was widely covered in the foreign press and allowed the rest of the world to find out about the life “in the red paradise”. Butkevičs can be mentioned alongside Venerable Boļeslavs Sloskāns as they both served together in St. Catherine’s church in St. Petersburg.

Konstantīns Butkevičs was born on 19 June 1867 in Zubri, near Kraslava, as the eldest child in the family. He was named Konstantīns Romualds and during his childhood his family often called him Romus. As a child he was quite introverted, loved nature and books, dreamed of becoming a priest. He learnt to read at home but in 1882, with the support of countess Sofia Buinova from Plater-Zyberk family, he went to study in Poland, perhaps expecting that there will be less russification.

For two years he attended private gymnasium in Kielce, then in Lublin. However, contrary to expectations, it was not possible to escape russification as many teachers did not understand Polish. Though from start Butkevičs had good marks, in later years he lost interest in learning because of the rote learning methods and stiff atmosphere in the school. In June 1886, after finishing the 5th grade with difficulties, he returned home and decided to fulfil his childhood dream and become a priest.

In September 1886 he entered the Seminary in St. Petersburg. In 1890, instead of starting the 5th year in the Seminary, he was enrolled in Roman Catholic Theological Academy which he finished in 3 years. During his studies he did not have great marks or high ambitions but he was noticed by his excellent behaviour and diligence. On 26 September 1893 he was ordained a priest.

On 5 February 1894 the young priest was sent to Pskov as a vicar. He also started to teach catechesis to the local children. In 1896 he was moved to Vitebsk where he was very active in his pastoral work. Due to overload his health started to decline. At the beginning of 1901 priest Gregor Saparov from Crimea invited Butkevičs to Yalta to relax and help him in pastoral work. After receiving a permission from the governor of Vitebsk, Butkevičs arrived in Yalta. Soon after returning to Vitebsk, he started to feel exhausted because of constant control and prohibitions by the state. He requested to be moved to a more peaceful place.

On 5 December 1903 Butkevičs started to serve in St. Catherine’s church in St. Petersburg. Here he stayed for almost 20 years until his arrest in 1923. His parishioners were of various nationalities: Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Germans, and French. As Butkevičs was wise pastor he knew how to adjust the relationships among the different nationalities. More complicated were his relationships with public officials.

Butkevičs was very active in schooling children. As a teacher he wanted his students to think logically and independently as he suffered himself from rote learning in Poland and wanted to do everything to prevent that in schools of his parish. He also cared about opening schools for poor children and supported various children and youth initiatives. He always arranged special breakfast for those children, mostly from poor families, who prepared for the First Communion. As grown-ups many of them still remembered his kindness and generosity.

In 1908 Butkevičs became dean of St. Petersburg and its surroundings. On 31 May 1910 he received honorary canon title in archdiocese of Mogilev. Also revealed his economic and organizational abilities. Many churches and church buildings were restored, electricity and central heating were installed. He also was actively supporting church charity organization which took care of shelters, soup kitchen, craft school and helping children from poor families and war refugees during the First World War.

After the revolution in 1917 Butkevičs was forbidden to preach and to teach catechism to children. In 1920 the church properties were confiscated and until the end of 1922 almost all churches in St. Petersburg were closed. The priests continued to celebrate Mass in apartments and other places though it was against the law. Bolsheviks often organized different antireligious campaigns and lectures. Butkevičs initiated other priests to attend these events and later discuss them together so they would have arguments to give the faithful on Sunday Mass. Butkevičs clearly understood that because of this and his initiatives to save church properties he could be imprisoned and sentenced to death. His friends offered him help to flee the country but he refused.

On 13 March 1923 archbishop Jan Cieplak, Butkevičs and 14 other priests were arrested and sent to court in Moscow. They were accused of resistance to the Soviet regime and weakening of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Butkevičs was also accused of espionage in favour of Poland as he had participated in the consecration of Polish Embassy in Moscow and signed a greeting telegram.

Court proceedings took 5 days from 21 to 25 March, Palm Sunday. Butkevičs and archbishop Cieplak were sentenced to death but later Cieplak’s sentence was changed to imprisonment. Other priests who were imprisoned with Butkevičs later witnessed that until his last day Butkevičs was very peaceful and ready to face the death fully relying on God. On 31 March, Holy Saturday, he was brought to solitary confinement. There are different versions how he was shot but it is known that it was done on the night from 31 March to 1 April, on Easter Vigil. Today he remains under investigation for possible Sainthood and his current title is Servant of God. 


(1919-1954)

Sofija Lazdāne was born on 20 August 1919 in Rasnaci, Nicgale parish to her father Antons and mother Veronika as their first child. A few years later they had another daughter Broņislava and son Antons. Sofija, as she wrote in her autobiography “Song of Life” (“Dzīves dziesma”), spends a really happy childhood. She learns how to trust God, to keep Sundays holy, participate at Mass, pray, be selfless, love the poor and help them. Later she will write: “My first school of virtues was an example of my parents”.

After finishing 3rd Grade she goes to her first confession and even after years will remember the happiness she felt in her heart at that moment. On 24  May 1931 she receives the First Communion and feels a strong feeling to become a saint, a martyr for the faith. When she is 14, she starts to think more and more about the purpose of her life. During her school years she wants to become a teacher but during her studies at Daugavpils Teacher Institute, she starts to feel that her vocation is to become a religious sister.

On 2 June 1935 she receives Confirmation and a second word – Marija. Soon after she begins to meditate and think about God and Heaven for hours sitting on the bench in the garden and looking at the stars. She admits again and again that she is not a saint yet as she still makes mistakes. She looks for the truth reading the Scriptures and books of St. Therese of Lisieux. She finds the truth in God and falls in love with Him more deeply.

In autumn 1935 Sofija begins to work in school, she loves children and gets on well with them. She also has an active social life, having a role at the theatre, managing school evenings and going to dances. Later she will write: “And yet I saw that it doesn’t satisfy me, everything is just a vanity.”

In summer 1942, during the World War II, she has to take part at German courses in Jaunaglona, soon after there is retreat and 15 August - the Feast of Our Lady of Assumption in Aglona. At the end of the day, being sure about her decision, she goes to Jaunaglona to know more about the possibility to enter the convent of the Poor Child Jesus. She has to write the letter to the prioress. Soon after she is invited to Riga. Her parents are disappointed about her choice, especially the father (mostly because of the war and uncertainty), but for the first time of her life she doesn’t give in though she always have obeyed them.

On 16 October 1942 she enters the convent. To prioress and other sisters Sofija seems quite, self-controlled and gathered in prayer. She is also very obedient and diligent. On 2 July 1943 she receives her habit and a new name – sister Marija Stefana. After the novitiate she takes her perpetual vows: chastity, poverty and obedience. Marija Stefana asks Jesus “to become burning sacrifice of love”. Next three years are full of joys and sufferings working with the children at the Hospital of Bone Tuberculosis.

On 30 September 1948 Marija Stefana takes her final vows with eager joy “to burn in the flames of love like St. Stephen and to become martyr of love”. But it doesn’t last long. Soon after she fells ill. In 1950 Marija Stefana is diagnosed with tuberculosis and has to start treatment as soon as possible. After two surgeries and several months at hospital she is allowed to return to the convent. But this is not for long as soon after she has to go to hospital for another surgery. After a month the doctors decide that the surgery is not possible because of her poor heart. All this time Marija Stefana doesn’t complain but is grateful about everything. Other sisters have an impression that she even doesn’t have to suffer much. Sister Marija Stefana dies on 15 August 1954 with a smile on her face, holding a crucifix in her hands and saying her last words: “All for love of Jesus! Jesus, I love you,! Jesus, I love…”


(?-1196)

St. Meinhard was the first apostle of the Baltic tribes and the first one who established Catholic church in the Baltic region, later known as Livonia. St. Meinhard was an Augustinian monk and canon from Segeberg abbey in Holstein. His work and life is described in the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia and the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle.

St. Meinhard came to the current territory of Latvia on a ship with merchants from Bremen to serve them as priest. According to St. Meinhard’s tomb slab, he arrived in 1182 and soon after voluntary started the evangelisation of local tribes. At that time he was about 50 or 60 years old. Though the historians avoid to name the exact year of his birth, it is likely that St. Meinhard was born in 1130s. His origin is also unknown.

It is very possible that as a young monk St. Meinhard met with the great missionary, St. Vicelinus, who was the founder of Segeberg abbey and died on 17 May 1152. St. Meinhard could choose St. Vicelinus as an example of holiness because of his pious life and missionary activities among the Polabian Slavs.

To be able to start his mission, St. Meinhard went to Polotsk to get permission from Prince of Polotsk Vladimir Vseslavich. It is not certain whether after getting permission to preach the Christian faith St. Meinhard arrived in Ikskile and stayed there or returned to Gotland with merchants and came to Ikskile only during summers.

In 1884 St. Meinhard built a small wooden church in Ikskile where the first Livs, Ilo and Vieco, were baptized. In 1885 Ikskile faced an attack and St. Meinhard promised the local people to build a fortress to protect them. Soon after the stone church and fortress was built and more people were baptized. St. Meinhard also built the second stone church located in Salaspils, on St. Martin’s island. He also created Cathedral Chapter where the monks, canons, lived according to the statutes of St. Augustine. This was the first known monastery for Catholic monks on the Eastern Baltic coast.  

In 1186 the archbishop of Bremen Hartwig II consecrated him as bishop of Ikskile (Üxküll). On 1 October 1188 pope Clement III officially incorporated the bishopric of Ikskile into the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen declaring St. Meinhard “supervisor of their (Christian) souls”. This document recognized St. Meinhard’s merits and his suitability to be a bishop. On 27 April 1193 the papal consistory appreciated his missionary life and successful work in the Baltic region.

However, his activities in missionary work were not that smooth. St. Meinhard and his newly baptized Christians were often bothered by Lithuanian and Semigallian attacks and uncertainty of Livs who often tried to use St. Meinhard’s presence only in their interests to be protected. Several times St. Meinhard took a decision to leave and go to Gotland but Livs, using lies, always persuaded him to stay.

St. Meinhard died on 14 August or 11 October 1196 and was buried in Ikskile church. In the 14th century his relics were reburied in Riga Cathedral. In 1993 he was canonized a saint and an apostle of Latvia and Estonia.

St. Meinhard is described as a humble and patient person who was willing to sacrifice himself for missionary work. He respected local traditions, learnt local language, took care of new priests. He never used violence in his ministry but was always an apostle of peace.