February 20, 2020

Lithuanian Ateitis Federation shows how a group of young people can have an impact on society

By Andrea Gagliarducci
A flyer from one of the Ateitis congresses - credit: www.ateitis.lt
A flyer from one of the Ateitis congresses - credit: www.ateitis.lt

Five principles, a motto, a name — which means  ”future” in Lithuanian — and 110 years of history: on Feb. 19, 2020, Lithuania’s Ateitis Federation of Catholic youth celebrated its 110th anniversary — years that have marked the history of the country.

The history of Ateitis shows how Catholics committed in society can actually have an impact in society. The history of Ateitis also reminds that on the other side of the Iron Curtain, there was a Catholic heart beating, despite the desire and the efforts of the Soviet regime to sweep religion away from the life of people. 

Ateitis was originally the name of a handwritten magazine issued by young university students determined to oppose the secularized model of instruction of the Russian Empire. 

Quite soon, Ateitis turned into a group of intellectuals that poured their faith into the project of rebuilding Lithuanian nationhood, and then into preserving the tradition of the country while it languished under the Soviet Union. 

It is worth recalling that Lithuania existed on the political map for six hundred years — from the 13th to the 18th century — before being subjected to the Russian Empire. Ateitis passed through the restored Lithuanian independence, the Soviet dominion and the reconstruction of the nation.

The five Ateitis guiding principles are Catholicism, nationality, family, presence in the public life and education. The motto is: Visa atnaujinti Kristuje, “To Renew All Things in Christ.” 

The way Ateitis applied these principles shows that the Christian culture, when well-formed and active in public life, can build a civilization

Pope Pius X was well aware of this. His first encyclical was issued on Oct. 4, 1903, under the title E Supreme Apostolatus. In the encyclical, Pius X called the faithful from all over the world to a religious and moral renewal in the spirit of Christ. 

Omnia Instaurare in ChristoTo Renew All Things in Christ.

Ateitis is the first organization in the world to take this passage from the letter of Peter and make it its official motto. An early, embryonic organization of young people began meeting in 1908. In 1910 they issued a magazine, Ateitis, handwritten. This magazine would give the organization its name. In 1911, Ateitis magazine began being printed and delivered. 

In the beginning, Ateitis was a clandestine organization, and Lithuania was under the Russian Empire. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, Ateitis members supported the organizations that were working to restore Lithuanian independence. Some of the members were among those who signed the Lithuanian declaration of independence on Feb. 16, 1918. 

Under the restored State of Lithuania between the First and Second World War, Ateitis became a major academic organization. There were about 10,000 students in the Ateitis secondary school association. At the Kaunas University, 596 students out of 4,500 belonged to Ateitis.This is in a country with a total population of  about 2,5 million inhabitants. 

During the Second World, members of Ateitis took part in the Lithuanian national resistance movement. Some of them were deported to Siberia, tortured, or sent to Nazi or Communist concentration camps. 

Ateitis reorganized in 1946, but, when the Soviet regime came, the governing body of the Ateitis Federation moved to the United States. There, they continued the tradition of Ateitis Congresses, which took place in Chicago, Cleveland, and Toronto. 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ateitis could organize its first meeting in almost 50 years in Vilnius in 1989. In 1990, the governing body of the organization returned to Lithuania.

The organization has also renewed itself: during the years of exile, it was necessary to preserve the Lithuanian national identity and culture, and so this became a central item in the work of Ateitis. 

Last Feb. 15, in a grand celebration on the eve of Lithuania’s indepence day celebrations, Ateitis members gathered in Kaunas. Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius, himself a member of the organization, recalled  in his address that the organization was born when God was going to be set outside of the history. By the way, ”God was very important to the people.”

Archbishop Grusas reminded that Pranas Dovydaitis, the  intellectual father of the organization, emphasized in a piece penned one hundred years ago that ”The life of Ateitis circles must be based on Eucharist.” 

According to the archbishop of Vilnius, Ateitis has been so far an antidote to ideology, though the ideologies of the 21st century are different from that faced one hundred years ago.

In particular, Archbishop Grusas mentions liberalism. This latter, in the name of freedom, always requires more restriction to the freedom of expression and “tries to send religion out of the public discourse with the notions of tolerance or discrimination.” 

Beyond liberalism, there are other ideologies today, and Archbishop Grusas mentioned in particular relativism, nationalism, globalism. All of these ideologies spread more quickly than other, earlier ones, thanks to technological progress. 

The Archbishop of Vilnius said that the antidote to these ideologies is “to witness Christ with our lives.”

Archbishop Grusas explained how Ateitis' five principles work: Catholicism is the antidote to religious relativism and atheism; nationality prevents globalism from surfacing; the family is the antidote against individualism; excellence to  relativism; while participation in public life is a way to resist to the ideology of liberalism. 

The Ateitis ideals are still carried forward 110 years on. The story of the federation is a story of resistance against a world that wanted to get rid of God. Celebrating Ateitis also means celebrating a model of committed public Catholicism in society. In an age that seems often to be resigned  to living in the shadow of God’s eclipse from history, organizations like Ateitis inject into society a fundamental spirit of faith.  

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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