By Becky Sindelar, staff writer
It's a powerful thing to find oneself 10 feet from the pope—to be in the presence of someone charged with the spiritual and religious experience of 1.2 billion people. Yet, there Fr. Lukas Laniauskas, SJ, was, nervous in a moment of silence with Francis.
The pope took a few deep breaths and then looked up. “Are there any other questions?” After a deep breath of his own, Fr. Laniauskas stood.
Last year, Fr. Laniauskas received a call from a friend to help with a project. But this was no ordinary call; his friend Bishop Kestutis Kevalas asked if he would be interested in helping with the media when Pope Francis visited Lithuania in September 2018.
Fr. Laniauskas’ background put him in a unique position to help. A Lithuanian-American, Fr. Laniauskas was born and raised in Cleveland, and, after accepting the call to the priesthood, entered the Society of Jesus in Lithuania in 2004. After two years in the novitiate there, Fr. Laniauskas transcribed to the then Detroit Province (now Midwest Province) to complete his formation closer to home.
The Lithuanian bishop’s conference was looking for people who could help in representing Lithuania to the international media during the pope’s visit. Father Laniauskas, who has dual citizenship and speaks both English and Lithuanian, was invited to work in the media center.
Arriving in Lithuania a few days before the pope’s visit, Fr. Laniauskas worked on drumming up participation, including writing stories and going on radio programs and other outlets.
“I’d especially highlight the pilgrimage aspect—leaving the comfort of one’s home to line the streets where the pope would pass. I felt tremendous grace in the presence of so many faith-filled believers,” he explains.
During some of Pope Francis’ two-day visit to the country, Fr. Laniauskas was stationed in a hotel banquet hall where the media was based, answering questions about the visit and about topics the pope brought up. He also got the chance to help the media explore and enjoy Lithuanian culture.
Father Laniauskas also celebrated Mass for the international media in English and served as a liaison to help with any other assistance the media or other guests needed in English.
All the work paid off, with thousands of people turning out to see Pope Francis.
“As a Jesuit, to have a Jesuit pope visit the land of my ancestors and where I entered the Jesuits, was an amazing experience! It was truly moving to see how important this visit was to the Lithuanian people—the streets were packed with people who were excited to simply catch a glimpse of the Holy Father,” says Fr. Laniauskas.
After all that busyness, Father Laniauskas found himself in a room with the pope and about 20 other Jesuits. Father Laniauskas recalls looking around at the faces of the others, some who had been tortured, persecuted, or deported during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. Many of them are heroes of the Lithuanian Church. The pope shared that he was tired, but that he hoped that it was all for the good of the Church. He then proceeded to take questions from Jesuits on many topics.
Near the end of the meeting, Fr. Laniauskas stood and spoke. He asked the pope—who has described the Church as a field hospital and has invited priests and people to go out into the chaos of the streets—how he, as a young priest, can keep himself from being overtaken and crippled by the fear of the chaos and brokenness that we see in our world.
The pope looked at Fr. Laniauskas with compassion and reminded him of the meditation of The Two Standards from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a meditation of the epic battle between good and evil, Jesus and Satan.
“The Holy Father reminded me that if I am alone in battle, I will die. We must not be alone, we are on this battlefield with others. To this end we must never forget the voice of the one who calls us, or we will get lost in the chaos of the battle.”
Finally, Fr. Laniauskas recalls, “He encouraged us to remember our vow of obedience, which calls us to work, toil, and especially love in the little corner of the vineyard that we’re called to serve.”