Is it important to be able to worship in your native tongue? This is a question that I find very interesting; especially in a city such as Peterborough which is blessed with a diverse mix of people from many different nationalities.
Whilst many of these people will comfortably speak English as a second language, it would seem, from the number of Christian services held across the city specifically for communities from Brazil, Portugal, China, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine; that the opportunity to worship in their native tongue is an extremely important part of their lives.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Fr. Petras Tverijonas, one of only two Lithuanian minsters in the UK, who holds a Lithuanian Mass on the 1st
Saturday of each month at St Peters & All Souls Catholic Church
on Geneva Street. By the time we met at 5:45pm on Saturday evening, Fr. Petras had already had a busy day, having travelled from his own Parish in the East End of London to Nottingham, where he also takes Lithuanian Mass once a month, before arriving in Peterborough for the 7:15pm service.
Travelling is something that Fr. Petras is very used to, having moved to the UK 16 years ago from his native Lithuania, to take over as Priest at St Casimir’s Lithuanian Church in Bethnal Green. As well as holding a monthly mass in Peterborough and Nottingham, his role also sees him travel to Bedford every two months and Bristol and Cardiff twice a year to hold Lithuanian Mass.
Lithuanians first came to Britain in the second half of the 19th
century, the vast majority being Roman Catholic. Those that settled in London found work and cheap accommodation in the East End. Initially they worshipped with the Poles, fellow Catholics, but from whom they were different ethnically and linguistically (the Poles are Slavs, the Lithuanians Balts) however, within a relatively short period of time they decided they wanted their own Church and priest.
which was consecrated in 1912, has an interesting history, as of all of the churches built in the East End of London for foreign congregations; it is the only one still surviving. It has served its primary purpose as a place of worship for successive generations of Lithuanians and also continues to play a vital role as a social and cultural centre with various events taking place on a frequent basis. It first served the original immigrants, then the refugees escaping the Soviet invasion and occupation of their country (1944-1991), and the latest wave who have come here in very large numbers since the restoration of independence in 1991 and in particular since 2004 when Lithuania became a member of the European Union, giving Lithuanians the opportunity to live, work and study here without restriction.
Peterborough has also seen a massive number of Lithuanians come to the area and make it their home, partly due to the agricultural work that is available on the Fens. In exactly the same way as the first Lithuanians in London wanted their own Church and priest, so did the current generation in Peterborough; and Fr. Petras has been able to meet a large part of this need by conducting Mass in the Lithuanian language and tradition, every month for the last 9 years.
The service is regularly attended by up to 100 people, many travelling in from towns as far away as Wisbech, Spalding and even Kings Lynn. The age range of the congregation is comparatively young, as most have moved to this country to look for work and in the last 12 months 70 babies have been baptised.
The fact that people are willing to travel some distance to worship in their native tongue once a month, despite many of them speaking English on a daily basis I believe proves how important it is to establish and maintain these cultural links. Even Fr Petras himself, who speaks excellent English, explained that when he privately prays to our Lord, he does so in Lithuanian as this is the language that he can best express himself in.
Fr. Petras went on to explain that at St Casimir’s over the last 12 months, he had been working with 210 couples who planned to get married, however only a very small proportion were actually married in the UK, most returning home to family, friends and tradition. He also understands the importance of being able to use the native tongue at other major family events such as baptisms and funerals and as such he will travel back to Peterborough where possible to conduct these services.
Fr Petras recognises that his time in Peterborough is limited due to his responsibilities in London and as such is extremely grateful to the clergy
at St Peters & All Souls who provide much of the day-to-day pastoral care for the Lithuanian congregation in Peterborough.
Fr Petras sees his role as a bridge between the local Catholic Church and the Catholic Church in Lithuania – and for the Lithuanian community of Peterborough, they are extremely fortunate to have this important bridge to their culture and tradition.