Catholics in Lithuania Get Political

20.12.2016 | By Donatas Pulsys and Paweł Musiałek

Donatas Pulsys: It is often believed that Catholics attend a mass once a week, they pray a little and that’s it. Their faith doesn’t have any effect on their everyday life, including politics. So our aim is to show the catholic view on political life. You could say that people look at the world through their own glasses and we would like to show the catholic perspective. We don’t want to show it in a radical way, where we claim we know the truth and we come not as democrats who are open to dialogue, but as people how will dictate others how to live and what to do and so on.

Paweł Musiałek: Do you interpret politics through the catholic faith?

Yes, that’s our thing. For instance we have the question of immigration, the EU. So how does this look from the catholic perspective? What does the Pope say about this? What Catholics would say about immigration? We believe in ‘loving thy neighbor’, but what does this actually mean? Those questions are very broad, so our main goal is not to give the definitive answer. We are asking questions and we want a dialogue with Jews, protestants.

PM: Can you describe the current state of Christianity in Lithuania? Give me a picture of where you are.

The official numbers look impressive, over 80% of Lithuanians describe themselves as Christian Catholics. But this doesn’t mean anything, because some of them identify themselves this way because they were baptized, or married in a church and that’s it. It doesn’t matter if they actually believe in God, they just want to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, etc. There are probably two pieces of news here – one bad and one good. The bad news is that the actual number is much, much lower.

PM: And it continues to drop?

Yes. But the good news is that the small communities are very strong and look for quality not numbers. They have potential, so they do a lot of work, but the results won’t be visible in a year or two. They will be visible much later. It’s a natural generational change. For the older generations the church was not only about faith and tradition, it was also about resistance against the Soviets. That was the way to show your opposition to the regime and to manifest your independence. The generation today has to look for its faith in a totally different reality. Previously you had no choice, as belonging to the Catholic Church was often the only way to demonstrate that you are against  communism. Nowadays, you can choose anything you want, so it’s another type of a challenge. From a situation of no choice you go to a situation of too much choice. How do you choose? This is a task for parents, teachers, educational system, which sadly is in a bad shape in Lithuania.

PM: I remember that in the 90s in Poland the modernization theory was very popular, it said that it was only a matter of time before Poland stopped to be a catholic country.  We wanted to join the West and of course the West was not catholic. So it was considered obvious that Poland would change. The number of Catholics did fall, but the younger generation is even more conservative than the people in the 90s. Did you observe the same process in Lithuania? Did the modernization theory check out?

I heard this many times. This is not a new theory, as it has been around since the French Revolution. It actually makes me laugh, this Marxist view that history is predetermined by higher forces and that it has a direction and a final goal.  We created the resistance movement not just against this brutal power that was terrorizing us, but also against this philosophy which says that some people foresee what will happen, while others have no choice and that it doesn’t matter what they will do because history will take its own course anyway. We fought against this view and after we won we accepted the same deterministic theory. An example of this could be the belief that religion will become obsolete. This also sounds like a Marxist view. I believe history is determined by human choices. Some will say that the political elite has more power in deciding where history goes, but it’s not that some higher being or economic forces make history happen on their own. And I don’t see any final destination where history is going. The situation in Ukraine showed that peace is not a given and Brexit showed that the EU is also not a given and that we must work to maintain it. We don’t live in the times of the end of history where liberal democracy triumphed over other systems. If Catholics decided that some kind of divine spirit or providence would keep the church alive, they would destroy the Church because they have to evangelize, every day you need to work on something you believe in.

PM: We are in Kraków where the World Youth Days has taken place. Were you surprised about the positive energy that could be felt among the people who participated? What are your thoughts about it? Was it popular in Lithuania? How many Lithuanians participated in this?

About 500 participants, it was less than the last time, despite the fact that Kraków is so close. I think it was a very important event. Today it is popular to talk about the resurgence of nationalism and people are wondering how to tackle this. We can create artificial theories, programs of globalization and so on, but the Youth Days clearly showed what needs to be done. We have different nationalities, cultures but we are united by the same principles. We have internal discussions about the Church, Pope Francis and how he leads the Church. It’s popular to say it’s progressives vs. ultra-conservatives and that the Church has two or three political parties with their own agenda. I think this approach is destructive.


Donatas Pulsys – lithuanian journalist, Chief Editor at

Paweł Musiałek – member of the board at Jagiellonian Club, expert on political science and energy security.