New York Post
Mark Bulliet and Dan Mangan
February 22, 2007

The president of Lithuania has taken up the cause of a lower Manhattan church – beseeching Edward Cardinal Egan to reverse his decision to shutter Our Lady of Vilnius, The Post has learned. In a letter to the leader of the New York Archdiocese, President Valdas Adamkus said the planned closing of the Catholic church, which has served Lithuanian-Americans for a century, “concerns me greatly.” “I appeal to you, Your Eminence, to give special attention to the role played by the parish of Our Lady of Vilnius in fostering national identity and spirituality, to preserve the church for the society of today and generations of tomorrow,” Adamkus wrote.

The archdiocese announced last month that the small church on Broome Street near the Holland Tunnel, founded in 1905 as a “national church” for the Lithuanian community, would close on a yet-to-be-determined date. The archdiocese – which is closing or merging more than 20 parishes – cited the fact that Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Vilnius draws 100 or so parishioners, that the Mass is now celebrated in English rather than Lithuanian, and that there have been virtually no weddings or baptisms there in years.

Since then, Lithuania’s bishops have voiced support for parishioners’ bid to save the church, whose pastor, the Rev. Eugene Sawicki, is a former FDNY firefighter. Even before the announcement, Lithuanian diplomats wrote New York’s top elected officials, including Gov. Spitzer and Mayor Bloomberg, to ask them to help keep the church open.

Meanwhile, about 80 parishioners of a soon-to-close East Harlem church held an Ash Wednesday service on the steps of the building yesterday, and prayed that Egan would agree to reopen its doors. “How do I feel? Devastated, lost, angry – everything put together because we’re left without a church,” said Gladys Mestre outside Our Lady Queen of Angels on East 113th Street. “Ask God to soften Cardinal Egan’s heart and open our church’s doors again.” Mestre and five other women, all parishioners, were arrested last week after refusing to end a sit-end they had begun the day before to protest the church’s scheduled March 1 closure.dan.mangan@nypost.com