Promoting the use of religious dialogue in Lithuania to enhance understanding and cooperation

Written by a journalist Laima Karaliūtė

Lithuania is tolerant to all religions. Even though the majority of locals identify as Roman catholics, other religious communities are freely conducting activities. Anyone coming to Lithuania can join Orthodox, Evangelist, Muslim, Judaist, Hindu, Buddhist and other communities. As a matter of fact, Lithuania is the only one of the Baltic countries where you can find mosques. However, it is important not only to be able to freely practice one’s faith but to be able to peacefully live along those who practice another. How do we communicate efficiently without forcing our faith on others? Here is our interview with the chaplain of the Lithuanian Police, a Catholic priest ALGIRDAS TOLIATAS and the priest of Vilnius Orthodox Church of St. Paraskeva VITALIS DAUPARAS. 

Algirdas Toliatas. Photo from a personal archive

What are the main mistakes that people do in regards to other religions and your advice to them? I mean, how does the immigrant behave to not ignite religious contradictions? 

A. Toliatas: First of all, getting to know the most common local religions is very important. At least knowing the main norms to prevent conflict that appears to unawareness. I recommend locating the nearest house of prayer where your religion is practiced. The community of that house of prayer will be helpful in explaining what behaviour is acceptable in that country. They will also help in feeling less lonely in environments where another religion is the norm and in being able to meet your religious needs. It is understandable that if you chose to go to a Catholic Church, you will not find what you find in a muslim mosque. Of course, immigrants must understand that migration is not always easy. You will have to figure out what works for you to integrate into the local society without abandoning your religious norms. It is important not to compare the different religions and not to raise questions such as whose God is more righteous or better. These sorts of dialogues are bound to ignite conflict. Common understanding can only be found through peaceful conversation, social events, work, education, etc.

“It is important not to compare the different religions”

Vitalis Dauparas. Photo from a personal archive

V. Dauparas: You must look for similarities, not for differences. I once participated in a forum where representatives of different religions gathered. We concluded that no matter how different the religions, they always include norms such as compassion, love for your neighbours and family, and seeking for good. But if you start saying that one religion is better than another, you will not avoid division. It is also important to be respectful of the country and its religions because this country accepted you and offered you its safety. In general, my recommendation is to discuss religion among the people that practice the same one as you.

Christians who are true to their faith, love the person who is close to them, no matter of his/her religion

How should you behave if you come to Lithuania and run into someone who is intolerant of your faith? 

A.Toliatas: Do not engage in such discussions.This can happen anywhere. That is why Lithuanians and immigrants should both foster a culture of respect regardless of religion. Of course, one may isolate himself and say that no one understands or accepts his/her religion here. However, that is not the solution. You must seek out tolerant people who wish well. There are definitely such people everywhere. If you seek conflict, you will find it, but if you look for friendship – you will find friendship. You find what you search for. 

“No one will take your God away from you”

V. Dauparas: If intolerant people are unwilling to listen, then what is the point in communicating with them? However, there are some people who are intolerant due to unawareness. You can always ask why they are saying such things, then explain your religion and encourage tolerance. Real, truly faithful Christians are not afraid of other religions because they understand that there is no need to fight for one’s God. No one will take your God away from you. 

Religious holidays can take on the meaning that you give them

Religious holidays for Catholics: Christmas, Easter. To celebrate together or to ignore? 

 V. Dauparas: if your religion does not permit taking part in the holidays of others, then do not take part in them. However, what do the Orthodox do? Our Christmas and Easter have a different date than those of the Catholics. So, we celebrate twice (Smiles). Even if not all Lithuanians practice some sort of religion, they still celebrate Christmas and Easter. They assign another meaning to those holidays. They call them the family holiday or the holiday of spring. Why should a person of a different religion not be able to give a different meaning to some holidays, a non-religious meaning? 

Unacceptable morals? You can condemn them in your mind but do not demonstrate disrespect 

How should you abide Christian morals if they are against your religious morals? 

A.Toliatas: Seek compromise. I am not saying that you should abandon your faith. I am saying that there is always a way to find what unites us instead of what separates us. Have in mind that all religions have the same goal, only the form is different.

V. Dauparas: It is not always easy. For example, our country took on a large part of the Western culture and its feminism. Of course, that means that men coming from some muslim countries may find it hard to respect women who behave freely and demonstrate their sexuality in public.

“Do not demonstrate your disrespect to other culture outside of your mind”

My advice is that even if you do not feel respect for the Western woman, you may know that in your mind, but don’t demonstrate it outside of your own mind. If you come to a country with a different culture, you must respect it. If you can not contain yourself, choose a country where the culture is more similar to your own.

Is everything really possible when love is present?

How should you find religious compromise in romantic relationships if one person practices one faith, and the other practices a different faith? Do such relationships have a future? 

A.Toliatas: Everything is possible where there is love and respect. Everyone who wants to live in agreement, will find a way to live in agreement. If not, then the situation is problematic.

V. Dauparas: I think different religion marriages can be quite difficult and challenging. Of course, love is powerful but we often see that such marriages come across some major moral and tradition-related differences. Before the marriage, you must sit down to think if you are truly religious and if the morals of the other person are really acceptable to you.

Important note

According to the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania:

Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion shall not be restricted.
Everyone shall have the right to freely choose any religion or belief and, either alone or with others, in private or in public, to profess his religion, to perform religious ceremonies, as well as to practise and teach his belief.
No one may compel another person or be compelled to choose or profess any religion or belief.
The freedom to profess and spread religion or belief may not be limited otherwise than by law and only when this is necessary to guarantee the security of society, public order, the health or morals of people, or other basic rights or freedoms of the person.
There is no official religion in Lithuania.

How to find your house of prayer:

Muslim mosques and houses of prayer

Kaunas mosque (Totorių st. 6, Kaunas) 
 Islam centre in Vilnius (Smolensko st. 19, Vilnius)  
House of prayer in Klaipėda (Tilžės st. 49, Klaipėda) 
Mosque in Keturiasdešimt Totorių village (Keturiasdešimt Totorių village, Totorių st. 28A, Vilnius district)
Mosque in Nemėžis village (Totorių st. 4, Nemėžio k., Vilnius district)
Mosque in Raižiai village (Raižių village, Alytus district)
Muslim association’s “Ahmadia” prayer house in Vilnius:

Jewish synagogues

Kaunas Choral Synagogue (E. Ožeškienės st. 13, Kaunas)
Vilnius Choral Synagogue (Pylimo st. 39, Vilnius)

Karaite churches

Trakai kenesa (Karaimų st. 30, Trakai)
Vilnius kenesa (Liubarto st. 6, Vilnius)

Buddhist centres, places for medication

Vilnius Buddhist centre (Pelesos st. 85, Vilnius)
Kaunas Buddhist centre (Kęstučio st. 17-3A Kaunas)
Klaipėda Buddhist centre (Gulbių st. 2-2, Klaipėda)
Šiauliai Buddhist centre (Vytauto st. 90 – 17, Šiauliai)
Stupkalnis Buddhist centre (Janapolio village 8, Kelmės raj)

Hindu temples

Religious Society for Krishna Consciousness. Kaunas Sri Sri Nitai Gaura Chandra Temple  (Savanorių pr. 37, Kaunas) 
Religious Society for Krishna Consciousness. Vilnius Temple (Raugyklos 23-1, Vilnius)